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Anata, Omae, Temee, Kimi, Kisama - Meaning in Japanese & Differences

Sunday, August 6, 2017
If you have watched anime once in your life, you may have heard one of these words: anata 貴方, omae お前, temee 手前, kimi 君 and kisama 貴様. And if you have watched anime enough, you may have figured out that they all mean "you" in Japanese. Is this even possible?! Are there differences between the meanings of these words?

Yes, it is true. Just like watashi, ore and boku all mean "I" in Japanese, anata, omae, teme, kimi and kisama can mean "you" in Japanese, that is, they are all "second person pronouns," ni-ninshou daimeishi 二人称代名詞.

And that's not even all of them. There are others. But since these are the most popular in anime and manga, I'll only talk about them.

Index:

Japanese, Anime and English Pronouns

Before anything else, a warning about Japanese, anime, and English pronouns.

They are different things.

Yes. Anime ones, too.

Basically, the way pronouns work in Japanese is culturally and linguistically different from how they work in English. Because a lot of referring to other people in the language is associated with the difference of status between the guy who's saying "you" and who "you" is in the context.

This means that which "you" word you use shows what you think you are and what you think the person you are talking to is. In most cases this translates to how rude you are being to the person you're talking to.

Saying you in Japanese: the different words and how bad they are. Usage from real life to anime fantasy. anata 貴方, not good. kimi 君, slightly bad. omae お前, sorta bad. temee 手前, very bad. kisama 貴様, comically bad.


That's totally different from how "you" works in English. In English "you" is "you" and that's it. We don't have weird nuances attached to such a simple word. This happens because in English "you" is purely a grammar necessity, while in Japanese "you" is associated more with a person, and anything associated with talking to or about a person in Japanese carries ranking, status, respect and politeness connotations.

In sum: it's way too fucking different and weird.

If that wasn't enough, anime Japanese is a cartoon version of real life Japanese. So anything that looks like it's Japan and Japanese in anime is not really. The choice of pronouns in fiction, media, anime and manga are governed by a completely different set of rules than real life. Just keep that in mind.

Not Using a Second Person Pronoun

The most common and most preferred way to say "you" in Japanese is not using an actual word which is a pronoun, but, instead, using the person's name with an honorific like san さん or even his title.

For example, if you were talking to a guy called Yamaguchi 山口:
  • Yamaguchi-san wa hima desu ka? 山口さんは暇ですか?
    Are you (Yamaguchi-san) free (right now)?
    Is Yamaguchi-san free (right now)?

Note that since you don't actually use a "you" pronoun there we don't know for sure if the phrase says "you" or "he." That is, I could be talking to Yamaguchi or I could be talking about Yamaguchi to someone else. That's just how Japanese works.

I you were talking to your "teacher," your sensei 先生, noting that "teacher" is a title, you could say this:
  • sensei wa hima desu ka? 先生は暇ですか?
    Are you (teacher) free (right now)?
    Is the teacher free (right now)?

Also, Japanese has a tendency of omitting words, so it's possible to omit the pseudo second person pronoun.
  • hima desu ka? 暇ですか?
    Are [you] free (right now)?

All examples above have some ambiguity in them and that's normal in Japanese.

Why Use Pronouns?

However, if that's normal in Japanese why are there words that mean "you"? Or rather, why are there so many words that mean "you"?! It's very simple, actually.

Each one of the words below that mean "you" are not exactly grammatically necessary. That is, if you are just going to a phrase like "you do this" or "what happened to you" in Japanese, you'll never need the pronouns below.

So this is what I mean by the Japanese "you" not being like the English "you." In English we need the second person pronoun because of how our grammar works. In Japanese we use the pronoun only in a very deliberate way, and this can happen for any reason.

For example, in some songs of the "I love you" kind, it'd be weird if it said "I love you Tanaka" every single time, so a pronoun is used instead to make the name of the lover anonymous and less weird. I mean, imagine if everyone started singing they loved Tanaka. What the fuck, Tanaka? In manga, using the names of characters all the time would sound a little too stiff for comics, so pronouns are used instead. Such are some of the reasons.

Anata あなた / 貴方

The word anata あなた, sometimes written with kanji like anata 貴方, is the most common, average, regular-looking, no-nuance, no-gotcha second person pronoun of the language.

