Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


ENGLISH HAS “you” and, though rarely used these days, “thee.” German has Sie and du. French has vous and tu. I’ve talked about these in “Doest Thou Know?” with a brief mention of second-person pronouns in Japanese.

I am hoping here that aero pal Andrew Dewar (who lives in Japan) will amplify on what I’ve gleaned from my brief study of Japanese and a few Internet sources. However, to get off on the right iamb (a little linguistic humor…), in answer to “How to say ‘Hey you!’ in Japanese?”, the best answer is “You don’t.”

This is because Japanese has subtleties galore when it comes to addressing others as well as things being discussed. For example, there are many different Japanese words for counting things depending upon what these things are. (We do the same only occasionally, e.g., a “pair” of trousers.)

Golly, another topic for SimanaitisSays.

But enough about me; what about you? And, in particular, “you” in Japanese.

There is a multiplicity of second-person pronouns in the language, depending on formality, gender, relative ages of speaker and subject, relative social class and regional dialect.

Dialects are akin to American English and its “you,” “ya’ll,” “yuns” and “youse.” But today I’m more interested in Japanese and its reflections of social interactions, not just regional differences.

The Japanese “you” I first learned was あなた, anata. Having learned it, I was soon taught it was best avoided as well. What’s more, other Japanese second-person pronouns to be avoided include kimi (a forceful indication of hierarchy), omae (blunt, possibly coming off as rude) and onushi (an old word, not impolite but never used toward superiors).

Though used less than in other languages, the various “yous” appear in Japanese, but with complex nuances. Some, like the French tutoyer, involve romantic partners or very close friends. Others are used in joking fashion (not unlike an affectionate wife’s “you lunkhead!”). Still others appearing in anime and manga have loaded historical meaning: Kisama! means “you,” but it’s also how a Japanese World War II officer would have ordered people around.

There’s enlightenment (and entertainment) galore in following threads at, and Japan Talk. One delightful comment: “Unless you’re an anime character, you always need to consider whom you’re talking to and your relationship to them.”

A polite way to avoid the apparent abruptness of “you” is to substitute the other person’s family name followed by the polite suffix san, or the even more polite sama. Instead of “How are you today?”, it’s “How is Mr. Jones today?” or “How is Professor Williams today?” There’s even a lordly suffix: 卿, reserved for the likes of Darth Vader (ベイダー卿, loosely “Sir Vader”).

The honorific お, O, is also useful in referring to something like “your house.” By saying お家, you’re literally saying “honorable house”—and thus it’s clear you must be referring to the other’s abode. It would be extremely rude in Japanese to crow about my “great” anything.

Hmm…. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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This entry was posted on May 5, 2017 by in I Usta be an Editor Y'Know and tagged , .
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