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Japanese Pronouns: All You Need to Know

Japanese is infamous for its tendency of omitting the subject in a sentence, but pronouns are still an important part of the language. Personal pronouns are especially numerous in Japanese, many have one or more honorific versions.

Japanese personal pronouns are more commonly omitted as the subject of a sentence than impersonal pronouns are. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at both types of Japanese pronouns, as well as some examples of how to use them and when they can be omitted as the sentence’s subject.

What Are Japanese Personal and Impersonal Pronouns?

We’ll be separating Japanese pronouns into the categories of personal and impersonal. But what exactly are personal and impersonal pronouns?

Simply put, personal pronouns replace nouns that designate living things. More often than not, they’re used for humans. In English, the basic personal pronouns are: I, you, he, she, we, us, they, and them. It can also be a personal pronoun, provided the word is referring to something alive—a dog, for example.

Impersonal pronouns replace nouns that designate non-living things or ideas. The most common examples of impersonal pronouns in English are: this, that, these, and it. Remember, the pronoun it can only refer to a non-living thing if it’s to be considered an impersonal pronoun.

Japanese Personal Pronouns

There are many personal pronouns in Japanese, and most have several forms depending on how polite the speaker needs to be. The most extensive type of personal pronoun would be the one used to refer to yourself. These personal pronouns rely not only on the social situation, but also on gender. Because of this, we’ll be breaking down personal pronouns into two sections: those used to refer to oneself and those used to refer to other people.

Japanese Pronouns Used to Refer to Yourself

As we mentioned earlier, the way you refer to yourself in Japanese depends on your gender. It can also depend on how honorific you want your speech to be. In the chart below, we’ll be breaking down the pronouns for “I” listed in the previous section. This time, we’ll expand on honorific forms.

Pronoun Gender Polite Honorific


I, me

Neutral, female Watakushi





I, me

Female Atakushi






I, me

Neutral, but more commonly used by females

I, me


I, me






We, us

Neutral Ware ware


Ware ware




We, us



We, us


While watashitachi is the gender-neutral way to say we, you can also use gendered pronouns to say we in Japanese. If you identify as male and are speaking for your group, you can use boku or ore. Simply attach the suffix -tachi(達/たち)to make the pronoun plural.

Another way to pluralize pronouns is by adding the suffix -ra (ら) to the end of the pronoun. However, this should be contained to casual speech. It also isn’t as common to pluralize the pronouns watashi (私) or atashi (あたし) using -ra, as it’s more often used by men. For example, a man might say orera (俺ら) or bokura (僕ら) when referring to himself and his friends. He would only do so in a casual situation, and only to people in the same age or social group as himself.

Overall, here are some examples of the pronouns used to refer to oneself:

  • If you have any questions about the menu, please ask me.
    Menyuu ni tsuite no shitsumon ga gozaimashitara, watakushi ni otooi awase kudasai.
  • We entered an all-boys’ high school.
    Orera wa danshi kou ni haitta.
  • I’m going shopping with my friend today.
    Kyou, atashi wa tomodachi to kaimono ni iku.
  • We’re getting married in June.
    Watashitachi wa roku gatsu ni kekkon shimasu.

Japanese Pronouns Used to Refer to Others

The pronouns used to refer to other people don’t depend on the speaker’s gender or the subject’s. It’s more important to consider how polite you want your speech to sound. Below is a chart of the pronouns used to refer to other people, as well as how polite each pronoun is.

Pronoun Meaning Level of Formality


You Polite


You Casual


You Very casual


You Very casual, can be rude


You (plural) Polite


You (plural) Casual


You (plural) Very casual


You (plural) Very casual, can be rude

He, him Polite


She, her Polite
Ano kata


That person, they (singular) Very polite
Ano hito


That person, they (singular) Casual, can be polite depending on tone


That person, they (singular) Very casual, can be rude


They (male) Karetachi is polite; karera is casual


They (female) Kanojotachi is polite; kanojora is casual

As you can see, pronouns for you are particularly numerous, and depend entirely on how politely you want your language to sound. When in doubt, it’s always best to use anata (あなた). You can also use the person’s name, if you know it, accompanied by the suffix –san (~さん). While this isn’t a pronoun, many Japanese people prefer names to pronouns in formal scenarios.

It’s also important to note that, while we’ve listed overly-casual pronouns like anta (あんた), omae (o前), and aitsu (あいつ), you may want to avoid them unless you’re speaking with familiar friends. When used in the wrong tone of voice or in a polite situation, these words can actually be offensive. Some Japanese people even use them as insults when they’re feeling angry.

A proper scenario in which to use overly-casual pronouns would be when you’re out eating or drinking with a close coworker, or perhaps when you’re talking to family members at home.

