Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I want to call you "you".

What is the most different point between English and Japanese?
I think the way of using the word “you” is one of the most different points.

When we speak English, we use “you” all the time.

Do you like chocolate?

Have you met Ichiro?

In my English-Japanese dictionary, there are “あなた(anata)” “(kimi)” “お前(omae)” for the word “you”.

But actually we almost never use these words especially in formal situation.

あなた(anata) is one of the most popular words for “you”.

But I almost never use or hear “anata” in general conversation.

If I use “anata” for my friends, boyfriend or family, it sounds unfriendly.

Also if I use it for my boss, it’s unbelievably rude.

Instead of “anata”, we usually use the person’s name.


(Yuuko san wa chokore-to ga sukidesuka.)


(Yuuko san wa Ichiro ni attakotoga arimasuka.)

But, if we don’t know the person’s name what should we do?

When you talk with a customer in a department store, ask a taxi driver a question, run into your friend’s homeroom teacher…

We just try to avoid using “you”.

It means that we drop “anata” from the sentence.


(chokore-to ga sukidesuka.)

(Ichiro ni attakotoga arimasuka.)

But sometimes we can’t avoid using “anata” anyway.

In that case, we use the person’s position, occupation instead of the name.

お客様(okyakusama) for your customer, 運転手さん(untenshu san) for the taxi driver, and 先生(sensee) for your friend’s teacher.


(okyakusama wa chokore-to ga sukidesuka.)


(untenshu san wa Ichiro ni attakotoga arimasuka.)

I like being called my name or calling my friends’ name instead of saying “anata”.

But, you know, it’s sometimes difficult to remember someone’s name especially when we meet someone accidentally.

I hope using “anata” becomes more common and natural in Japanese like English.

Do you know any other language which has the same situation as Japanese?


  1. I know that "anata" is also used between married people as the words Dear or Honey. Do you know why? In English the words for our significant others are usually nice or sweet words, but "you" seems strange to me.

    I found your blog randomly, it's very interesting to read since we don't learn these things in the classroom. Keep it up ^_^

  2. >Bill
    About "you" in English, I mean "you" of "Do you like chocolate?".
    It means "you" as a subject of the sentence.

    >I know that "anata" is also used between married people as the words Dear or Honey.

    Yes, actually, I was going to write about it, too.
    Usually, wife use it when she talks to her husband.
    Recently, young couples don't use it though.
    Unfortunately, I don't know the reason.
    But I guess, somehow, it comes from a way of expression of having respect.
    Well, I'll check it and write here again!
    Also, lots of married couples having children call each other "papa" (dad) or "mama" (mom) instead of their name.
    Yes, the position or situation is very important.

    By the way, thank you very much for your comments.
    Receiving comments motivates me a lot to put new posts.
    Ganbarimasu!! (^o^)

  3. Hi, I came upon your blog while searching for Japanese expressions.

    Enjoyed reading your posts on the Japanese language and customs. Please keep them coming!

    In Indian languages, there are different ways of addressing a person as 'You', depending on the person being addressed.

    For example in Tamil, 'Nee' is the word for second person 'You' but to colleagues and elder family members, it is always used in the second person plural as 'Neengal' indicating respect for the person being addressed.

    Best Wishes.

  4. >A Reader from India
    Thank you for your comments. :)
    It sounds difficult to use though...

    Also, in India, there are a lot of languages, right?
    I heard that you use different language depends on the situation.
    In Japan, we never have that kind of situation, so I cannot imagine it!

  5. Laura6:03 PM

    In most european languages we use the word "you" in almost every sentence. Calling sb's name all of the time would seem unnatural. Not that we really need to due to conjunction. But in some languages it's a bit different. We use 'you' for example in: what about you? But we usually skip it, because it's unnecessary not because it's rude. Unlike in English we do inflict verbs so the form of the verb tells us who is the sentence about or who is it adressed to.

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