Tuesday, August 8, 2017

-Tachi ~たち, ~達 - Meaning in Japanese - Pluralizing Suffix

If you watch anime, you might have noticed the word tachi たち, sometimes written with kanji, tachi 達, being used around. This word usually shows up in a phrase containing the words "we" or "they." How does tachi work? And what's the difference between tachi 達 and ra 等, another similar suffix?

How to Use

Basically, tachi 達 and ra 等 (often written with just hiragana, tachi たち and ra ら) are pluralizing suffixes. This means they turn words into their plural forms.

In English, it's a little like how we say "thing," add an "~s" suffix, and that becomes "things." Except that in Japanese we do not do that to things in general. We can only use the pluralizing suffixes with people. For example, the following is correct:
  • sensei 先生
  • sensei-tachi 先生達
  • gakusei 学生
  • gakusei-tachi 学生達

However, the following is wrong.
  • isu 椅子
  • isu-tachi 椅子達
    Chairs. (wrong!)
  • gakkou 学校
  • gakkou-tachi 学校達
    Schools. (wrong!)

How plurals work in Japanese is very different from how they work in English. In this post I'll just talk about the tachi and ra suffixes and how they are used, see the linked article for an explanation on plurals in general.

Tachi, Ra & Personal Pronouns

The most common use of tachi and ra is to make personal pronouns plural. After all personal pronouns are personal, so they are (probably) referring to people. If it refers to people we can use the suffixes tachi and ra. So we can use them with the first person pronouns watashi, ore, boku and etc.
  • watashitachi 私達
    oretachi 俺達
    bokutachi 僕達
  • watashira 私ら
    orera 俺ら
    bokura 僕ら
    warera 我ら

Likewise, we can use tachi and ra and with second person pronouns anata, kimi, omae, temee, kisama and etc.
  • anatatachi 貴方達
    antatachi あんた達
    kimitachi 君達
    omaetachi お前達
    You. (plural)
    You [guys].
  • antara あんたら
    kimira 君ら
    omaera お前ら
    temeera 手前ら
    kisamara 貴様ら
    You. (plural)
    You [guys];

Further, we can also use tachi and ra with the third person pronouns kare and kanojo, like this:
  • karera 彼ら
    They. (masculine or neuter)
  • kanojotachi 彼女達
    kanojora 彼女ら
    They. (feminine or neuter)

Now, if you have been paying attention to the examples above, I'm pretty sure you've one question or two about how these suffixes work already. But fear not, here comes the explanation.

Pluralizing Suffixes & How Tachi Works

Despite being widely called "pluralizing" suffixes, the words tachi and ra are not really pluralizing at all. When you hear the words "pluralizing suffix" you'd expect just a suffix that pluralizes and nothing else. Just like the "~s" suffix does in English. All it does is pluralize, and it is a suffix.

In contrast, ~tachi and ~ra don't pluralize shit. I mean, they literally do not pluralize shit... into shits, for example. Since you can only use them with people. To understand this peculiarity, it's better to think that even though they're classified as suffixes, they really work like just nouns.

Yes. Nouns.

Because of how Japanese works, you can hardly tell apart a noun from a suffix most of the time. For example, an adjective-noun combination would be this:
  • aoi sora 青い空
    Blue sky. (blue is adjective, sky is noun)

However there are countless word compounds that skip over adjective grammar and just join nouns together, sometimes changing their pronunciation through rendaku 連濁. Like this:
  • aozora 青空
    Blue-sky. (two noun compound)

Since this kind of stuff can happen, you can pretend sora 空 is a suffix you can attach to other words to create various types of "sky," even though it actually isn't a suffix. Vice-versa, you can pretend suffixes are nouns, even though they aren't actually nouns.

Why is this important? Because of phrases like this:
  • yuusha-tachi ga kaettekita 勇者達が帰ってきた
    The heroes came back.

In case you're unfamiliar with Japanese RPGs, in gaming, the yuusha 勇者, "hero," is always the main character. There's only one them, and that's the player. Despite yuusha-tachi being a common phrase in games, there's no way there are multiple heroes in any game, because the only character referred to as "the hero" is the player character. People in his party are not known as "heroes."

A more realistic example:
  • Tanaka-san-tachi ga kaettekita 田中さんたちが帰ってきた
    Tanakas came back.

How many goddamn Tanakas are there?! Even if that is a common Japanese name, there is just no way a bunch of people called "Tanaka" decided to stick around and go do something and then they all just came back together. (unless it's a gag anime). How is that phrase even supposed to make any sense?!