And even then it's a pretty loaded one.

Basically, in normal, boring non-anime Japanese the only time you'd use anata is when you don't know someone's name. If you know their name, you just use their name instead of using anata. All second person pronouns sound weird compared to using the person's name, but anata is the one that sounds least weird so there's that.
  • anata no namae wa?  あんたの名前は?
    Your name is?

In fact, you don't even need to use anata to ask someone their name.
  • onamae wa? お名前は?
    Your name is?
  • dochira sama desu ka? どちら様ですか?
    Who are you?
  • donata desu ka? どなたですか?
    Who are you?

If the word donata looks similar to anata to you it's because anata is actually one of the kosoado kotoba of the group konata, sonata, anata and donata.

Anta

One way of saying anata あなた is anta あんた. Despite not being quite the right word, this word is very common in anime, specially used by characters with stronger voice tones.

This word isn't as formal as anata, but it isn't straight out rude, either. (in particular, it doesn't mean "stupid" as the word "anta," that is, "mule" in Portuguese would mean)

Dear, Darling Anata

Sometimes anata can be used to refer to husbands in a confusing intimate way. That is, instead of calling their husbands INSERT HUSBAND NAME HERE, wives call them anata.

This can be seen sometimes in anime too.

Konata & Sonata

Also meaning "you," anata's sibling words konata and sonata practically aren't used in modern Japanese and in modern Japan anime, but it does show up in anime about the Edo era and ye olde samurai times. (like in Katanagatari 刀語 for example)

Originally, konata would be a person closer to the speaker (much like kore is a thing closer to the speaker), sonata someone slightly far away, and anata someone farther away. All of them were second person pronouns, with donata being the interrogative.

Omae お前

The word omae お前 is a weird one because it includes mae 前, and mae 前 is confusing in a lot of ways including this one.

The difference between omae and anata is that omae is very easily considered rude. That is, if someone doesn't care about the pronoun, if it's a friend, he will not care about it, but if he does care about it, he will not like it. Not at all.

So between two people who don't care about the pronoun the usage magically becomes alright, but most of the time you'd avoid using it because it may sound disrespectful to someone whom you don't know.

Despite this, the word omae is used in almost every anime. Sure younger people, teenagers, etc. people who haven't graduated school yet and talk mostly to their school friends and not to a bunch of strangers out there in society / real-world might be more inclined to using the word, but certainly not in the frequency anime portrays it.

Omee おめぇ

Just like anta is another way of saying anataomee おめぇ is another way of saying omae お前. Just like anta, omee is a rougher way of pronouncing it and it might sound a little more rude, but honestly the characters who speak like this are usually the tough guy type, so this kind of tiny rude nuance will be the least rude thing that will come out from their mouths.

Origin of Omae お前

If you know a thing or two about Japanese, you might have noticed that omae お前 starts with an o お. Well, duh. What I mean is that it starts with an o 御. The honorific prefix that also makes turns words like niisan 兄さん into oniisan 御兄さん, which would be slightly more polite.

So what is a prefix that makes words more polite doing in a word that's considered rude? Well, that's just Japanese language for ya, this contradicting bullshit keeps showing up all the time. This time it has to do with history.

Long, long, long, long, long, long, very long, like waaaaaaaay too long ago. Before you were born. The word omae originally referred to the "front," mae 前, of a person that was important, a person of honor, hence omae 御前, you can pretend this means "honorable front" if that makes it easier for you to understand.

But why the fuck does a word like this even exist? Like what's the point of referring to a person's front in such a specific, bizarre way? And how does that connect with omae becoming a second person pronoun?!

Basically, just like you can see in anime how calling someone by first name is considered too intimate and direct, in those old times referring to someone of such high rank directly was considered too intimate and therefore rude, and therefore you'd be screwed because you just did something rude to someone important, therefore your head would fly away.

So in a very convoluted and ridiculous way someone figured out it was more respectful to refer to these important people by referring to the space in front of them instead of referring directly to them themselves. Yes. That's weird as fuck. That's just how it is.

So omae had a meaning similar to "front" in "to stand in front of the king." Or "to appear before the emperor." That sort of stuff.

