And kanji with manga
Wednesday, October 12, 2016

人, hito, nin, jin, ~bito, ~ri, ~to

In Japanese, hito, nin, jin, ~bito, ~ri, ~to are different readings of a same kanji, and the meaning of that kanji is "person," so hito, nin, jin, etc. all mean "person" in one way or another. In this article, I'll explain the differences between them and how they're used.
The kanji for person, people or human in Japanese, 人, and its readings hito, nin and jin

(don't mistake 人 with 入火六大犬水氷木本夫矢天来美奏欒爨, none of which have anything to do with it.)

Meaning of hito

To begin with, hito 人 means "person," or "people," because of how plurals work in Japanese. Furthermore, because Japanese doesn't have definite and indefinite articles, hito can be translated as:
  • hito
    A person.
    The person.
    The people.

hito vs. nin, jin

The biggest difference between hito 人 and jin 人 and nin 人 is that hito 人 is a word, while jin 人 and nin 人 are not words, they're morphemes. This means you can use hito alone to say "person," because it's a word. While jin and nin are always part of other words and can't be used alone.
  • hito ga shinda
    A person died.
    People died.
  • hito ga kuru kamoshirenai
    A person may come.

Another difference is that hito 人 is a kun'yomi reading while jin 人 and nin 人 are on'yomi readings. But that hardly matters.

hito After Adjective

The way hito 人 is most often used is after an adjective. By having an adjective, we qualify and narrow down what person, or people, we're talking about. For example:
  • ii hito
    A good person.
    Good people.
  • kirei na hito
    A pretty person.
    Pretty people.
  • futsuu no hito
    A normal person.
    Normal people.
  • {kimi ga ai suru} hito
    The person [whom] {you love}.
    The people [whom] {you love}.

Note that ko 子 is a word that's often used like hito 人 the way above, except that it has a certain nuance. (see ko for details.)


Sometimes, hito is better translated as "someone" rather than "person." After all, a "person" is "someone."
  • hito ga shinda
    Someone died.
  • hito ga kuru kamoshirenai
    Someone may come.

Another word that means "someone" in Japanese is dare ka 誰か. Although they can often be used interchangeably, there are two differences between hito 人 and dare ka 誰か that should be noted:
  1. dare ka is always used an "uncertain" someone—someone you don't know who—while hito can refer to a certain someone whose identity you know.
  2. hito can mean "people," plural, while dare ka is just "one" someone, singular.

For example:
  • hito wo tasukeru
    To help people.
    To help a person.
    To help someone.
  • dare ka wo tasukeru
    To help someone.
  • asoko ni iru hito
    The person [that's] over there.
    The people [that are] over there.
    • We might know who is this person, or people.
  • asoko ni iru dare ka
    Someone (we don't know who) [that's] over there.

"He," "She"

Sometimes, hito 人 can be translated as "he" or "she." This happens when translating hito as "person" sounds weird, and it's more natural to translate the word as "he" or "she" instead.

For example, in romance manga, there's often a panel where a guy approaches a bishoujo 美少女, takes a look at her, is awestruck by her beauty, and thinks something like:
  • uwa~ kirei na hito!
    うわ~ 綺麗な人!
    Wow... a pretty "person!" (what?)
    • It makes more sense to translate this as:
    • Wow... [she's so pretty!]

Another case is when hito 人 comes after demonstrative pronouns kono, sono, ano この, その, あの to form the phrases kono hito, sono hito, ano hito この人,その人, あの人.

There's a difference of proximity between kosoado words such as kono, sono, and ano that doesn't translate well to English. On top of that, there's usually a visual hint (such as pointing) that makes explicitly saying "this person" and "that person" unnecessary. And normally describing the "person" as "guy" or "girl" or "woman" or "man" makes more sense in English than just saying "person." So:
  • kono hito この人
    This person.
    This [guy/girl right here].
    [He]. [She].
  • sono hito その人
    That person.
    That [guy/girl next to you].
    [He]. [She].
  • ano hito あの人
    That person.
    That [guy/girl that's not next to you].
    [He]. [She].

hito as Part of Other Words

As I've said before, nin and jin are always part of words, while hito can be used alone. But that doesn't mean hito is always used alone, it can be part of another word, too.

For reference, some words that include hito:
  • hitosama 人様
    Other people.
    • In the sense of acting respectfully toward "other people," etc.
  • hitojichi 人質
    • shichi
      Collateral. Guarantee.
  • hitogoroshi 人殺し
    Murder. (or murderer.)
    • korosu 殺す
      To kill.
  • hitochigai 人違い
    Different person.
    Mistaking one person for another.
    • chigau 違う
  • hitomae 人前
    Public. In public.
    In front of people.
    • mae
      Before. (in time.)
      Front. (in space.)