Indeed. It does not. At least not if you treat the ~tachi suffix in Japanese like you'd treat the "~s" suffix in English. That is. If you assume it's just a pluralizing suffix it doesn't make sense. But if you pretend it's actually a noun meaning "group of people" instead of a suffix then suddenly it makes all the sense in the world. In Japanese everything that's behind the noun becomes the adjective, therefore:
  • yuusha tachi ga kaettekita 勇者達が帰ってきた
    The group of the hero came back.
  • Tanaka-san tachi ga kaettekita 田中さんたちが帰ってきた
    The group of Tanaka came back.

If we pretend tachi is a noun meaning "group" and what's before is the adjective, then what comes before describes, specifies which group is it exactly. In all cases, it just works.

For example, yuusha-tachi doesn't refer to multiple heroes. It refers to a group of people in which the hero is part of. Likewise, Tanaka-san-tachi doesn't refer to multiple Tanakas. It refers to the group of people which Tanaka is part of.

Another way to think of this is "Tanaka and the others." Or "Tanaka et. al." However I prefer to use the term "group" instead of "others" because in Japanese nado など performs the function "and others" more exactly, and "and others" doesn't necessarily means they are together the way "group" and tachi do. For example, "Tanaka and others said yes" puts the people in parallel, acting separately, it's different from putting them in conjunct, together like "Tanaka and his group said yes."

To prove how much better this works than thinking of ~tachi as a mere pluralizing suffix I'm going to convert the previous pronoun examples to this new meaning.
  • watashi-tachi 私達
    We. Or the group of people in which I am part of.
  • anata-tachi 貴方達
    You, and the group of the people in which you are part of.
  • kare-ra 彼ら (kare-tachi 彼達 is rarely used)
    They, or the group of people in which he is part of.
  • kanojo-tachi 彼女達
    They, or the group of people in which she is part of.

So if you were wondering why karera and kanojotachi were both gender neutral "they" in Japanese, that was because you'd use karera if you are talking about a guy and the people around him of whatever gender, while you would use kanojotachi if you were talking about a girl and the people around her of whatever gender.

On top of this, this same method also works in the examples that looked like basic pluralization. That is, in examples where you have indefinite plurals, where you aren't talking about the group of someone specifically, you are talking about a group of something in general. See:
  • sensei-tachi 先生達
    The teachers, or the group of people composed of teachers.
    The teacher and people around him.
  • gakusei-tachi 学生達
    The students, or the group of people composed of students
    The student and the people around him.

We can see above the tachi plural can be a little ambiguous. It can be a group of teachers, or it can be the teacher and the people around that teacher. In practice, most of the time you can tell which is the right meaning from context, so you really don't need to worry it.

Tachi 達 vs. Ra

So now we have learned how ~tachi works in Japanese, and ~ra works pretty much the same, but what is the difference between these two? I mean, if we look back at the pronoun examples, for some reason I did not add ~tachi to some pronouns (no kisama-tachi) and I did not add ~ra to some other pronouns (no anata-ra), so certainly there must be some difference between tachi and ra?

It's actually very simple. The suffix ~tachi is neutral while the suffix ~ra is informal. That's it! Nothing more!


Did you actually believe that crap? You'd be happier if you did!

Of course it's not simple. Nothing in Japanese is simple! The differences between ~tachi and ~ra are so fucking disgustingly many and exist in such warped nuanced ways, one has to wonder what the fuck happened for them to become like this.

Not even Japanese natives can make sense out of this madness. They use Japanese daily, they use the words the same way they hear the words. If they never hear ~ra used some way, they just don't use it, and that's how the language perpetuates the nuances without people actually knowing the difference.

Since they don't really know the difference, they just feel like the word should be used somewhere and somewhere not, as time passes their nuances are forgotten and dwindle down. That means in the past ~tachi and ~ra were a lot more different than they are in modern Japanese. In modern Japanese the two words are almost the same and interchangeable in a lot of contexts.

When natives do question the difference between ~tachi and ~ra, they'll figure out the classic "informal" answer. If they question harder, they grab a dictionary where it lists a number of self-contradicting ways ~ra can be used. And then you have a number of example sentences that just don't fit in any way ~ra can be defined.

To make things worse the nuance of the suffix changes depending on who you're pluralizing. Pluralizing some people with a suffix is alright, pluralizing other people with the same suffix is not alright. Then whether it's alright or not depends on a number of other factors. Is the context formal or informal? Is it written language or verbal language? E-mail, letter, announcement, or person to person? What region of Japan are you in? Are you male or female? And not to mention, some people think some uses are alright while other people think the same uses are not alright.

So trying to figure when you can use ~ra and when you should not use ~ra is pretty much like trying to make a post on Tumblr without offending anyone.

That's why it makes more sense to just stick to ~tachi alone. Except with demonstrative pronouns, then you use ~ra.

