100 Ways To Say “I” In Japanese

I. A word so simple, so beautiful, and so vital a part of the English language. How else would you represent yourself?  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, what you do, or when you do it. You use I. I use I. We use I. Things are good.

But this is Japanese. One word? Is that what you really thought? For a language that usually doesn’t even need pronouns in its sentences, Japan decided that this is where they would make their linguistic stand.

This is an intriguing area of the Japanese language for most learners. If you are a beginner, you probably know a few. Intermediate level? You probably know a few more. Advanced level? You probably know close to a dozen.

Ha. Is that really all you thought there was? Be prepared.

There are over 100 ways to say “I” in the Japanese language. 

I add “over” because I’m sure there are some that I’ve missed out on, some that are currently changing, some that have not yet been discovered, and some that are infinite variations of others.

Why are there so many I’s? Because depending on your age, sex, class, time period, personality, job, role in society, family role, the way you use I is different.

Let’s begin. I’ve broken them down into categories. How exactly can you say I?


Polite and Normal

1. 私 (わたし): One of the first words you probably ever learn. This is the most commonly used I throughout Japan. It is polite and used by both guys and girls. Unless it was the olden days, and it was only used by women.

2. 私 (わたくし): This is the higher level of politeness of わたし, with the same kanji. See 私 in a text? It might just be わたくし and not わたし!

3. 僕 (ぼく): Mostly used by guys. It has some level of politeness (though not as high as the 2 above this).

4. 自分 (じぶん): This not only means “I” but “myself” and “you” as well. Confusing? Often used by guys who are athletic or who like sports, especially Baseball players and Japanese sumo wrestlers. Sometimes used by detectives. When used in literature, it is often used by women.


Casual

5. 俺 (おれ): If you’ve ever watched an anime, you probably know this one. Maybe even learned this before you learned 私. Mostly used by younger guys. Has a bit of a rough/cool image.

6. 儂 (わし): In fiction literature, this is often used by older men. In certain places like Aichi prefecture, Gifu prefecture, and Hoku-riku chihou (the North Western part of Honshuu), it is used by guys of any age. In some areas, it is even used by older women.

7. あたし:  Casual female version of わたし. If you say あたし you may be told to say it correctly (by people who like to correct other people’s grammar.)

8. あたい: This is あたし taken one step further down, and is usually used by frivolous and a bit low class women.

9. わい: Used in the Kinki region. Mostly used by guys and a broken down version of わし.

10. わて: Was used mostly in Kyoto regardless of age/sex. Now uncommon, and used mostly by older men.

11. あて: Was used mostly in Kyoto regardless of age/sex. Now uncommon, and used mostly by older men.

12. わだす: Accented version of わたし used in the Tohoku region.

13. あだす: Accented version of あたし used in the Tohoku region.

14. わす: Accented version of わし used in the Tohoku region.

15. うち: Originally mostly used by women in Western Japan, but from 1998 on, came into use in the Kanto area with people from suburban/rural areas.

16. 己等 (おいら): Used most often in rural areas by guys. Both girls and guys may occasionally use it when trying to act cute.

17. 俺ら (おら): Shorted version of おいら. Used mostly in Northern Kanto.

18. おい: Used mostly by young guys in Kyushuu (especially the southern part of it). Originally meant “you,” and was used by the police in the early Meiji Era. The angry phrase “おい、こら” which is a way to show anger originally meant “おい, これは何?” or “what are you doing?”

19. おいどん: Used mostly by older men in Kyushuu (especially the southern part of it), or women born before World War 2.

20. うら: North Western part of Honshuu dialect (Fuki prefecture, Ishikawa prefecture, etc), Tokai Toyama dialect (Gifu, Aichi, Nagano, etc). Mostly used by men. Originally used by women.

21. わ: Tsugaru-dialect, used by men and women. Can be used to mean “you.” Thought to have derived from 我 (われ).

22. わー: Tsugaru-dialect, used by men and women. Can be used to mean “you.” Thought to have derived from 我 (われ).

23. ぼくちゃん:  Mostly used by young boys trying to act cute, or messing around.

24. ぼくちん: Mostly used by young boys trying to act cute, or messing around.

25. おれっち: Considered an altered version of 俺, and started in Tokyo. Mostly used in Shizuoka.

26. おりゃあ: An altered version of おれ.

27. ぼかぁ: An altered version of ぼく.

28. わたしゃ: An altered version of  わたし.

