あなた (anata) means “you” in Japanese. While we use “you” all the time in English, it is not quite the case for the Japanese language.
It is better to avoid using あなた (anata) in most situations as it could come across as strange, distant, or even rude.
Why is this, you ask? Let’s see why.
What is あなた (Anata) in Japanese?
あなた (anata) generally has two meanings in Japanese.
- dear (wives will use あなた with this meaning to talk to their husband)
While “you” is a very common personal pronoun in English, and you can refer to almost anyone as “you,” this is not the case in Japanese. あなた (anata) has a very specific usage that you need to know to use it appropriately and sound natural.
How あなた (Anata) is Used Naturally in Japanese
Here are the natural ways あなた (anata) is used in Japanese.
1. あなた (Anata): Dear/Darling/You
Used by wives to call their husbands (instead of using their name).
You can often hear this in Japanese dramas. In real life, it depends on the couple. Some wives use あなた (anata), while some use their husband’s name. Some wives may even use their husband’s name with the さん (san) suffix or even call him お父さん (otōsan – father) if they have kids.
(Nē, anata, sukoshi tetsudatte kureru?)
Hey darling, could you help me a little?
2. あなた (Anata): You – Used By Someone of Higher Social Status
Used by someone of a higher status to call on someone of lower status, i.e., teachers and students, bosses and workers, etc.
(Anata mo izure, wakaru toki ga otozureru deshō.)
You will understand it one day, too.
(Anata no yatteiru koto wa machigatteiru.)
What you are doing is wrong.
3. あなた (Anata): You – To Express Annoyance
Used with a negative context to express dissatisfaction or annoyance.
(Itteru koto o mattaku kiitenai jan, anata.)
You aren’t listening to me at all, right?
4. あなた (Anata): You – A General/Unspecific Way to Refer to People
Used as an impersonal/general referral, such as in books, advertisements, etc. As “impersonal” suggests, the “you” word does not refer specifically to YOU in this case. It is a general term to refer to whoever is watching or reading the sentence.
It is most often used when a sentence will be seen by a large audience or when there is a case when a name cannot be known.
(Anata no mirai, sūbyō de wakaru!)
(We will) predict your future in a few seconds! (Fortune-telling sign)
(Anata wa saikin, tsukarete imasen ka?
Aren’t you feeling tired these days? (Advertistment)
5. あなた (Anata): You – People Who Share The Same Social Status
Used to refer to someone with the same social status as you (your friends, family, close co-workers you have a close relationship with, etc.).
*Important: Use あなた in this context as a last resort, as it is not always clear that the person you are speaking with has the same social status/position as you. If they have a high social status, using あなた would come off as sounding rude.
(Moshikashite anata wa, Yamamoto-san…desu ka?)
Could it be that you are…Ms./Mr. Yamamoto?
As you might have noticed, あなた (anata) is rarely used in the same way as “you” is used in English.
So HOW do you say “you” naturally in Japanese?
The trick here is not using the word “you” at all. Let’s see how to do this.
Saying “You” Naturally in Japanese: Don’t Use あなた (Anata)
The best way to express “you” in Japanese is by not directly saying “you” in the first place. There are other ways to refer to someone in Japanese that are much more natural.
Here are 3 natural ways people refer to someone without ever using a word for “you” in Japanese:
1. Calling Someone By Their Name
This is the easiest way to refer to someone without using “you.” If you know the name of the person you are referring to, just use their name with the appropriate suffix (san, sama, etc.).
(Tanaka-san wa kyō jikan ga arimasu ka?)
Do you have time today, Mr. Tanaka?
(Kuwabara sensei no ossharu tōri desu ne.)
You are right Mr Kuwabara.
2. Dropping the Subject
The subject of a sentence (I, you, them, etc.) is often dropped in Japanese if it is clear what they are from the context. This is especially true with the subject “you.”
If you are speaking to one person, everything you say is directed towards that person (unless otherwise stated). You don’t need to keep saying “you” to that person because it is already understood from the context you are talking to/about them.
If you are talking to a group of people, you can still drop the subject as long as you use non-verbal communication (looking at the person when talking to them, using gestures, etc.).
Hitoshi: (Kyō, nani o tabeta no?)
Hitoshi: What did (you) eat today?
Masatoshi: (Ēto…are? Kyō, nani tabetakke?? Wasureta!)
Masatoshi: Umm…huh? What did I eat today…? Ah, I forgot!
Three students are sitting in a classroom.
Ken: (Uwā, shiken, taihen datta wa! (Sakura ni mukete) Zenbu kaketa?
