Common Mistakes: the third person pronouns kare (彼, He) and kanojo (彼女, She)

August 19th, 2013By Category: Uncategorized


Last time we talked about how the second person pronoun anata (あなた) is rarely used in Japanese.あなた-anata/

This time we will talk about the third person pronouns kare (彼, He) and kanojo (彼女, She).
Generally speaking, in the same way as anata (you), kare (he) and kanojo (she) are rarely used. However, in recent years, perhaps due to the influence of foreign language (particularly English), it has come into use when referring to a person objectively. That said, when used in reference to a socially superior person, it still sounds impolite, and sounds distant when used for family members or other people close to you. It is more natural to call them by name or title.

A: あら、今日は一人?お子さんは?
B: 主人のお母さんが見てくれています。
A: いいお姑さんね。
B: ええ、×彼女が ○母が いてくれて助かってます。

(Kinjyo no hito tono kaiwa)
A: Ara, kyou wa hitori?  Okosan wa?
B: Shuji no okaasan ga mite kurete imasu.
A: Ii oshutome san ne.
B: Ee, ×kanojyo ga  ○haha ga ite kurete tasukatte masu.

(Conversation between people in the neighborhood)
A: Oh, you’re on your own today? What about your children?
B: My husband’s mother is watching them.
A: How good of your mother-in-law.
B: Yes, it’s a real help to have ×her ○mother be there for me.

A: ご家族は?
B: 妻と娘一人です。
A: お子さんは、おいくつなんですか?
B: ×彼女は ○娘は、五歳です。

(Shotaimen no hito to)
A: Gokazoku wa?
B: Tsuma to musume hitori desu.
A: Okosan wa oikutsu nan desuka?
B: ×Kanojyo wa ○Musume wa go-sai desu.

(People meeting for the first time)
A: Do you have a family?
B: I have a wife and a daughter.
A: How old is your kid?
B: ×She ○My daughter is five.

Finally, we will talk about the first person pronoun watashi (私 I).
Unlike the second person and third person pronouns, it is rarely used in Japanese because in cases where the setting of the situation can be shared, the subject of the sentence is unnecessary and not spoke, and subjects are often omitted.


(Watashi wa) Katei kyoushi no Okamura desu.  Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

(Self Introduction)
My name is Okamura, and I am a tutor. I look forward to working with you.

Furthermore, there are some people who do not use ‘watashi,’ but instead refer to themselves by their own title from the point of view of the person to whom they are speaking. In these cases, the person to whom they are speaking is clearly a child. For example, a grandfather may say to a grandchild, 「おじいちゃん(私)は若いときはかっこよかったんだよ. Ojiichan (=watashi) wa wakaitoki wa kakko yokattandayo.」”Grandfather (I) was good-looking when I was young,” or a teacher may say to a student, 「先生(私)が言うとおりにやってね.  Sensei (=watashi) ga iu toori ni yattene.」”Do as teacher (I) says.”

Conversely, small children often refer to themselves by name rather than using ‘watashi.’
「えりこ(私)はね、いちごが食べたいの.  Eriko (=watashi) wa ne, ichigo ga tabetai no.」”Eriko (I) wants to eat strawberries.”
In rare cases some people continue to do so even in adulthood (particularly women), but opinion is divided as to whether this is endearing or childish. Incidentally, I am strongly opposed to it myself, but what do all of you think? Do people ever refer to themselves by their own name in your country?


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The Iidabashi Japanese Language School motto is "Be Unique, Have fun Globally!" We teach classes focused on conversation skills to foreigners living in Japan.

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  • Kate says:

    In my country, it would be really weird to refer to yourself by name. If you did that, you would probably come off as annoying. Or even crazy. 🙂