Tachi vs. Ra Usage Cheat Sheet - the differences in use of tachi たち (達) and ra ら (等) with various Japanese pronouns. Combinations that are used: senseitachi 先生達, watashitachi 私達, watashira 私ら, bokutachi 僕達, bokura 僕ら, oretachi 俺達, orera 俺等, warera 我ら, uchira うちら, anatatachi 貴方達, antatachi あんた達, antara あんたら, kimitachi 君達, omaetachi お前達, omaera お前等, temeera 手前ら, kisamara 貴様ら, korera これら, aitsuira あいつら, yatsura やつら, karera 彼ら, kanojotachi 彼女達 and kanojora 彼女等. Kanojora being common in kansai. Words that are infrequently used: senseira 先生ら, kimira 君ら, karetachi 彼達. Words that are not used: waretachi 我達, uchitachi うちたち, koretachi これ達, aitsutachi あいつ達, yatsutachi やつ達, anatara あなたら, temeetachi 手前達, kisamatachi 貴様達.


Ra is Crude, Rude or Informal

The ~ra suffix can be considered rude or disrespectful, or basically imply some people aren't good enough to make you use the ~tachi suffix instead.

Because of this, it's avoided in formal contexts, and if it's avoided in formal contexts, it ends up being considered an informal word.

These two things are what make ~ra be used with omaera お前ら, temeera 手前ら and kisamara 貴様ら, since those pronouns range from informal to outright derogatory. You can say kimira 君ら, too, because kimi can be condescending, but you can't say anata-ra 貴方ら, because anata is more formal. Though you can say antara あんたら because anta is an informal version of anata.

Ok, now breathe and read the last paragraph again to make double sure you didn't get lost. Because the maze goes on.

The spot where ~tachi and ~ra have most difference is in the difference between omaera and omaetachi. Since omae can both neutral or disrespectful, it's ambiguous until you add another word to it.

So if you add ~tachi, omaetachi, it becomes a normal, non-rude word, because you removed the ambiguity and made it clear you weren't using the word omae in a depreciating way. But when you add ~ra, omaera, it's basically always depreciating. Another way to look at this is: saying omaetachi sounds like you're calm and composed while saying omaera sounds like you're mad at something.

The ~ra suffix is also avoided with some titles for the same reason. For example, normally you wouldn't say sensei-ra 先生ら, you would say sensei-tachi 先生たち, because sensei-ra wouldn't sound respectful to the sensei.

Ra is Humble

If the ~ra suffix implies other people are not important enough then it also makes you look like you are looking down at them, and that implies you are superior to them, and if you are superior to them then they must be inferior to you. Which is why it can sound disrespectful.

However, if we use ~ra with a first person pronoun, like bokura 僕ら, "we," then suddenly the word becomes humble instead of disrespectful. Because you are forfeiting a more special pluralizing suffix treatment (tachi) towards yourself. This same principle can be seen in the word warera 我ら, "we," which is a formal word despite using the suffix which I basically just said was informal and could be considered rude in formal contexts. (and this is just one of the suffix contradictions)

On the other hand, ~tachi was originally more contrasting. It was a suffix that was not merely neutral, it used to have some respect into it. Time passed, it's gotten neutral. This just goes to show how fickle these nuances are.

Depending on context, ~ra can get more worse or less worse than ~tachi. But since ~tachi is generally better, once again, stick to ~tachi.

Ra is feminine

The ~ra suffix is also considered somewhat feminine compared to the ~tachi suffix. This is specially the case in words like atashira あたしら and uchira うちら, "we." So even gender plays a part in which suffix is used.

Kantou vs. Kansai

There are regional differences between the two suffixes. The kantou region (where Tokyo is) is more rigid about these formalities and prefers using ~tachi more. The people from kansai use ~ra more, so whatever is considered rude in regards to ~ra in the kantou region may not faze them.

To make things more complicated, it turns out that both of these two regions of Japan exist in the same country, connected by land nonetheless. So some kansai words and speech patterns end up mixing into the way kantou people speak in a non-global-scale globalization / cultural appropriation of your own culture / borrowing words from yourself kind of way.

This is particularly true with words like uchira うちら, "we," (usually "me and my family") whichis normally used in kansai but also appears in kantou. Since it comes from kansai, uchira うちら uses the ra suffix, and the ra suffix alone. Literally nobody says uchi-tachi うちたち.

Tachi is too friendly

The word tachi may be considered too friendly to be used with some words.

The worst thing about the word being too "friendly" is that, unlike most words that have nuances in Japanese, you don't say it's disrespectful or rude. It's not too respectful either. When a word is too "friendly" it sounds just weird. It sounds off. It can even sound creepy.

Actually let me try to explain this better because it's some fine bullshit right there.