Sometimes, hito 人 is read as bito 人 instead when it's a suffix in a word. This happens because of a change in pronunciation called rendaku 連濁. This is the same thing that made hito-koroshi into hito-goroshi up there.
  • hitobito
    People. Persons.
  • kobito 小人
    Little people. Little person.
    Edward Elric.
  • koibito 恋人
  • murabito 村人
    • mura
    • murabito ei 村人A
      murabito bii 村人B
      Villager A, B, etc.
      Terms for random, nameless background characters. In school anime, when there's a theater play that the students have to do, some characters end up with these insignificant roles.

Meaning of nin

The word nin 人 isn't a word, it's a morpheme. As such, it can't be used alone. Instead, it's part of plenty of human-related words, like:
  • ningen 人間
  • ningyou 人形
    (literally human-shape)
  • ninki 人気
    • Like manga, anime, movies, clothes, etc.
    • Also means "people's presence," for example:
    • ninki no nai basho
      A place without people's presence.
      A place where there's nobody around.
      (somewhere you can be alone at, or where nobody can see you doing whatever you're doing there.)
    • Note that this isn't the same as:
    • moteru モテる
      To be popular with girls. (or guys.)
  • ninjou 人情
    Human feelings.
  • ningyo 人魚
    (literally human-fish)
  • ninzuu 人数
    Number of people.

When nin 人 is at the start of a word, it's pretty much impossible to tell when to read it as nin 人 instead of jin 人: you'll have to know the word, you can't guess.

However, when nin 人 when it's at the end of the word, it's usually related to what the "person" does. So if you know the stuff before nin 人 means, you may be able to guess it's read as nin 人 instead of jin 人. For example:
  • shiyounin 使用人
    • shiyou suru 使用する
      To use. (so a shiyounin is a person who's used, usable.)
  • shihainin 支配人
    Manager. Executive.
    • shihai suru 支配する
      To manage. To rule over somewhere.
  • kanrinin 管理人
    Manager. Administrator. Moderator.
    • kanri suru 管理する
      To manage. To control.
      (a moderator in an online forum is called a kanrinin, he kanri suru's the forum, which is under his kanri.)
  • hoshounin 保証人
    The guarantor. He who guarantees.
    • hoshou suru 保証する
      To guarantee.
  • uketorinin 受取人
    The recipient. He who receives.
    • ukeru 受ける
      To receive.
    • toru 取る
      To take.
    • uketoru 受け取る
      To receive (something you take.)
  • sashidashinin 差出人
    The sender. He who sends.
    • sashidasu 差し出す
      To submit. To send.

The morpheme nin 人 is also used to count people. (see further below.)

Meaning of jin

The word jin 人 isn't a word either. It's a morpheme. As such it can't be used alone, it's always part of another word.

The morpheme jin 人 used in plenty of human-related words, just like nin 人, and you can't tell them apart when they're at the start of the word. In these cases, you'll just have to memorize the words and that's about it. For example:
  • jinsei 人生
    Human life.
  • jinkou 人口
  • jinkou 人工
    Human-made. (homonym with the above.)
  • jinshu 人種
    Human race.
  • jinkaku 人格
  • jintai 人体
    Human body.
  • jinrui 人類
    Human kind.
  • jinbutsu 人物
    Person. (specially one that's done something or is talented.)
    Figure. (emphasis on a person's traits, personality, etc.)
    • toujou jinbutsu 登場人物
      Character. (of a novel, anime, manga, etc.)
      Person-matter entering stage. (literally.)
  • jinken 人権
    Human rights.

When jin 人 is at the end of a word, it often relates to an attribute of a person, and not what the person does, which is the case of nin 人. So, again, if you know what the stuff before jin 人 means, you may be able to guess whether it's read as jin 人 or nin 人.
  • bijin 美人
    Pretty woman. (almost always.)
    Pretty person. (literally.)
    • utsukushii 美しい
  • shinjin 新人
    • atarashii 新しい
  • roujin 老人
    Old person.
    • oi 老い
      Old age. (noun.)
  • ajin 亜人
    Demi-human. Sub-human.
    • In anime, ajin is often a term used toward a kind of monster girl.
    • ashu 亜種
  • chishikijin 知識人
    • chishiki 知識
  • shakaijin 社会人
    A member of the society.
    • Antonym of NEET.
    • shakai 社会
  • yuumeijin 有名人
    Famous person.
    • yuumei 有名

There are exceptions, of course. But in general that's it.

Using jin for Nationalities

The morpheme jin 人 is also found a suffix used for nationalities of people. It's similar to the suffixes "-ese" and "-ian" in English. For example:
  • nihonjin 日本人
    Japanese person.
    • nihon 日本
  • amerikajin アメリカ人
    American person.
  • eikokujin 英国人
    British person.
  • mekishikojin メキシコ人
    Mexican person
  • kanadajin カナダ人
    Canadian person.
  • oosutorariajin オーストラリア人
    Australian person.
  • doitsujin ドイツ人
    German person.

