2004
08.20

There are many words that we can use in place of わたし depending on who we are or how we perceive ourselves, whom we are talking to, and so on. Some of my observations (which may not hold true all of the time) are as follows.

Young boys use 僕 (ぼく). Interestingly I once heard a very young girl use this word.

Young men often use 俺 (おれ) in friendly conversation. When I asked my high school students last year, they told me that I should use おれ. I should mention that I’m 24 years old. Another student said that it sounded funny when I used it which now surprises me even more as I have heard numerous elementary school children using おれ to refer to themselves!

Often young men seem to change from おれ to 僕 (ぼく) when talking to someone ‘above’ them (e.g. a parent’s friend).

This change can become permanent or after the man ages a little and doesn’t feel おれ is suitable any longer.

Older men can use different words such as わし and so on, but I have only ever heard these words in anime and in film subtitles – do people really use these in Japan these days?

For girls, a common replacement for わたし is あたし.

Interestingly, a friend from Kyoto told me that both boys and girls can use うち for わたし (bearing in mind うち is often used to refer to one’s home).

Then there are the formal personal prounounds such as わたし and the super-polite わたくし. One guy I was talking to said he has to use わたくし in his job interviews. At the time he was a final year university student looking for his first full-time job.



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  1. Nice to meet you!
    I’m impressed with your efforts.
    If I can help you improve your Japanese, I’m glad to advise you.
    May I link your blog to mine?

  2. Hi Shohei. Thanks a lot! Comments like yours give me added motivation to continue studying and posting my little discoveries online.
    If I have a problem I’ll be sure to be in touch. Well, I have some queries in this post if you have any free time to comment again…
    P.s. Nice blog you have there 😉 Of course you can link to my site.

  3. Thank you for your reply.
    Your considerations in this post seem almost right, I think.
    But Let me advise a little how to refer to oneself in Japanese for your further study.
    As you said, young boys often use 僕. But a few adult men use it. It depends on your personality whether you can use 僕 or not. If you’re cheerful, you may be able to use 僕 until your 30s or 40s. There is no general rule.
    俺 is not polite saying, however, every man, young and old, uses 俺 in private conversation. But If you’re not Japanese, you had better not use 俺. It sounds funny. You teach nice students! LOL
    わし is used by older men who are over 60 or 70, I think.
    You don’t need to care the difference between 私(わたし)and あたし. They are almost same.
    うち is a dialect which used in around Kansai, west Japan. Mainly girls use it.
    私(わたし) is the most standard saying. It’s used in a lot of situations. Almost all women use 私 in every situation. But if men use 私, it sometimes sounds a little too polite. So men usually don’t use 私 in friendly conversation.
    わたくし is mainly used at speech.
    As a result, you had better use 私 everywhere and everytime if you’re not Japanese.

  4.             男      女
    A.私(わたし)  : 10    10
    B.私(わたくし) : 15      15
    C.僕/わたし   :  7       7
    D.俺       :  3        ×
    the numbers show the degree of politeness.
    わたし has two uses for women. They corresponds to men’s 私(わたし)and 僕 each.

  5. Thank you very much for your detailed comments. I’m glad I haven’t made any big mistakes in my observations.
    I’m still looking forward to hearing someone say わし in real life.
    There is one point I disagree with you on though, and that’s when you say that non-Japanese should only use 私.
    If I used 私 to refer to myself while using ‘friendly Japanese’ in private conversation my girlfriend and friends would just laugh at me. Or they would know that I am deliberately using polite conversation.
    Perhaps it does sound strange for a foreigner saying 俺 or 僕, perhaps you are not used to it, I am not sure. But in my opinion, when not in a situation where you must be polite, 私 used by any young man who speaks Japanese well is far stranger.

  6. You have a point.
    Certainly,I said non-Japanese had had better say 私.It may be not proper as you said.
    But what I wanted to say is that you had better use 私 if you can’t judge how to say, for it depends on your personality.
    If your friends laughed at you when you said 私, you should use 僕 or 俺.

  7. Shohei-san, Darren, thanks for the most interesting information exchange.
    My contribution:
    For a while I used うち for saying I (note: I’m female). I don’t remember where or how I picked it up. In any case, my Japanese friends thought it was a bit weird, but many couldn’t quite say why. Eventually, one friend said, うち means one’s home, and for her to hear a foreigner say うち, the image just doesn’t jive. Oh well.

  8. Welcome to the discussion Charmaine.
    It seems strange that you picked up the use of うち but don’t know why. Perhaps you have a thing for people from Kyoto?
    As I said in my post, my student – originally from Kyoto – told me that for her it would be fine if I used うち to refer to myself, even though I’m male.

  9. Another one: I used to think われわれ was a polite way of saying 私たち。I used it in a regular conversation with one of my friends, and she could Not stop laughing. It seems われわれ is only used in formal occasions like business and wedding speeches. 硬い表現のようです。

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