How to Say “You” Politely in Japanese?

Do you know how to politely as well as properly say “You” in Japanese? There are multiple ways to address others and various words that all mean “You” in Japanese. If you have learned Japanese before, you may know “Anata [あなた]” means “You”. However, the native speaker doesn’t use “Anata” so much actually.

As the other option, we can use the other many alternative phrases to address “You” in daily conversation in Japanese. Even if they all translate to the same word in English, it can be viewed as rude or offensive if the wrong word is used. Politeness and context are definitely a big part of Japanese culture. Therefore, it is important to learn what kind of context is appropriate to use the words correctly. By reading this article, you would be able to learn and understand how to properly use “You” in Japanese. Let’s check it out!

Most Common Phrase to Address You in Japanese

The most common way to refer to another person in a conversation is by their name or work title. While “Anata” translates to the pronoun you, it is only used when addressing a stranger or an acquaintance whose name you aren’t comfortable with yet. As this gives the word a slightly cold and aloof nuance.

Japanese people prefer to use each other’s names in private, or perhaps titles in a professional situation. For example, doctors, teachers, and professional artists all take the title 先生 (Sensei). If you speak to someone in one of these professions, you could either say their last name and add Sensei or use the title Sensei by itself. Either of these options is a more natural-sounding replacement for “Anata”

Different Ways to Naturally Say “You” in Japanese

    How many different ways can you think to say “You” in your native language? In Japanese, there are many ways to refer to someone. Japanese has a lot of phrases that mean “You”. If you have learned Japanese, you may hear “Anata [あなた]” that means “You”. Of course, you can use “Anata [あなた]” to mean “You”. It is technically correct, but there are a lot of other ways to say (or not say) “You” in Japanese, and some are far more frequently used by native speakers.

The word “You” is a pronoun. Pronouns are words like “I,” “you,” “she,” “we” and so on, that substitute nouns to prevent repetition. English pronouns come in many forms (e.g., I, my, me, mine) but they operate a little differently in Japanese So, you need to learn a few more pronouns in order to address people at the correct level of politeness. Below are five ways to say “You” in Japanese for vastly different occasions.

1. あなた — Anata

Typically written with hiragana, “Anata [あなた]” is the standard, polite way to refer to the listener in a conversation, though generally it is only used when you do not know the name of the person you are speaking to. It is typically used by women. It is also used by many women to refer to their spouses. It can be said in an endearing way, like “Darling” or a pet name in English, but it is also often used to express exasperation.

2. 君 (きみ) — Kimi

“Kimi [君]” is most often written using kanji. This is the word for “You” that most men would choose to refer to someone when speaking in a casual conversation. “Kimi [君]” is meant to be used by people of a higher status to those below them, such as adults to children and teachers to students. It can also be used to represent intimacy romantically, such as in 君の名は (kimi no Na wa) Your name, a romance Anime. Thus, it is also a word used by couples.

It should not be used when talking to your boss or someone else higher than you on the social ladder, as it expresses a level of familiarity that is inappropriate. You would risk sounding presumptuous since it indicates that as the speaker you feel you are on the same level as, or superior to, the person you are talking to.

Although English pronouns do not carry so much cultural coding, by looking at “Kimi [君]” and “Anata [あなた]” You should begin to see that it is important to consider who is speaking and who is being spoken to when picking out the correct “You” to use.

3. あんた — Anta

Originally a variation of “Anata [あなた]”, but with completely different implications and as such, is less formal. Written in kana as “Anta [あんた]”, it is typically regarded as a rude and rough way to address the listener, expressing the anger or disrespect of the speaker.

Back in the day, “Anta” was used to address people who were above you, but presently it has a disrespectful connotation to it. Just like “Omae”, you can only use “Anta” if the person you’re talking to is below you, and even then, it has a rude nature about it. If you’re chastising someone about their careless behavior, “Anta” is appropriate. This pronoun is not used in polite conversation.

