Monday, August 22, 2016

Boku, Ore, Watashi - Meaning + Others

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 say that all words in this post, watashi, ore, boku, etc. do mean "I" in Japanese. That is, they are all the correct way, grammatically, to say "I." They are all first person pronouns, or ichinin-shou 一人称.

This means that you can replace one by another without changing the meaning of a sentence.
  • watashi ga keeki wo tabemashita 私がケーキを食べました
    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.

How to Say Me in Japanese

In Japanese, there are no distinct subject and object pronouns. This means the same words for "I" (watashi, ore, boku, etc.) can be used for "me."

The only difference there is is that the particle marking the noun must change. That is, the grammatical structure of the sentence must change. For example:
  • watashi ga okuru 私が送る
    I send.
  • watashi wo okuru 私を送る
    Send me. (literally, like put me into a mail box or something)
  • watashi ni okuru 私に送る
    Send to me. (an e-mail etc.)

How to Say We or Us

To say "we" or "us" in Japanese, add a pluralizing suffix like tachi たち or ra ら.
  • watashitachi 私達
  • oretachi 俺たち
  • orera 俺ら
  • bokutachi 僕たち
  • bokura 僕ら
The words above all mean "we" and can mean "us" when used as grammatical object.

My, Mine, Our, Ours

In Japanese, to say "my" or "mine" just add the no の particle in front of the pronoun. For example:
  • ore no imouto ga konnani 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.
  • bokurano 僕らの

Avoid Using Pronouns

In Japanese, it's unnatural to use a first person pronoun in every sentence. This means you should avoid using watashi, ore, boku, etc. as if they were "I" in English, even though they do mean "I," because Japanese grammar is very different from English, so the way pronouns are used is very different too.

The difference I'm talking here is that the subject in a Japanese phrase is often omitted if it can be implied, whereas English requires the subject even when there is none.

For example, in English we say "it's raining." What is it? Why can't we say "is raining" instead? Because the English grammar requires a subject. So we have this "dummy it," or "weather it," that's a pronoun existing only to validate the syntactic requirement of the English grammar.

An example of the subject being omitted In Japanese:
  • watashi ga keeki wo tabetaa 私がケーキを食べた
    I ate the cake.
  • keeki wo tabeta ケーキを食べた
    [I] ate the cake.


Note that there's ambiguity in the phrase above. It really only says "ate cake," there's not even the "the" article in Japanese. You just assume it means "I ate the cake" because that's probably the case. It's more likely than someone saying "you ate the cake" or "he ate the cake" or "Bob ate the cake" in that context.

Note, however, that the same phrase in a different context has a different meaning. For example:
  • kare ga nani wo shita? 彼が何をした?
    What did he do?
  • keeki wo tabeta ケーキを食べた
    [He] ate the cake.


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.

One exception is ware 我. With ware 我 the possessive is waga 我が, not ware no 我の. The ga が in waga is a particle like no, and has the same possessive function, however, this usage of ga が is mostly literally. Normally the ga が particle is not used to make possessives.

The no の also works with any other nouns and pronouns, 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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