Since it had such intricate meaning it's no wonder it lost its original meaning with time, became a normal second person pronoun, and then became a rude second person pronoun. Sure it is a 180 degrees turn, but that's how it actually happened.

Temee 手前

The word temee てめぇ, also written with kanji as temee 手前, is essentially a very rude way of saying "you." It's way more rude than saying omae.

Because of that it's hardly used in real life, except when people want to be cussing at whom they are talking to, which basically doesn't happen unless shit is really going to hit the fan. However, in manga and anime this word is used way too often. This happens because it's anime, anime is a caricature of real life, it's not real life, so in anime temee is not nearly as rude as it would be in real life.

Another thing about temee てめぇcan also mean "oneself" in the same way "you" can mean "oneself" in English. Usually in a form like:
  • temee no jinsei wa temee de kimeru てめぇの人生はてめぇで決める
    Your life is you who decides
    You decide your life
    One decides one's life

Onore

The word onore 己 is not normally used to say "you" in Japanese. Most of the time it appears in anime when someone is angry (and cursing) at someone else.

In a way similar to temee てめぇ, onore 己 can also mean "oneself" in Japanese. And on top of that, onore can also mean "I," "me" or "myself" depending on context.

Generally speaking, onore 己 means "oneself," it means "me" when someone is talking about themselves, and it means "you" when someone is using it as second person pronoun to refer to whom they are mad about. It's a very weird word, indeed.

Kimi

The word kimi 君, extremely confusingly written with the very same kanji as the honorific kun, is a slightly more common way to say "you" in Japanese, that most of the time is a mixture of looking-down / condescending but not quite, it can sound somewhat docile.

Basically, kimi, just like omae, implies a certain level of intimacy when used. The difference between kimi and omae is that when omae is used and the intimacy is unwarranted, people can find it blatantly rude. But when kimi is used and the intimacy is unwarranted, people find it condescending.

This happens because kimi is normally used in the vertical, hierarchical society that is Japan, by older people to talk to younger people and to children, by seniors to talk to their juniors (senpai-kouhai), by teachers and bosses to talk to their students and employees, etc.

You can see kimi being used in any of the scenarios above in anime. However, you'll never see kimi used in anime the opposite way: by youngsters to refer to their elders, juniors to refer to their seniors, students to refer to teachers, etc.

There is no student in anime that calls their teacher kimi since that'd be implying the student is looking down at the teacher, which is the opposite of how it should be. Alright maybe in some anime there might be such student, but then that's probably deliberate and the author is felt like showing how the student thinks he's such a badass he can call his teachers kimi or something, or maybe he's the child of the rich chairman who owns the school and he wants to show he can do whatever the fuck he wants, including calling others kimi.

Another way to look at this is assuming that the "you" you're talking about is some cute, sweet, frail creature of sorts. Ok, that's a bit extreme. But it holds that sort of meaning when you think it can be used by fathering figures (actual fathers, employers, elders) and by intimate friends or childhood friends. It's saying "you are not dangerous" in a way, and that may be perceived as "you are some weak nobody" which is why it can sound condescending or it can sound friendly depending on context.

The word kimi is also regularly used to imply intimacy in the romantic sense in anime. For example:
  • Kimi no Na wa 君の名は
    Your name

Is the title of a famous romance anime movie. That just goes to show how strongly kimi got attached to those levels of intimacy.

Kisama 貴様

The word kisama 貴様 is not used in real life. Period.

But nobody cares about that.

In anime kisama 貴様 is derogatory. And it would be indeed derogatory in real life if people used it, but it's such a comic villain word people don't actually do that. Not unless they want to pretend they are an anime character. Anyway, they don't use the word seriously.

Besides the fact kisama is the rudest way of saying "you" in Japanese you'll find in this article, there's also the fact that it's used by anime characters in a not that much rude way.

This happens because in some anime, modern-era anime, characters call others kisama if they be real mad about something. But when it comes to emperors, kings, nobles and stuff like that they usually say kisama in a much more casual way, normally towards people on their very own side, normally to their own subordinates! Why does this happen? Is this some kind of power abuse?!

Well, not exactly.