“You”-in-Japanese It is overly familiar and can be quite offensive because it is expressing the speaker’s superiority, although you will often hear it in anime, comedy, or TV dramas. It means insulting, exasperated, and used for rough and ready exclamations. Both men and women may use this when roasting their closest friends or family in jest. However, it is something that requires a refined ability to know how others might feel about it. If you are unsure, just avoid this term altogether so you do not accidentally upset anyone.

4. お前 (おまえ) — Omae

This is a masculine and somewhat gruff way of saying “You” and can be unforgivably rude if used on a superior. It is often used by older male teachers when scolding naughty groups of students, though it should be emphasized that this is not a polite way to speak to them. It shows that the speaker’s authority is considered high above those being addressed and is very informal.

In addition, it’s primarily used by men to call other men of the same level (as a joke kinda), you’ll notice Omae being exchanged like “bro” at a frat party. Men often use “Omae [お前]” in the same way that women use “Anata [あなた]” with their spouses, though it reinforces their assumption that they are superior in the couple.

How to Politely Using “Anata” in Japanese?

In English, even people who meet for the first time can easily call “You”, but in Japanese, they definitely call it “Person’s name”. If you are talking to Mr. Sato, call the other person “Sato-san”, and if you are talking to Mr. Tanaka, call him “Tanaka-san”. It’s almost impossible to suddenly call “Anata” to someone you meet for the first time. If you call it “you,” you’ll think you’re an unconventional person, and you’ll think of it as a bossy and arrogant personality.

Cultural Aspect

The meaning of “Anata” is originally a colloquial word used “respecting the other person”. “Anata” was originally a “colloquial (spoken language) when calling with respect to the other person.” However, nowadays, it is not so much used in daily conversation and not used for superiors. The pronoun “Anata” used for the person in front of you is not suitable for use with superiors.

Call someone higher than your position by their titles such as “Sensei [Teacher]”, “Senpai [Senior]”, and “Title” instead of “Anata”, or by the other person’s name such as “Yamada-san” and “Taro-san”. Furthermore, by giving personal names such as “Taro-san/chan/Kun”, it becomes a friendly and polite expression.

Also, even if it is not the first meeting, but a close relationship, it is not called “Anata” unless it is rare. If you are a close person, call him “Taro” if he is Taro, and call him “Hanako” if he is Hanako. Basically, when talking to a person, everyone calls them by their surname or first name. In Japanese, calling a person by name gives the impression that he or she is respected and cherished. On the contrary, when you call it “Anata”, you feel like you are cold and pushed out them.

The word “Anata” has a lot of negative implications. It is a complete denial that “Anata [You]” is never “I”. The existence of “Anata” emerges because it is absolutely not in “I” and because it is conscious of an individual that is separated from “I” and is independent. “I” is not “you” and “you” is not “me”.

On the other hand, “I” can call the other person “you” because he is in an independent and completely isolated standing position, and because he can push the other person coldly and recover as a completely different person. In Japanese “Anata” means something like that image and nuance, so most Japanese don’t use “Anata” in conversation. Please make sure it!

Talking to Groups and Saying “Your” in Japanese

In English, “You” can mean one person or a group that the speaker is talking to. When “You” is used for multiple people, it is called “You” by adding “Kata/Gata” and “Tachi” to indicate multiple people at the end of the word. In Japanese, simply add “Tachi [たち]“. sometimes written with the kanji ““, to pluralize “You” and refer to two or more people you are conversing with (EX: “Kimi-tachi [君たち]”). A more polite way to do this, and one that is more suitable for dealing with clients in a business setting, would be to use “Kata/Gata”, which elevates the level of politeness.

【Example】

  • Anata-tachi あなたたち Kimi-tachi 君たち   ~San-tachi ~さんたち
  • Sensei-gata 先生がた Senpai-gata 先輩がた
O-DAN (オーダン)- 無料写真素材・フリーフォト検索

Important Tips on How to Properly Say ‘Anata’ in Japanese

Rule 1: Don’t say “Anata” (too much)

The first rule of saying “You” in Japanese is as I mentioned before, you don’t say “Anata” in Japanese!  Japanese people actually use “Anata” which is when they don’t know anything about the person they’re talking to. It is also the word used when not talking to a specific person (for example, saying “you” in TV commercials).