Ken: Ah, the exam was so difficult! (Turns to Sakura) Could you finish all of the questions?
Sakura: (Kakeru wake nai janai. Jikan ga mijikasugiru mon. (Totemo ochitsuiteite jishin manman sou na Hiroyuki ni mukete) Yoyū ga arisōna kao shiteru ne.)
Sakura: No way. There wasn’t enough time. (Turns to Hiroyuki, who looks very confident and relaxed) You look pretty calm.
Hiroyuki: (Fufun, anna no kantan da yo.)
Hiroyuki: He-he, those questions were so easy.
3. そちら (Sochira) / そっち (Socchi)
If you do not know the opponent’s name or feel like you need a “help word” to continue building a conversation, you can use そっち (socchi) or そちら (sochira) when referring to someone.
そっち (socchi) means “that way,” but in the context of a conversation can be used as “you.” そちら (sochira) is a polite version of そっち (socchi).
It is often used with the particle は (wa) to form a question like the English phrase “and you?”
Haruto: (Kyō, yaru koto ga nakute zutto eiga o miteru. Socchi wa?)
Haruto: I have nothing to do today, so I am just watching movies all the time. What about you?
Shun: Urayamashii wa. Watashi wa kyō, juku ni ikanakyaikenain da.)
Shun: Ah, I’m jealous. I have to go to a cram school today.
Of course, you could replace そっちは (socchi wa) with the person’s name. In this case, 俊は? (Shun wa?): How about you, Shun?
Karen: (Watashi wa kaigai ni itta koto ga nai desu ne. Sochira wa?)
Karen: I have never been abroad. And you?
Keisuke: (Boku wa ikkai Kanada ni itta koto ga arimasu.)
Keisuke: I have been to Canada once.
Variations of あなた (Anata)
あなた (anata) is not the only word that means “you” in Japanese. Here are some of the most common words in Japanese that mean “you.”
1. あんた (Anta): A Rougher Way To Say “You”
A ruder version of あなた (anata). Usually used when you want to express your dissatisfaction with someone or to show that you look down on them. Parents sometimes will use あんた with their children. Some older people may use あんた when talking with younger people.
However, you should avoid using this word in your conversations.
2. 自分 (Jibun)*
Initially means “self .”It can be used to say “myself” and “yourself,” depending on the context.
The rule of thumb is:
自分は ~ (jibun wa ~) = me, myself
自分の (jibun no): in the middle of the sentence after the subject has been indicated = your, yourself
*Note: 自分 can be used to say “you” in some parts of the Kansai region in Japan. (Example #2 below)
(Omae, jibun no kotoba ni ki o tsukero yo).
Hey you, be careful with your words.
(Sore de? Jibun wa dōshitai no?)
So, what do you want to do?
3. お前 (Omae): A Very Informal, Masculine Way To Say “You”
A very informal form of “you.” It can be used both as an insult to look down on someone or a crude way to say “you.” This word is mainly used by men with their friends. If used with someone you don’t know well, it usually means you are angry or don’t care about being nice.
As such, you should avoid using this in conversations unless it’s with your friends that you know very well (and they use this type of language too).
4. てめえ (Temē): An Offensive Way to Say “You”
This insulting form of “you” is used in an aggressive argument towards someone you despise. While it means “you,” the nuance of this word is closer to “you piece of sh*t.”
This is definitely a fighting word. Avoid using this word in any context.
5. 君 (Kimi): A Slightly More Friendly Way to Say “You”
A friendly form of “you” but is not used that often in conversations. It is used by people of higher status to refer to people of lower status.
貴様 (Kisama): Super Insulting Way To Say “You”
This is also a very insulting way to say “you” in Japanese. It is like saying, “hey, bi*ch” or “you son of a bi*ch.” This is also a word that can get you in trouble, so avoid using this.
Using Someone’s Name in Japanese
Using someone’s name is probably the easiest and most polite way to say “you” in Japanese.
How can you ask someone’s name in Japanese?
Here are a few simple phrases you can use to ask someone’s name:
(Sumimasen, onamae wa?)
Sorry, what is your name?
(Onamae o oukagai shite mo yoroshii deshō ka?)
Could you please tell me your name?
If You Forgot Someone’s Name:
(Gomennasai. Mō ichi do onamae wo ukagatte mo ii desu ka?)
I’m sorry. Could you please repeat your name once more?
As you can see, the best way to express “you” is to avoid using “you” in Japanese. While many “you” words were introduced in this article, please remember that each is only used in specific situations.
You might feel weird dropping this important part of the sentence when speaking Japanese, but the more you practice, the more natural you will sound!