29. あたしゃ: An altered version of あたし.

30. わしゃあ: An altered version of  わし.

31. おらぁ: An altered version of  おら.

32. ミー: Comes form the English word “me.” Sometimes used in fiction literature to show characters that are trying to act like they are foreign. But note, this doesn’t mean “me,” it still means I.


Professional Situations

33. 小職(しょうしょく): Formal and business-like. Often includes both the speaker and the group/organization/company/section he is coming from.

34. 当方(とうほう): Formal and business-like. Often includes both the speaker and the group/organization/company/section he is coming from.

35. 本官 (ほんかん): Used by police officers, military officers, judges, and secretary to the head of a department of government. Not common anymore. May be found in fiction.

36. 本職 (ほんしょく): Used by attorneys, patent agents, and judicial scriveners.

37. 愚僧(ぐそう): Used by Buddhist monks.

38. 拙僧 (せっそう): Used by Buddhist monks.


Old Usage

39. 我輩、吾輩、我が輩、吾が輩(わがはい): Most people know this word from the famous work of literature 我輩は猫である (I am a cat). Has an overbearing, self-important sound to it.

40. 某(それがし): Used from the Middle Ages and shows a sense of humility and modesty (though later on it started to be similar to #39). Mostly used by men, and was popular during the Warring States period in Japan.

41. 朕(チン): Originally came from ancient China and used by royalty. This passed down to the emperor and royalty of Japan, and was used in imperial decrees and in public messages.

42. 麻呂・麿(まろ): Originally used by men in ancient Japan, but from the Heian Period and beyond, it was used by both men/women regardless of status.

43. 我(われ): Rarely used in spoken Japanese today, however still used in writing.

44. 吾(わ): Rarely used in spoken Japanese today, however still used in writing. You occasionally see it in phrases like 我が家 which is (私の家: I + possessive + house)

45. 我(ワン): Okinawa-dialect form of われ, but after the Meiji-era, rarely used again.

46. 余・予(よ): Used from Heian-era on. Originally used regardless of class, but eventually was only used by feudal lords, monarchs, or sovereigns.

47. 小生(しょうせい): Mostly used in writing, and by men trying to show humility/modesty. Still used in modern day writing.

48. 小官(しょうかん): Used by men mostly in a government position (or in the military), and shows modesty.

49. 吾人(ごじん): Used in written letters and literature by men.

50. 愚生(ぐせい): Used by men in written letters. Shows humility and modesty.

51. 非才 (ひさい): Used mainly by men. Shows modesty in your ability.

52. 不才(ふさい): Used mainly by men. Shows modesty in your ability.

53. 不佞(ふねい): Used mainly by men. Shows modesty in your ability.

54. あっし: Used by both men and women who were commoners. It is thought that this comes from あたし.

55. あちき: Prostitutes from rural/countryside areas used this to hide their accent. Part of the “secret prostitute language.”

56. あちし: Another version of あちき used in period dramas and fiction.

57. わっち: Similar to あちき, used by women prostitutes as part of the “secret prostitute language.”

58. 妾(わらわ): Used by women to show humility/modesty, from samurai/warrior class families.

59. 拙者(せっしゃ): Used by samurai/bushido to show humility. Most memorable recent usage was from the manga Ruroni Kenshin.

60. 身ども(みども): Used by the warrior class towards people of equal or lower class.

61. 僕(やつがれ): Originally used by both women/men to show humility, but in modern times mostly by men.

62. 手前(てまえ): Sometimes used in present day Japan in the form of 手前ども in business situations instead of こちら. Often used in period drama and fiction as “you.”

63. 此方(こなた): Used by women who were part of warrior class or noble families.

64. 此方人等(こちとら):  Used from the 17th century, similar to こなた, except use was by women who were commoners.

65. 私め(わたしめ): Used to belittle or seriously humble yourself. Often spoken to one’s “master” or “lord.”

66. 私め(わたくしめ): Variant of the above. Used to belittle or seriously humble yourself. Often spoken to one’s “master” or “lord.”


Cocky/Arrogance

67. 俺様 (おれさま): A more arrogant version of 俺.

68. あたくし:A more arrogant version of わたくし. Often used by women in fiction who are “princess” types and are showing that they are better than others.


Using Your Own Name

69. (Your name): This method of using one’s own name in place of “I” is usually used by very young children (girls and boys, but mostly girls) and sometimes young women (under 20). Occasionally women older than 20 will still continue to use their own name, but the older they get, the less likely they will still use it.