Note that if you remove "person" from the examples above, it's synonymous, in English, with the language, or other stuff from those nations, but it always means a "person" from that nation, not the other stuff. To elaborate:
  • nihonjin 日本人
    Japanese. (person. Person of Japan.)
  • nihongo 日本語
    Japanese. (language. Language of Japan.)
  • nihonsei 日本製
    Japanese. (-made. Made in Japan.)

The suffix jin 人 can also be added to stuff that's not nations, like:
  • chikyuujin 地球人
    Earthling person.
    • chikyuu 地球
      Earth globe. ("Earth ball," literally.)
      The Earth.
  • kaseijin 火星人
    Martian person.
    • kasei 火星
  • uchuujin 宇宙人
    Space person.
    • uchuu 宇宙
・・・え 何スか? そいつ攻めて来た宇宙人か何かスか? 失礼な! 生まれも育ちも地球です quote from manga "Assassination Classroom," Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 暗殺教室 (Chapter 1)
Manga: "Assassination Classroom," Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 暗殺教室 (Chapter 1)
  • Context: anime.
  • ...e
  • nansuka?
    • nandesuka 何ですか abbreviated.
  • soitsu
    semete kita
    uchuujin ka

    [This guy] is an alien who came attack [us] or something?
  • shitsurei na!
    Impolite, [aren't you]?!
  • umare mo
    sodachi mo
    chikyuu desu yo

    [My place of] birth and rising is Earth.
    • i.e. Koro-sensei is saying he's an Earthling, chikyuujin 地球人, not a space-ling, uchuujin 宇宙人.


Besides the above, the kanji can also be read as ri 人. Fortunately, this only happens when counting people.

hitori 一人

The word hitori 一人 means "one person" in Japanese. Note, however, that sometimes it can mean "alone," because when you're just "one person" there's nobody with you.
  • watashi wa hitori da 私は一人だ
    I'm "one person."
    I'm alone.

futari 二人

The word futari 二人 means "two people" in Japanese. Note, however, that sometimes it can mean a "couple," or "us two" depending on context.
  • futari kiri de ikou yo 二人きりで行こうよ
    Let's go just [us] two!
    • i.e. it's date.
    • kiri きり
      Just. Exactly. (used after counters.)

Counting People

When you're counting people in Japanese, the kanji is read as either nin 人 or ri 人 depending on the number. This can be a bit confusing at first, but it's not that complicated.

Basically, to say "one person" in Japanese, you say hitori 一人. When it's "two people," you say futari 二人. Then when it's "three people," it changes: san'nin 三人.

For reference, how to count people up to 10 in Japanese:
  1. hitori 一人 (1人)
    One person.
  2. futari 二人 (2人)
    Two people.
  3. san'nin 三人 (3人)
    Three people.
  4. yonin 四人 (4人)
    Four people.
  5. gonin 五人 (5人)
    Five people.
  6. rokunin 六人 (6人)
    Six people.
  7. shichinin 七人 (7人)
    Seven people.
    • Also read nananin 七人 sometimes.
  8. hachinin 八人 (8人)
    Eight people.
  9. kyuunin 九人 (9人)
    Nine people.
  10. juunin 十人 (10人)
    Ten people.

When there's an order of people, like a queue, the suffix me 目 is used:
  1. hitori-me 一人目
    First person.
  2. futari-me 二人目
    Second person.
  3. san'nin-me 3人目
    Third person.

In case you're wondering, mitari 三人, yotari 四人, would be the words for "three people," "four people" using the ri 人 suffix instead of the nin 人 suffix. [人(り)の意味 -, 2019-02-19]

But these words—mitari, yotariare not used. Only hitori, futari are used. The rest is san'nin, yonin, etc. as I've explained already.


As with all counters, -nin ~人 can come after nan 何 to say "how many." Awkwardly, -jin ~人 can also come after nani 何 to ask "what" nationality someone is. These two things are spelled the same way, but read differently.
  • nan'nin? 何人?
    How many people?
  • nani jin? 何人?
    What nationality?

Other Readings

The kanji for hito 人 can also be read in a number of other ways. But do not panic! This mostly happens in names of people.

To have an idea, 人 is read as to 人 in the name of the protagonist of Sword Art Online:
  • 谷 和人
    Kirigaya Kazuto.


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  1. I want to get a kanji tattoo saying Jupiter person Jin. I don't know Japanese, what say you? Email my username at hotmail dot com.

    1. Mokusei 木星 is how you say "Jupiter" in Japanese. So "Jupiter-ian" (someone from Jupiter) should be mokusei-jin 木星人.

      Here's a large image of the word with different fonts

      I wouldn't advise it, though. Getting a kanji tattoo when you don't know Japanese sounds like a bad idea.

  2. Just pointing out that 人数 is read as "ninzuu", not "ninsuu".