Let’s practice these pronouns using the example sentences below:

  • My name is Frank. What’s your name?
    私の名前はフランクです. あなたの名前は何ですか?
    Watashi no namae wa Frank desu. Anata no namae wa nan desu ka?
  • That person was kind enough to lend me fifty yen.
    Ano kata ga shinsetu ni mo gojuu en o kashite kuremashita.
  • He wrote a letter to his mother.
    Kare wa hahaoya ni tegami o kakimashita.
  • That jerk broke my window!
    Aitsu ga uchi no mado o kowashiyagatta!

Japanese Impersonal (Demonstrative) Pronouns

In Japanese, impersonal pronouns—also known as demonstrative pronouns—are more cut and dry than personal pronouns. You don’t need to worry too much about how polite a demonstrative pronoun will make you sound. These pronouns also don’t change depending on your gender. Here’s an exhaustive list of Japanese impersonal pronouns:

Pronoun Meaning


This, it


That, it


That (referring to something that is distanced from the speaker), it






Over there

One of the things learners struggle most with in terms of Japanese demonstrative pronouns, is the difference between soko (そこ) and asoko (あそこ). When you’re considering which of these pronouns to use, think about how far away the noun you’re describing is. This distance can either be physical or metaphorical. For example, if you’re talking about a pair of shoes in the next room, but not right next to you, you would use sore. If you were talking about shoes you’d seen in the store a while back, you might say are.

Here are some examples to help you remember the different demonstrative pronouns:

  • Remember when we used to skip class back in high school? That was crazy!
    Koukousei no toki, juugyou o sabotta koto oboeteiru? Are wa yabakatta!
  • This is good. Try it!
    これ美味しい. 食べてみて!
    Kore oishii. Tabete mite!
  • Do you see that man over there? He’s my father.
    あそこの男の人、いるでしょう? あれは私の父です.
    Asoko no otoko no hito, iru deshou? Are wa watashi no chichi desu.

How to Use Japanese Pronouns

When you’re using pronouns in Japanese, there are several important things to remember. In addition to considering the proper sentence structure, you should also focus on which particles you need for your pronouns and whether you should even include the pronouns in your sentence.

Don’t Forget Your Particles

In Japanese, particles are vital to marking the role of a word within the sentence. We cover this topic more extensively in our article on Japanese particles, but here’s a list of Japanese particles and what they mark in a sentence:



marks the topic/subject of the sentence

marks the object of the sentence

marks the direction of an action

marks destination and direction

indicates where or how an action takes place

indicates possession

means “too” or “also”

A particle will always follow the pronoun it marks. Here are some examples of pronouns and their particles being used together:

  • This is her favorite song.
    Kore wa kanojo no suki na kyoku desu.
  • I want to go over there.
    Asoko ni ikitai.
  • Are you going to eat that?
    Are o tabemasuka?

Think About Whether to Omit Them

Native Japanese speakers often omit subjects and even other parts of the sentence when they speak. This is done for many reasons, with one of the main two being to keep language concise and to avoid confusion with multiple particles.

Most of the words or phrases that are left out of Japanese sentences are those that can be determined by context. Pronouns become a common victim of omission for this reason, as the noun they replace may already have been stated earlier. Here are three common examples of pronoun omission:

  1. The speaker omits multiple references to themselves in their speech, as it’s already clear they are talking about their own experience.
  2. Possessive pronouns are also often omitted, as listeners will assume that items already belong to the subject in question.
  3. The subject or topic of the conversation has already been mentioned once or even several times, so any further references are taken out to make language more concise and fluent-sounding.

Here are some sample sentences for each situation listed above. The omitted words’ English counterparts will be placed in parentheses.

  • Today, (I) went to the mall. (I) bought two shirts and met up with (my) girlfriend.
    今日、ショッピングモールに行った. シャツ2枚を買ったし, 彼女とデートした.
    Kyou, shopping mall ni itta. Shirts ni mai katta shi, kanojo to deeto shita.
  • My dad is really interesting. (His) hobby is breakdancing, and (his) favorite color is blue.
    父は面白い人です. 趣味はブレークダンスで, 好きな色は青色です.
    Chichi wa omoshiroi hito desu. Shumi wa breakdance de, suki na iro wa ao iro desu.
  • I saw my best friend for the first time in three years. She hasn’t changed at all. (She) still has a bright smile. (She) still wants to travel to Italy.
    3年ぶりに親友と会った. 彼女はあまり変わっていない. まだ笑顔はキラキラしたり, 相変わらずイタリアへ両行したい人です.
    San nen buri ni shinyuu to atta. Kanojo wa amari kawatteinai. Mada egao wa Kirakira shitari, Italia e ryoukou shitai hito desu.

The very concept of omitting words may be foreign to you, depending on what the rules of your native language are. Still, word omission is a skill that will start to come naturally to you the more you study Japanese.

Japanese Pronouns – Conclusion

While Japanese pronouns can be fairly easy to memorize, it can be difficult deciding when and how to use them. Just remember that you can’t really make a mistake by including your pronouns in the sentence, if you’re feeling conflicted about what to do with them. In the worst case scenario, your Japanese may sound a bit clunky or overly-formal. But you will still get your meaning across, and that’s the important point of communication.

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