Family Roles (Towards Children)

Used by family members of higher roles towards children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews.

70. 父さん (とうさん): Used by a father.

71. 母さん (かあさん): Used by a mother.

72. 姉さん (ねえさん): Used by an older sister.

73. 兄さん(にいさん): Used by an older brother.

74. 爺さん(じいさん): Used by a grandfather

75. 婆さん (ばあさん) : Used by a grandmother

76. おじさん: Used by an uncle

77. おばさん: Used by an aunt

78-86:  All さん attached can be ちゃん instead. お may also be attached at the beginning. I’m counting these as 10 variations on the above (also covering 89-92 below).

87. パパ: Used by a father (variant of 父さん)

88. ママ: Used by a mother (variant of 母さん)

Note: Sometimes a family member adds his name before his family role, especially if there is more than one of that family member type. Example: ともこおばさん might be used for someone named Tomoko who is one of the child’s multiple aunts.

Non-Family Roles (Towards Children)

These are used by people towards children (usually significantly) younger than them who they don’t know, or they know but are unrelated, or are related, but not related in the ways above. Confused? Good! Ages are all estimates because it is so varied, and there are really no set rules.

89. 姉さん (ねえさん): Used by a woman around 13 to 30.

90. 兄さん(にいさん): Used by a guy around 13 to 30.

91. 爺さん(じいさん): Used by an older man around 65+

92. 婆さん (ばあさん) : Used by an older woman around 65+

Note: The same as above, all さん attached can also be ちゃん instead, and お may also be included.

93. おじさん: Used by a man around 30 to 65.

94. 親父 (おやじ) : Used by a man around 30 to 65 similar to おじさん.

95. おばさん: Used by a woman around 30 to 65.


Sensei

96. 先生 (せんせい): School Teacher use: Used towards a teacher’s own students mostly in elementary school and junior high school, but still occasionally in high school.

97. 先生 (せんせい): Doctor use: Used towards a doctor’s younger children patients.


Publishing Field

98. 作者 (さくしゃ): An author of a novel may use this in the commentary at the end of his novel.

99. 編集子 (へんしゅうし): Editorial staff member may use this is in newspaper or magazine articles.

100. 筆者 (ひっしゃ): A writer or author may use this is in newspaper or magazine articles.

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Which are your favorite I’s? Where have you seen or read some of the lesser used I’s? Which do you plan on trying out? Any you’ve come across that aren’t included in this list?

Information source



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

100 Ways To Say “I” In Japanese — 35 Comments

  1. Wow, I had no idea there were so many! I think あたし sounds cute, so it’s probably my favorite. What about ways of saying “you” in Japanese? How many are there? And what about きさま, would you classify that as a very rude way of saying “you” or as an insult?

    • There’s a lot of those, too! 貴様(きさま)is just a very rude word for “you” (「貴様はほんとにチカンです!」). It can be used like an insult though (「貴様。。。」) even though it still just means “you”. If you’ve ever watched any subbed anime, most people translate it as “bastard”.

      But the only place you’ll probably hear that word is in Japanese media. :)

  2. Ha. I thought you were kidding when I read the post title. :) A lot of these I’ve never heard of, but I have seen a few interesting ones in medieval-set fiction and the like.

  3. This is a fantastic list and a lot of fun to read. It will also become a valuable resource as I read more obscure texts that’ll require knowledge of the older pronouncs. Definitely do a “you” list next! Or words for wife and husband. So many of those that I just can’t keep track of.

  4. I’ve seen Lord British use 余 to refer to himself in the Ultima series, and I’ve seen 妾(わらわ) used by Hinoto, a blind and mute dream seer, in the CLAMP manga “X”. But it certainly is surprising and shocking to see the sheer myriad of ways of referring to oneself laid out like this! :D

  5. Why to simplify if you can complicate? This is Japan =D

    Btw, how many of them are of common use? Can a gaijin use any of them or is it better to stick to the most common ones?

    • The ones on the “Old Usage” are mostly likely not common (except maybe in certain literature). Some on the regular list may be common in certain regions, but not in others.

      If you are going for laughs, use the less common ones.

      As a guy, stick to the 私, 僕, or 俺 depending on situation.

