Monday, August 22, 2016

Boku 僕, Ore 俺, Watashi 私 - Meaning & Differences - How to Say I in Japanese

How do you say I in Japanese? The first person pronoun? It's easy. Really, really easy. Just say watashi 私. Or boku 僕. Or ore 俺. Or watakushi 私. Or atashi あたし. Or oira おいら. Or washi 儂. Or ware 我. Or even use your own name. There are too many ways to say "I" in Japanese, so what's the difference between watashi, boku, ore and all these other words?

How to Say I in Japanese

First off, I want to note that most of the time you don't really use a word to say "I" in Japanese. This is because, when you're talking, you don't say "I did this" in Japanese, you just say "did this" and its assumed you're talking about yourself.
  • watashi ga keeki wo tabemashita 私がケーキを食べました
    I ate the cake.
  • keeki wo tabemashita ケーキを食べました
    [I] ate the cake.

This is, of course, unless there's something in the context of the conversation that indicates otherwise.
  • kare ga nani wo shita? 彼が何をした?
    What did he do?
  • keeki wo tabemashita ケーキを食べました
    [He] ate the cake.

The words below, "first person pronouns", or ichinin-shou 一人称, all perform the same grammatically. They're all nouns, pronouns, which you use to talk about yourself. This means you can replace watashi with boku, or ore, etc. without changing the meaning of the phrase. See:
  • ore ga keeki wo tabemashita 俺がケーキを食べました
    boku ga keeki tabemashita 僕がケーキを食べました
    I ate the cake.

But if all words mean the same thing, why so many of them?

What changes from word to word, from ore, to watashi, to boku, is just a nuance. Certain pronouns words are used only by certain kinds of people, certain pronouns are only used in certain ways. So when someone uses a pronoun, he's using it that's the one he's most comfortable with using in a given situation or because of who he is.

Below are the differences between the pronouns.


The word watashi 私 is the most basic way to say "I" in Japanese. Anyone can use it, male, female, young and old, and it doesn't carry a lot of nuance with it, at least not by itself.

It's supposed to be neutral, but it can sound feminine by comparison. What happens is that in formal contexts, everyone uses watashi. But informally, specially in anime, guys use ore 俺 and boku 僕. Which means only girls use watashi. Which means if a guy uses watashi while every other guy does not, he sounds like he's using a feminine pronoun because only the girls are using that pronoun.

However, if you had to pick a word, this one would be your best bet.

The kanji of watashi, 私, also shows up in words related to "private" and "personal", which just shows how closely related it is to that meaning.
  • shiritsu 私立
    Private establishment. (like a private school)
  • shiyou 私用
    Personal use.


The word watakushi 私, which, as you can see, has the same kanji and sounds like watashi, also means "I" but it's used as a more formal version of watashi.

So watashi would be your casual "I" while watakushi would be your business "I". However, recently, there have been reports of teenagers using that word more casually, so who knows if its nuance is going to stay the same in the future.


Just like watakushi, atashi is derivated from watashi, but it has a certain peculiarity: the word is used exclusively by females, girls and women, though not all of them, only some of them.

Japanese is a gendered language. There are many words that are used specifically by women that aren't used by men and vice-versa. Atashi is one of them.


In anime, the word boku 僕  is used almost exclusively by boys, and it carries with itself a childish nuance. I think it used to be that boku was used exclusively by male children, but things changed with time.

Nowadays, in the real world, there are girls who use boku instead of watashi, probably because the guys use boku, and there are men who use boku, too.

Generally, boku is considered a rather humble pronoun. So can sometimes be seen used by servants, butlers, etc. Or even by presidents of companies or politicians when they're making official statements as a way to sound more humble than the average person.


The word ore 俺 is also a male word, however, unlike boku, it doesn't carry a childish nuance but an assertive nuance. An air of superiority.

Because of this, using ore 俺 is kind of rude and shouldn't be said at all at workplace, with strangers, etc. Children, friends, romantic partners, family, those won't mind, but other people will mind.

In some anime, there are characters who call themselves ore-sama 俺様, which is like trying to call yourself far superior to others. This is because, on top of the nuance in ore, the sama 様 honorific is only used for people whom you consider superior to you.

Once again, the best word to use to communicate with strangers in real life just the plain old watashi.

Oira おいら and Ora おら

The words oira おいら and ora おら are just like ore, used mostly by males, but they aren't as commonly used. They're just another way of speaking.

Own Name

A way to to say "I" in Japanese that is used by children is to use your own name instead of a pronoun. Though it's common for young children to do this, it's frowned upon in not-so-young children.

