Stop Calling Me あなた!: How to Say “You” : Have you ever learned a word in Japanese and then realized you were using it wrong? I’ve done that with “anata” (あなた), and so have a lot of people who 學習日語

Today, I’m here to help you understand how to really use “anata,” but mostly, teach you how to say “you” in Japanese. There’s a few different ways to do it, and of course, politeness and context are always key. So, let’s dive into learning how to say “you.” 

How to Use Anata あなた (You)

First of all, I think it’s important to say that I’m not forbidding you from using the word “anata.” It has its place in Japanese. It can just be a really specific place.

“Anata” is a great word to use when addressing a stranger. It’s a pretty formal way to address someone, but it also puts that emotional distance of “I don’t really know you” between you and the person you’re addressing. If you don’t know someone’s name, this is a pretty safe way to address them.

However, if you use it with someone you actually know, it may sound weird. That’s because the other use of “anata” is very, very familiar. It’s a common sort of pet name that wives use with husbands. It’s only really used between married couples, so if you call someone you know “anata” it might sound like you’re calling them “sweetheart” or “darling.” That’s probably not going to be appropriate with your boss.

Using Name or Position

A more common way (and the way I tend to use) to address someone is either with their name or their position. It might sound a bit awkward, especially if you’re still in the mode where your brain translates all your Japanese into English as you work out what to say, but it’s perfectly natural in Japanese. 

Instead of asking Tanaka-san if he likes milk by saying “Anata wa gyuunyuu ga suki desu ka?” (あなたは牛乳が好きですか?), it sounds much more natural to say “Tanaka-san wa gyuunyuu ga suki desu ka? (田中さんは牛乳が好きですか?). And by more natural, I mean it sounds like you actually know who Tanaka-san is. 

Take note that this is totally acceptable in formal conversation (look, I even used desu!), but you can also use names in casual conversation. If I wanted to ask my good friend Yuki-chan if she liked milk, I could say “Yuki-chan wa gyuunyuu ga suki na no?” (ゆきちゃんは牛乳が好きなの?). 

You can substitute a person’s name with their position as well. You can call your company boss “shachou” (社長), or you might hear someone call you “okyakusama” (お客様), which is a 有禮貌 way to say “guest.” 

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Using No Pronoun

One cool thing about Japanese being a high context language (meaning you need a lot of context to understand what people are saying) is that you don’t even have to use a pronoun to address to someone.

If you make sure they understand through context that you are talking about them, using tone or body language, you don’t have to ever say “you.” To go back to our milk example, if you’re talking about all the people who you know who hate milk, you can look at the person you’re talking to and just ask “Suki desu ka?” (好きですか?) and they will know you mean “Do you like milk?” (Note: This is especially helpful if you’ve accidentally forgotten their name, but you don’t want to push them into the stranger zone. What? I haven’t done that! Never! Psh!)

Using Casual Words

There are, of course, other words for “you,” but they tend to be more casual. I’ve heard men use “kimi” (君) and “omae” (お前) both pretty regularly. “Kimi” seems to be a bit softer, but both of these words put the speaker (you) above the person you’re addressing, so make sure to use these ones in the right context. Don’t call your boss “omae.” You might get fired. 

Another quick note with these is that sometimes you may hear them used in a bit of a derogatory way, but they aren’t inherently like that. Tone and context will tell you if the person addressing you is actually trying to be 無禮 about it. 

Sorry, ladies. There aren’t really options for casual, feminine words that mean “you.”

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無禮 Words

Speaking of 無禮, you might have heard some 無禮 ways to address someone if you watch anime or drama. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard any of these used by a real person in real life. But if you want to pretend to be a 無禮 anime protagonist, you might say words like “kisama” (貴様), “temee” (てめえ), or “anta” (あんた). Just try not to use them with real Japanese people or you’re going to make a very strange (and probably not great) impression.

Dialects

Some regions have their own words for “you,” and you’ll learn them if you spend a lot of time in one place. For example, I lived in Kansai for a long time, and some people would use “jibun” (ジブン) to mean “you” in certain contexts. Dialects can be fun to learn, so keep your ears open for things like this.

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