Alphabets & Writing Learn Hiragana Common Anime Words

Kanojo, Kare and Kareshi - Meaning in Japanese

Thursday, October 13, 2016
The words kanojo 彼女, kareshi 彼氏 and kare 彼 often show in up in anime with similar but different meanings, making it difficult to understand what they really mean. So, in this article, I'm going to explain their meanings one by one so there's no doubt left about it.

To begin with, they're two of the words used to say "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" in Japanese.
  • kareshi 彼氏
    Boyfriend.
  • kanojo 彼女
    Girlfriend

But here's where things get complicated. First, kareshi 彼氏 can be abbreviated to kare 彼, still meaning "boyfriend." However, the both the words kare and kanojo have other meanings, that is, "third person pronouns," san'ninshou daimeishi 三人称代名詞:
  • kare
    He. Him.
  • kanojo 彼女
    She. Her.

So, to recap: kareshi only means "boyfriend"; kare means both "boyfriend" and "he"; and kanojo means "girlfriend" and "she." The difference between kareshi and kare is that kareshi is not used to say "he."

Mistaking Girlfriend for Her

You might be thinking it's easy to mistake one kanojo for the other kanojo, that is, a random "she" for your one and only (current) "girlfriend," but that actually never happens. Take a look at these phrases:
  • ore no kanojo 俺の彼女
    My girlfriend.
  • watashi no kare 私の彼
    My boyfriend. (ore vs. watashi)
  • kanojo ga byouki ni natta 彼女が病気になった
    She became sick.
  • kare ga doko da? 彼がどこだ?
    Where is he?
  • fujoshi kanojo 腐女子彼女
    My fujoshi girlfriend.
    (this is a shoujo manga and apparently the official translation is "My Girlfriend's a Geek." That's so very wrong)

It's very difficult to mistake one for another because that wouldn't even make sense. Nobody says "my girlfriend is going... blah blah blah." If you're already talking about your girlfriend, you'd say "she is going... blah blah blah" in which case even mistaking one for another would be harmless. The same goes for kare.

Girlfriend and Boyfriend in Japanese

It's important to note there are other ways to say "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" in Japanese besides kanojo and kareshi.

Notoriously,  booifurendo ボーイフレンド and garufurendo ガルフレンド come from (gairaigo 外来語) the English words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" and mean the same thing. 

If it's about previous romantic interests, the word mae 前 serves as an adjective:
  • mae no kareshi 前の彼氏
    mae on kare 前の彼
    mae kare 前彼
    Ex-boyfriend.
  • mae no kanojo 前の彼女
    Ex-girlfriend.

Finally, there are also neutral words such as koibito 恋人, meaning simply "lover." It joins both the word hito 人 meaning "person" and the word koi 恋 meaning "love".

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