皆様, こんにちにゃあぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online, the most popular online Japanese classroom taught by twins and a computer robot. We’re your hosts, your guides to Japanese language and culture, Kiki and Koko! It may seem like an obvious question, but perhaps you lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, who am I? and how do I say it in Japanese? Well, we may not mend your existential crisis, but we can provide the basic, but sometimes-not-so-simple way of referring to yourself in Japanese. We’ll guide you through the terrain, help you navigate the woods, and give you some cultural insights that you just won’t find in your textbooks~
You may wonder why this isn’t the very first lesson we provided to you. You would think that it’s very important to know how to refer to yourself in Japanese. Whilst it would be a bit silly not to be equipped with something as simple as a first-person pronoun, oddly enough, whilst useful, pronouns don’t play a huge role in conversational Japanese. It’s there, and it is used when you absolutely need to specify that you are talking about yourself, but even when there are formal conversations, there are heavy context clues that specify the subject of the sentence. And, all in all, if you’re referring to someone else, you’ll usually use their name if you know it. But, that’s a topic for another lesson. You can learn a bit more about the omitting of animate and inanimate pronouns in the Magical Desu lesson. But, again, it is important to know how to answer the important questions in life like, ‘Who wants sushi!?‘ ‘Meeeee! I want sushi‘ And, luckily, 「I」and「me」are one in the same.
Of course, in English, referring to yourself seems simple. 「I」,「me」,「 myself」, and to an extent, that simplicity exists. You see, there is an ease of use to Japanese personal pronouns. This rule also will apply to other pronouns, as well, so you’re absorbing twice the knowledge in one go! In languages like English or Swedish, depending on if the pronoun is the subject or the object, it will change from I to me, or Jag to mig, respectively. However, in Japanese, whether it is the subject or object, you will still use the same pronoun. That’s half of the work which leaves more room in your mind for even more knowledge~!
Though, you’ll probably have to fill that extra space in your mind with the next bit of special knowledge. You know how in languages like English, no matter your dialect, gender identity, formality level, it’s just I and me. Oh, friends… This is where things get a bit fun. You see, first-person pronouns in Japanese are like a gateway into the speaker’s entire personality and background, as well as the pronouns one chooses to use for others.
Now, of course, we’ll have to teach you the traditional and conventional pronouns, but this is helpful in order to choose what you would like to use. Of course, if you’d like to be polite, there’s specific ones you use whether or not you’re portraying your personality through your speech. And, when you’re first learning Japanese, it’s usually good to stick with the basics. Buuuut, if you want to understand when others talk about themselves and what they might be portraying, these are important to know.
Going back to formality, one person may use several different first-person pronouns throughout the day when referring to themselves depending on if they’re with family, friends, teachers, schoolmates, or strangers.
We’re going to start by covering some basic ways to talk about yourself and continue with a few more on 【ＳＩＤＥ Ｂ】. So, if you’re choosing a more obscure personal pronoun to use with friends, then you can wait till then to make your decision. But, even if you’re happy with simpler pronouns, it’s still important to know when people are saying, ‘I,’ and what it might imply. So, without further ado, it’s time for us to provide more essential tools for your Japanese language survival kit~!
Simple Survival Sentence Study
Well, of course, it’s important to know the vocabulary, but you should probably know how to put them into a simple sentence, first. And, even if you have already read these lessons, it’s still useful to assist you in revising / studying. You’ll most likely use です、は、and が when first practising, but you’ll definitely use を, に and へ, and で when you want to step up your basic sentence game! Now, you can make each sentence your own with your very own unique personal pronoun!!
You can open these on another tab or another device for reference. Now, onto the vocabulary!!
Basic First-Person Pronouns| 基本的な一人称代名詞
As a quick important reiteration: each of these can be translated as ‘I’ or ‘me.’
If you’re looking for a pronoun that is for anyone and everyone, this is the one. 私, watashi, is definitely the most common first person pronoun. It’s polite enough to use in formal situations and common enough to use with friends.
And, this is neither masculine nor feminine, however, traditional everyday feminine speech favours 私, watashi, to traditional everyday masculine speech. That is to say, when you’re out with the boys, it might feel a bit too formal to use. It’s a complex hierarchy and a thin line to walk, but erring on the side of formality with those with which you are only acquaintances is the best policy. You have to read the air in any situation. However, we do just scratch the surface when it comes to this phenomenon with our lesson on honorifics which also applies to formal speech.
Maybe this pronoun lacks that certain spice or flavour you’re looking for? Not spicy enough? We’ll get to even more flavourful pronouns on SIDE B, but these are some essentials.
You might wonder why we repeated the same kanji twice in a row, but this is simply a different reading with different implications. Though 私, watashi, will usually cover any formal situation, there is a step up!! (It always feels as though you can be more formal in Japanese, but this is generally the most formal you can get with first-person pronouns.) If you’re speaking with someone of very high status, customers, your boss, or you just want to sound very prim and proper, this is the perfect pronoun for you! Even still, you don’t have to use this every waking moment; you can simply reserve it for times where you want to step up your politeness. This is great for professional settings as well as formal public speaking.
This pronoun gives an air of formality and can be used in masculine and feminine speech. This is the luxurious flavour you would seek when you want to be humble, but also sound fancy.
Oh, what do we have, here? Another reading?? No worries! If you want to make it clear that you’re using 私, atashi, rather than 私, watashi, in written form, you would use hiragana, あたし, atashi, rather than katakana. An important fun fact!! Hiragana is cute. It’s just a fact. We mean, look at it, it’s round and swirly and reminds you of simpler times. But, why would you want to make it cuter? Because あたし, atashi, is a cute and feminine pronoun.