So, why do textbooks use the word “Anata” so often? For the most part, this is just so that learners can understand the sentence better. Since the information would be there in English, beginners automatically expect it in Japanese and get confused if it’s not there. Think of it as a training wheel.

Rule 2: Use suffixes first

When Japanese DO explicitly state “You” information in their sentences, it’s proper to use the person’s (family) name and attach a suffix. You’re probably already familiar with “San [~さん], which is a safe fall-back suffix for learners.

Suffix Meaning
~様 SamaA very polite version of “San[さん]”
~君KunA suffix used toward men of inferior status/position
~ちゃんChanA suffix indicating a high degree of familiarity and/or affection
~殿DonoAn older-sounding suffix that is usually attached to peoples’ titles (not their names).
~氏 ShiThis suffix (which you’re most likely to see after the names of artists) is primarily for 3rd person references, rather than for the person you’re addressing.

In official-like situations, it’s commonplace to use a person’s title as a suffix after their name. Hence:トランプ大統領 (= Trump Daitouryou: Trump President).

As long as it’s clear who you’re referring to, you can even drop the name entirely and just go with the title. People in high organizational positions (for example: 社長 (shachou: CEO) or 部長 (buchou: department chief) are particularly susceptible to being addressed by their titles alone. 先生 (sensei) or “teacher” is the same way.

Conversely, calling someone by just their name without any title/suffix is referred to as “Yobisute (呼び捨て)” in Japanese and you should not do it unless you’re on very familiar terms, and even then it’s extremely rare to yobisute your superiors.

Rule 3: “You” words are dangerous

It’s important to remember that in Japanese, to politely address someone you should use their name with a suffix or their title. The broad catchall “You” words range mostly between overtly familiar and offensive and require caution when used.

Others

Otaku [お宅] : Somewhat older “You” expression, but still used sometimes. This word is respectful in nature and shouldn’t ruffle many feathers. It means also “Your family”, so sometimes people use it between neigbor conversation. Note that this word not the same as that which refers to anime-loving オタク.

Shokun [諸君] : This means “You people”. Translating to “Ladies and Gentlemen”, it is a polite way of addressing a group of people.

When We Can Use “Anata” in Japanese

Anata

Used if you’re trying to show respect to the person you’re addressing. Use for strangers or to address the person you do not know their name

Kimi

Used if you’re above the person you’re addressing.

Anta

Used if you’re above the person you’re addressing, and if you’re not against sounding rude. A common female to male calling word

Omae

Used if you’re very close to the person you’re addressing and on the same level or above

Name + Title

The most commonly used “You” replacement. By far the most recommended “You” to use. If you have not the faintest glimmer of insight into how you rank versus the person you’re talking to, just use their name + their title.

Even native Japanese speakers become confused as to which “You” they should use, which is why you will most often hear the “use the name instead of you” approach. In the case that you don’t know someone’s name but still wish to address them, use “Anata”, as it denotes respect. Most people prefer being called by their names, as that’s what it’s there for. Hope this helps you on your treacherous journey towards Japanese mastery!

Summarize

To sum up, let’s review one more time the following points:

  • There are a lot of phrases that mean “You” in Japanese, and it is used depending on situation.
  • In Japanese “Anata” means something like that image and nuance, so most Japanese don’t use “Anata” in conversation.
  • It’s important to remember that in Japanese, to politely address someone you should use their name with a suffix or their title, so normally, many people use the name instead of “You”.
  • Only In the case that you don’t know someone’s name but still wish to address them, use “Anata”, as it denotes respect.
  • As for the other three (Kimi, Omae, and Anta), you should only use them if you’re pretty confident that your social status is higher than theirs or close relationships.

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About Yuri Sensei 25 Articles
I am Yuri. I have worked for several companies, involved in assisting foreigners and teaching Japanese. I have also worked in Vietnam, teaching Japanese. I would like to help students abroad and teach Japanese culture. My hobbies are traveling abroad and sports, like tennis. Following excitement and discovering new things inspires me a lot. My joy in life is to help people overseas so that I can pass on the charm of Japanese culture.