  6. Hmm, I always thought おりゃあ わたしゃ わしゃ etc. were contractions of 俺は 私は 儂は, but maybe I was wrong…

    • I just went on what was said here:

      “おりゃあ、ぼかぁ、わたしゃ、あたしゃ、わしゃあ、おらぁ
      一人称を崩した表現で「ゃあ」や「ぁ」を既成の一人称につけ足す表現がある。山本五十六はプライベートでは「おらぁ」と自称することが多かったと言われている。”

  7. I personally like to use 「自分」and 「私」when speaking about myself.

    It’s hard to pick just a few “I’s” Every one of them have something interesting about them.

  8. It’s probably worth mentioning that あたい in fiction usually means that the speaker is a 不良少女. And probably 時代遅れ.

    This is actually quite an awesome list. I only came upon 我が輩 (in katakana) recently in 逆転裁判. Actually, thinking over it, there were a shocking number of oddball ones in that game.

    It’s surprising how many of these are actually important to know. I definitely think 我 is still very important if you intend to read a lot, for instance, even though it has a very dated feel.

  9. I knew Japanese had many ways of saying “I” before, but personally didn’t know there would be anywhere near 100! I always struggle whether to use 俺、僕 or 私. I tend to steer away from 俺 just for the fear that people will find it obnoxious or too rough. I remember one high school Japanese friend told me she thought it was “cute” to see a male foreigner saying 僕, so I tend to be more cautious of using that as well! Perhaps avoiding saying the word “I” in Japanese would be less confusing :p

    • Thanks. Not sure how I missed that! Fixed. I originally meant to include the ちゃん・お variants, which is where my numbers got messed up. So I added them back in.

    • Yeah, for some reason I included that in the “100 ways to say You” list, but not here. Gotta love words that mean both you and I at the same time!

    • Now I’m doing dialect specific words and found this incredible account: https://mobile.twitter.com/hougen_hanasou

      It seems to post common words and phrases in standard dialect and then its alternatives in a huge variety of others. Seems like a great look at both dialects and what natives consider common…and more fuel for this game.

      • Nice Twitter account. It’s always great to find new sources of dialect learning. Thanks for linking that!

      • Nothing really specific, just interesting ways of speaking and dialect stuff I was previously unaware of. And a lot of 我輩は猫である references.

        I’ve actually been using Twitter a lot lately; I’m kind of wary of Lang8 just from seeing how poor the corrections can be for Japanese people writing English, so lately when I write something I’m unsure of I’ll run it through twitter to see if natives phrase it that way as well, or if there’s a better way to word it. Google auto complete suggestions are also helpful on that front; it can clue you in on what you you’re really trying to say.

  10. Thanks for the interesting list! I never realized the list was this expansive.

    I’m curious if any information about how LGBTQ individuals refer to themselves could be added. I am a Japanese tutor and one of my students is LGBTQ and asked about this (what pronouns would be best for her to use). I did some general Googling and found some resources, but there’s a lot to be desired.

    Her question made me really curious! What is going on in the Japanese language to deal with the new ways people are viewing gender vs. sex, and how they use words to refer to themselves and others?

    I realize this might be a big, broad, difficult topic… but on the off-chance that anyone can contribute, I thought I’d share my question. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

    • It’s a hard question to answer because I’m sure there are so many variations within the community, and a lot comes down to personal choice.

      At its basics, you can just use the “I” for the gender you want to associate yourself with.

      To associate yourself as male, 僕, 俺, オイラ, etc.
      To associate yourself as female, わたし、あたし、あーし、あちき、あたい, etc.

      The other thing I’ve noticed is a complete break from normal standard “I,” and using those that are older, or a different dialect, or just different from what most people use.

      This is as much as I know, and it’s mostly from observation on TV, so in reality it may vary as well. Anyone else want to chime in?

    • You may want to do some googling about “x gender”, which as far as I know is one of the more popular Japanese equivalents of what we refer to as non binary or genderqueer in English: http://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/X%E3%82%B8%E3%82%A7%E3%83%B3%E3%83%80%E3%83%BC

      I had some blogs bookmarked, but they’re on my now-failing hard drive. If you Google and read around you can probably easily find some native LGBTQ people and see how they refer to themselves and prefer to be referred to as.

      • Thank you both for your comments! I had not heard of “X-Gender” so this will be a great addition to Internet searches I can perform. 勉強になりました~ どうもありがとうございます!

  11. Sometimes, I get confused if someone uses この俺 or この私. Does it emphasizes “I”? Excuse my ignorance.

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