This is a very common one, as well. Just think of turning to the camera and saying, 「あ・た・し？♡」.We don’t know how you would say「♡」 aloud, but you’ll find a way. This pronoun has a mass appeal as a way to make your speech a bit more informal whilst still feeling pretty. Any age can feel comfortable using this one, as well.
So, gorls and bois, if you wanna feel cute in everyday situations, you can use あたし, atashi.
This is a pronoun that works well if you want to use a semi-masculine pronoun that feels casual. We say ‘semi-masculine’ because it still somehow gives a polite feeling. It’s a casual pronoun, but it’s something you expect out of a young person or someone who wants to feel casual, but not totally feminine. So, traditionally, this is a boy’s pronoun that you can hear men using in offices when they don’t want to sound rude when talking amongst friends whilst the boss is nearby or young boys, sort of… Anyone wanting to give off a more masculine vibe most likely wouldn’t use this casually.
That may be why over the years, it’s crept its way into casual feminine speech. It’s more of a rarity which gives it a certain je ne sais quoi. The kanji means ‘servant’ which is polite in itself, and doesn’t necessarily give off anything inherently masculine save for the traditional usage. There’s a more common equivalent that we’ll cover on SIDE B. To us, it gives a different laid-back feeling for girls, but others say it’s cute. So, it’s interesting to see the myriad of reactions. Maybe it’s a pronoun you want if you want something that’s a unique flavour of its own. Or, just a basic one for boys.
You might also see this written in katakana as 「ボク」
Here’s the spice! Here’s the flavour! This is where things get interesting. So, usually, as teachers, we’re supposed to tell you not to use such aggressive, rude, vulgar language~!.. But, this pronoun is like the sriracha that everyone is putting on their meals that they’ve all been using for so long that it feels like a mere whisper. (Though, of course, the whisper be more like lava if you accidentally use this in a formal situation)
Even a few years ago, going by the book, we may have even been pressed to tell those who want to use a masculine pronoun to use 僕, boku, but we’re here to teach you real Japanese that fits what the feelings you want to express. And for this, we have to tell you… if you want to use a masculine casual pronoun, then this is the one you want.
You might also see this written in katakana as「オレ」
And those are just a few of the personal pronouns available to you for the low-low price of FREE! You can put these in your Japanese Language Essentials Survival Kit, using them for yourself or to decode for others. But, wait! There’s more! If you phone in the next fifteen minutes, you’ll receive a second set of pronouns absolutely free! Listen to all of the classics with dazzling hi-fi sound on this cassette tape of countless pronouns~ This is just【ＳＩＤＥ Ａ】 of our personal pronoun adventure.
Again, we’d like to point at that you can use whatever pronoun you feel comfortable using, even if it’s not necessarily a statement. Despite the vast amount of self expression found in Japan, there is something very rigid about gender norms in speech (to an extent!). We’re reminded of David Bowie’s「It’s No Game (No. 1)」 where the female vocalist, Michi Hirota, says phrases such as: 「俺、現実から締め出され」, 「ore, genjitsu kara shimedasare」or 「I‘m locked out of reality」in which the 「I」is a ‘masculine’ personal pronoun. This was meant to break down the norms of Japanese female speech. The general idea is that Japanese female speech is polite, proper, and sweet whilst men’s speech is allowed to be more lax and vulgar and thought of as strong. We think that there’s something empowering about not being barred from ways of speech, being able to give off a more commanding tone. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to sound sweet as well, but it’s just nice to have that option. And, the air seems to be changing, though not so much as to completely erase the norms or the nuances.
So, when we said, ‘to an extent,’ there actually are girls who use 「ボク」and boys who use 「あたし」, and many people respectively think this is cute. We don’t want to re-post people’s opinions without their permission, but as a beginner in Japanese, it would be a bit impossible to read Japanese forums on your own— even if you’re sneaky and try to use Google Translate, this method wouldn’t work on topics about first-person personal pronouns, as it will always translate it as ‘I’ without any nuance. So, by the end of this lesson, you’ll already be one step ahead of Google Translate. All in all, it’s impossible to get Japanese speaker’s opinions on this sort of topic through the internet if you don’t speak Japanese, so you’re on the right track, here. But, to summarise our findings, it seems like there are a lot of positive thoughts towards 「ボクっ娘」, bokukko, and even「オレっ娘」, orekko, or girls who use ボク, boku, and オレ, ore, respectively, saying even that they were cute! (Sounds like this was written by a「ボクっ娘」, bokukko, you’re probably thinking, and sure, some people posted in solidarity for this individuality, but it seemed more like an appreciation for new and interesting ways of language that made them stand out, even if standing out doesn’t always bode well) But, a lot of people thought of it as different or interesting in a positive way. And, sometimes, if you’re speaking with those of an older generation, or people who don’t like to shake up language, it might feel strange to them, but the younger generation shows there’s hope for more fun personalisation in personal pronouns.
We think that you have to understand the norm to be able to appreciate this feeling, though. You have to understand the background before you can appreciate the subject.
But, something else that can also help you appreciate Japanese language even more? Knowing how to read and write! Many of the hiragana characters you’ve seen this, we’ve already covered in previous lessons! Be sure to take a look at our Reading and Writing sections to revise / review / study, if you’ve already stayed up-to-date, or take your time and go through them at your own pace.
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