Since most anime features characters 10 years old and above, you'll rarely see this way of speaking used.
  • fuuka ga yotsuba kaitekureta! ふーかがよつばかいてくれた!
    Fuuka drew me! (said by Yotsuba)
  • yotsuba mo yaru! よつばもやる!
    I'll do it too! (said by Yotsuba)

Washi わし and Asshi あっし

The word washi in Japanese is used mostly by older males, and asshi is just a variation of it. Neither are common. They just lie on the other side of the spectrum compared to boku, which is used mostly by children.

Ware われ and Uchi うち

The words ware and uchi are two words which are rarely used as a first person pronoun. The word ware can also mean "we" sometimes.
  • watashi no kuni dewa... 私の国では...
    In my country...
  • ware no kuni... 我の国...
    In our country...

And the word uchi can also be used to talk about your home or family instead of yourself.
  • uchi no musuko うちの息子
    Our son.
  • uchi ni terebi wa nai うちにテレビはない
    There's no TV home.

Jibun 自分 and Onore

Another two words which I think are interesting to talk about are jibun and onore. In Japanese, they don't exactly mean "I" but "oneself," so, besides being used to talk about yourself you can use to talk about other people other selves.
  • jibun ga nanimo dekinai kuseni 自分が何も出来ないくせに
    Even though I can't do anything myself.
    Even though you can't do anything yourself.
  • onore no chikara wo shiri 己の力を知り
    To know your own power.

Another way to think about these is just as "self" and not "yourself" or "myself." Who exactly you're talking about is usually hidden in the context of the conversation.

Plural, We

To say "we" in Japanese you can use the two pluralizing suffixes used to pluralize people. These are tachi 達 and ra 等.
  • watashi-tachi 私達
  • ore-tachi 俺達
  • boku-tachi 僕達
  • kimi-tachi 君達
  • kare-tachi 彼達
  • jibun-tachi 自分たち

Though they mean the same thing, the ra suffix shows up in some words tachi does not and vice-versa. 
  • boku-ra 僕等
  • ore-ra 俺等
  • kare-ra 彼等
  • aitsu-ra あいつら

Neither pluralizing suffix is used for things. Only for people or things treated like people, like pets for example. In Japanese, the same word often works in both singular and plural. For example, hon wo yomu 本を読む could mean either "read the book" or "read the books."

Another way, for ware 我, it has its own plural which is wareware 我々.
  • ware no teki de aru 我の敵である
    [It] is my enemy.
  • wareware no teki de aru 我々の敵である
    [It] is our enemy.

There are other words which have plural variants like this. The word hitobito 人々, for example, means "the people," while just hito 人 means "person" or "people." The difference is that hitobito always talks about multiple people.

Possessive, My

Since we are here anyway, the way to say something is mine is Japanese is using the grammatical particle no の. It works with any word which means "I."
  • watashi no ie desu 私の家です
    It is my house.
  • boku no inu da 僕の犬だ
    It is my dog.
  • ore no gakkou da 俺の学校だ
    It is my school
  • watashi-tachi no yume 私達の夢
    Our dream
  • jibun no kibou 自分の希望
    One's hope.

It works with any other words, but then the owner of the thing won't be "I."
  • kare no ie desu 彼の家です
    His house.

Names of Animes

The words for "I" can also be found in many names of anime. Here are some of those names and their translations to English.
  • watashi ga motenai no wa dou kangaetemo omaera ga warui  私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い!
    No matter how you think about it, it's you guys fault I'm not popular.
  • jitsu wa watashi wa 実は私は
    The truth is I... (something)
  • maji de watashi ni koi shinasai! 真剣で私に恋しなさい!
    Love me for real!
  • watashi ga motete dou sunda 私がモテてどうすんだ
    What am I gonna do if I am popular
  • boku dake ga inai machi 僕だけがいない街
    The city only I am missing.
  • boku no hiiroo akademia 僕のヒーローアカデミア
    My hero academia
  • bokurano ぼくらの
  • boku wa tomodachi ga sukunai 僕は友達が少ない
    I have few friends
  • ore monogatari!! 俺物語!!
    I story. My story. The story of "I". (something like that)
  • ore no imouto ga konna ni kawaii wake ga nai 俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない
    My little sister can't be this cute.
  • yahari ore no seishun rabukome wa machigatteiru やはり俺の青春ラブコメはまちがっている
    As I thought, my teenager love comedy is wrong.
  • ore, twintail ni narimasu 俺、ツインテールになります。
    I'll become twintail.
  • kyou kara ore wa!! 今日から俺は!!
    From today on I...

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