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Posts Tagged ‘referring to others’

Zokugo 05 – Ways to Refer to People

Posted by Darkslime Z on 2011/05/29

For today’s zokugo post, we’re going to look at casual ways to refer to people in the 2nd or 3rd person. While it isn’t really “zokugo”, per se, these words are extremely important for understanding and participating in casual conversation in Japanese.

Second Person – Referring to “You”

The second person, which is the one you don’t really go over in high school English classes, refers to “you”, rather than “I” or “him”. There are many ways to do this in Japanese – however, as you probably know, people don’t use them often! Whatever the reason may be, such as intimacy or just outright being vulgar, Japanese people prefer to leave this kind of word out of the sentence altogether, substituting with the person’s name or そちら・そっち whenever possible. Even so, in close-quarters situations, these words will come in handy; just use them sparingly!


Only used by guys(it’s seen as vulgar when used by ladies), this version of “you” can generally be used one of two ways. First off, we have the joking around way with casual friends. It’s usually intonated starting high and ending low when used like this:

Heh, you did that pretty well! You’ve actually done this sort of thing before, haven’t you? (come on, tell me!)

The second reason to use this is to express frustration at someone(and not show them any kindness, really). Whether it be police chasing after a petty thief or a couple of friends getting into an argument, it definitely conveys a sense of hostility. The intonation, unlike above, is usually low to high here:

Hey, you! What the hell is up with that attitude, after that girl went through all that to do that for you!?

I never hear this being used by girls, so just keep that in mind. I do, however, hear it being used towards girls, with both connotations listed above.


Basically the equivalent of お前, except it’s used by girls sometimes. Also, you really can’t “joke arond” with あんた, and it really is pretty rude.

Don’t be “hey, you”-ing me like that; I’m your mother!


Essentially like お前; it can be used jokingly – only among very close male friends – or, usually, to express complete hostility towards the person.

What kind of person are you, hitting a small baby like that!?

Insightful readers will see these kanji, though, and wonder why it’s so disrespectful. In truth, 貴様(‘your honorable self’) used to be a term to refer to your superiors. I would assume it took on a sarcastic connotation over the years, and ended up like this.


Don’t use this, it’s probably the worst one here. It can’t really be used jokingly.

This is none of your f***in’ business, a*****e, so get the hell out of here.

Oddly enough, てめえ can be used to refer to yourself, too, but I don’t hear that often at all. (Similar to 己(おのれ), which I won’t go over here)

Third Person – Referring to “That Guy”

The third person, usually stricken in Japanese in favor of the person’s actual name nonetheless has important uses and come up quite frequently in casual conversation.


“That guy”. Compare to お前 – it can be used both to display affection or to display contempt.

Me and him’ve been pretty tight since grade school. He’s a good guy.

I don’t really hear this being used to refer to girls, but I do hear girls use it; most of the time in anger.

I wish he would just die already.


“This guy”, or, when not referring to a person, just “this thing” or “this stuff”. The connotations of こいつ are difficult to understand unless you’ve heard it used many times. A lot of times in anime and stuff, the character will just utter the word こいつ angrily to show their contempt towards someone they’re facing or talking to(kind of like この).

This guy here goofs off so much and doesn’t do his job; what an excuse for a person.

Again, it can also be used to refer to objects, many times when complimenting it.

This here is some pretty great coffee. I wonder what kind of beans they use.


While the above two words were “ko-so-a-do” words, this one isn’t. From the kanji for “field man” we get a rather vulgar way to refer to a person. Usually it’s preceded by この or あの, depending on their proximity.

That idiot’s making fun of me. Well, I won’t be fooled that easily.


Like the above, another rather vulgar way to refer to a person. However, it can actually be used to refer to an object(like こいつ), to refer to something you don’t know the name of, or just a way to say “he” or “she”.

You’re one weird guy. Why can’t you just do it like I tell you to?

This is the same magazine you picked up last week. What did you go and do, buy two of the same thing?

(Readers will notice both あんた and a word from last week, ダブる, being used here)

I’ve been putting on some weight lately, so they put me on one of those medical diet program things.

Closing Notes

This was originally going to include a whole bunch of other kinds of “names” to call people, but just the pronouns were making the post a little long. Perhaps another time.

Big thanks goes out to Beyond Polite Japanese: A Dictionary of Japanese Slang and Colloquialisms, by Akihiko Yonekawa. The idea to do a post on this, as well as many of the example sentences, came from this book. For someone studying colloquial Japanese, it’s a great reference, so you should go buy it! Other example sentences came from SpaceAlc.

Hope you liked the post; see you with some more zokugo next Sunday! For those of you US readers, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.


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