Nifa is a writer, translator and bishounen connoisseur. When not working, she can usually be found scouring Osaka for beautiful comics of the lewd variety.
Hi there fellow Japanese learner (and anime lover) and thank you for finding your way to Lost in Honyaku, a column where we help you make sense of some of the language you are hearing during your anime binges (don’t worry, we don’t judge). We’re not here to teach you how to speak Japanese, but how to get the most out of the language anime characters use, so you don’t miss out (but, hey, if you want to start talking like an anime character then that’s up to you!)
Last time, we talked about the first-person pronouns you’ll probably be hearing a lot in anime. It’s a great way to get a better grasp on the characters’ personalities, right?
Let’s take a step back and remember the first Lost In Honyaku column. We learned how Japanese honorific suffixes can help to give you an idea as to the relationships between characters. So, what happens if a character is not using a name at all? The you use a second-person pronoun. In English that means ‘you’. In Japanese? Well… you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Japanese (of course) has many ways to express the second-person pronoun. We aren’t going to look at them all; just the ones you’ll likely to hear in anime.
The choice of second-person pronoun can say a lot not only about how the character feels about the person they are talking to, but it can say a lot about the speaker!
Second-person pronouns are not used nearly as much in Japanese as they are in English. Not only it’s common to use the listener’s name instead, but it’s even more common to not use anything at all! Unlike in English, a sentence doesn’t necessarily need a subject. You’d think this would cause a bucket-load of confusion but that isn’t really the case.
Alrighty, let’s look at some of the second-person pronouns you may hear!
This is probably the most standard of them all and can be used in some formal situations. It may also be used by women to refer to their husbands, in which case it is something akin to ‘dear’.
What it might say about the speaker: I want to say a lovely, doting, wife but… that is likely not the case, hehe
A contraction of ‘anata’, this version is seen as much more rude or condescending,
What it might say about the speaker: Often a rough or slightly annoyed woman. Evangelion’s Asuka comes to mind (‘Anta baka?’)
A slightly more friendly pronoun used by men to address people below them (in rank or social status) or to women (make of this what you will)
(fun fact: this is written with the same kanji as the Japanese honorific ~kun ～君)
What it might say about the speaker: Possibly a well-spoken young lad.
— 映画『君の名は。』 (@kiminona_movie) October 14, 2016
An informal, rough pronoun used by men to refer to people they are close to. It can also be used as ‘omee’
What it might say about the speaker: A bit of a wild guy. Probably uses ‘ore’.
This pronoun was originally very formal, but now it’s a very pompous and insulting pronoun.
What it might say about the speaker: He’s probably not too pleased to see you.
One of the most insulting pronouns. It’s a corruption of the word ‘temae’, which was originally used as a first-person pronoun.
What it might say about the speaker: Super wild and probably up for a fight
A formal pronoun that literally means ‘honourable house’. It can be use with companies as well as people.
Fun fact: This is where the word ‘otaku’ (オタク) comes from as otaku would use that word to address each other.
What it might say about the speaker: Possibly a military type
One of the most insulting second-person pronouns, As a first person pronoun, it is extremely humble, but as a second person pronoun it is insulting. Yup, better not get those mixed up!
What it might say about the speaker: Probably already in the middle of the fight. Most likely losing.
Onushi / Nushi (お主・主)
Although it literally means ‘master’, it is an archaic term often associated with samurai and the like. Used to address people of a similar or lower rank.
What it might say about the speaker: An old-fashioned noble or a samurai
— ＴＶアニメ「クロムクロ」公式 (@KUROMUKURO_UNKL) September 24, 2016
Like how we had ‘mii’ last time, we have ‘you’ this time. It is literally the English word ‘you’.
What it might say about the speaker: Weird.
So that’s it for now! Have you heard any other second-person pronouns? What do you think of characters that use ‘yuu’? Please comment below and see you next time!