Kisama used by Kings

Just like kimi 君 has that looking down at you because that's just the vertical society works nuance, kisama 貴様 works the same way, except to the extreme. If you are the emperor, king, etc. basically everyone is under you. You literally can't look upwards at someone. It's always looking down. Since you stand at the top.

Such philosophy shows up in words. Normal characters use kisama 貴様 because they are basically saying "you're trash" when they're looking down, king characters use kisama 貴様 to say "you're my inferior" because they just are superior by definition.

Origin of Kisama & Why Kisama Has Sama?

I can't believe I'm explaining the origin of another word in the same article, but kisama 貴様 ends in that notorious honorific -sama. And no, it's not a similar word, it's the very same word. It's very literally the honorific sama 様 right there. There's no mistake. It's no coincidence.

So, again, what the fuck? Why does a word, which is a derogatory word, a word so ridiculously bad the only people who actually say it are fictional characters, end in the highest, most distant possible honorific? How does this shit happen? It's the second time this article!! With omae 御前 it was an honorific prefix, now it's an honorific suffix. Is there a pattern going on here? Is there something we should know about?

Yes. It's mockery.

No, I don't mean it's a joke. I don't mean the Japanese language is mocking you either. I mean Japanese people mocked themselves to this point.

To understand this better let's do some English. Sometimes we jokingly call people "your majesty." Now, unless you are an extremely lucky person from England, chances are you're not talking to an actual majesty. You are just mocking the fact that person is acting like he owns the damn place.

What happened in Japanese is not the same, but somewhat alike.

People originally used kisama 貴様 to refer to nobles, people of noble birth, kizoku 貴族, just like they used omae お前 to refer to the front of very important and sacred people.

Time passes, the normal folk start mocking those words. Ever since "polite speech," or keigo 敬語, became a thing used to talk to your superiors in the vertical society that's Japan, the Japanese folk use this same keigo in a mocking way towards their non-superior equals. Much like we say "your majesty" mockingly in English, Japanese has an entire sub-language full of polite words to pick from. One of those words was kisama.

So they mocked the damn thing until people got sick of it.

It's a ratio thing, really. In any vertical, pyramid-like society, by the definition of pyramid the top is smaller than the base. So there were more people using kisama is a mocking way than there were people using it seriously. So its meaning, together with omae, suddenly stopped being serious and started being mockery.

Time passed, the talk of normal folks went from "haha, you omae" getting a "lol, u such a jest" response, to "haha, you omae" getting a "dude, are you kidding me? This crap again?" response. And then just like a meme from past month people began to hate the words they used to repeat so much after a good while.

So that's how kisama became derogatory, and why kisama has the sama honorific in it despite being a derogatory word.

Honorifics on Pronouns

For some pronouns which are indeed pronouns, that is, they exclusively and normally refer to people, it's possible to add honorifics to them because they normally refer to people. Anything that normally refers to people can get honorifics in Japanese, so second person pronouns wouldn't be an exception.

This means the following words also exist, though they are much more rare:
  • anata-san あなたさん
  • anata-sama 貴方様
  • omae-san お前さん
  • omae-sama 御前様

The honorifics kun and chan aren't normally added to words. And words which already have a condescending nuance or are rude don't get to have honorifics either (kimi 君, temee てめぇ).

Then there's kisama 貴様, which already has an honorific. So you get kisan 貴さん and kiden 貴殿, but there's no such thing as kisama-san. That's just wrong.

Plural You & Suffixes

In Japanese, the plural "you" also works differently from how you in English works. Because "you" in English works extremely weird since it's singular and plural at the same time but you only say "you are" you never say "you is."

If you use a person's name as "you," you can just add a tachi 達 suffix on it.
  • Yamaguchi-san-tachi 山口さんたち
    You (Yamaguchi and the rest)

You can also use tachi 達 with other words.
  • anatatachi 貴方達
  • kimitachi 君達
  • omaetachi お前達
    You (plural).

The suffix ra 等 is slightly more rude and thus can get used with every word. (though it'd sound weird with anata, since it's too stiff, so you see it used with anta a lot more)
  • antara あんた等
  • omaera お前等
  • omeera おめぇら
  • temeera 手前等
  • kisamara 貴様等
    You (plural)

For anata 貴方 alone there is anatagata 貴方方 which would be "you" in the plural.

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