You can use ~ra with people you don't respect. You can use ~ra with your friends. You use ~tachi with people you respect and who are your friends. But you use ~ra with people who you respect and aren't your friends. Does that make any sense to you?

Anyway, what this means is that shushoura 首相ら, "the prime minister and his group," and some other words used to refer to very important people, use ~ra to imply some distance instead of ~tachi. People avoid using ~tachi with them because it sounds weird and like you're trying to say you're buddies with the prime minister, and we all know you aren't.

Intimacy & Love

In some cases ~ra can carry a nuance of love, like in the word kora 子等. "children," for example. This isn't frequent but it just adds to the pile of oddities of the word.

Also, it seems that in kansai people use kodomo 子供 for their own children, but kotachi 子達 for other people's children. It's a mess.

Things vs. People

Another point that makes it even more evident that ~ra is a less respectful version of ~tachi is the fact it can be used to make groups of things that are not people.

We can only ~tachi to pluralize people, not things. People have esteem that things don't have, that is, people are better than things, that is why people get suffixes things don't get to have.

However, some of the kosoado kotoba, demonstrative pronouns, specifically kore, sore and are, which do not refer to people, and therefore can not take the pluralizing suffix ~tachi, can still take the pluralizing suffix ~ra. Also, koitsu, soitsu, aitsu and yatsu やつ, demonstratives that are not exclusive to people can take the suffix ~ra but not ~tachi. For example:
  • korera これら
  • koitsura こいつら
    These [guys].
  • sorera それら
  • soitsura そいつら
    Those [guys].
  • yatsura 奴等
    Those guys.

Oh, the calamity! Who dared to commit the sin of desecrating the honorable, sacred pluralizing suffix for people by attaching it to a word that refers to a just a random thing?!

Sure this might sound a little too dramatic. But let's think of it in English: you don't call people "that." You don't call people "it," either. You don't do those things because it's disrespectful. And though it's not exactly the same thing, the above examples show how ~ra doesn't carry with it the same respectful nature towards people that ~tachi has.

Pronouns Ra or Tachi Exclusive

I mentioned above that anata あなた is not used with ~ra, it's always anata-tachi 貴方たち, never anata-ra あなたら, but what about the other side?

Can we say temeetachi 手前達 and kisamatachi 貴様達?

Technically, you can say that, it's grammatically correct, but nobody does it. It's always temeera 手前ら and kisamara 貴様ら. I mean, you're already using some pretty rude words, so there's no point holding it back and using ~tachi instead of ~ra.

To make things more confusing, you normally say karera 彼ら, but you never say karetachi 彼達. It's the opposite for the other gender, it's preferred to say kanojotachi 彼女達, although kanojora 彼女ら is a common word in kansai (at least more common than karetachi is)

To make things even more confusing yet, some people may prefer to use kanojotachi and even karetachi in formal contexts despite that not being common.

Nothing Holds

I'd just like to note again that the words above vary vastly in usage depending on a bunch of things.

For example, in some contexts using ~ra is a pretty big deal, while in others it's not a big deal. Some people care, other people don't. Anime and manga definitely doesn't care.

In anime and manga characters that use ~ra use it in a caricature way. It's not that that's the normal way to talk. It's that the usage adds more character to their characters. So a character that uses ~ra a lot with himself (bokura) might sound more humble or docile (like in the anime Bokura no ぼくらの, "Ours"). Or it can sound like he's a countryside bumpkin who can't use more refined words. Or it can sound like he likes to look down at others all the time.

So even though what I said above are a number of differences and nuances ~ra and ~tachi have, I can't say with absolute certainty whether people will be offended or think it's weird if you use one or another, because that depends entirely on them. And what they think now may change in the future, just like it changed from the past.

Which is why, one more time: just use tachi when you can use tachi.

Tachi with Inanimate Objects

Remember when I said and repeated a couple of times you can only used tachi with people, never with things? Well, guess what.

In a way, you can use tachi with things, but that's not normal, because it needs to be deliberate and it carries a very important connotation. In a way, it's a hack. A cheat you use to make a word you can only use with people become usable with things.

It implies you think things are people.

I mean, well, duh, if you are going to use that sort of cheat anybody can do it. Just pretend things are people, he says. Don't disregard the rules, change your perception to distort the reality to match the rules. This is the kind of bullshit lawyers and politicians do all the fucking time. Sociopath stuff.

The best example of this would be robots.

Robots are things. If a character considers the robots to be people, he'll easily say something like robotto-tachi ロボット達. If a character does not consider robots to be people, he will never say that, he will never use tachi with robots, because robots are not people.

A more extreme example are books. You can say hon-tachi 本たち if you regard books so much, if you like them so much, that you practically consider them as if they were people, as if they were your friends.

It's weird, but it's the kind of nuance it carries. Basically, using tachi たち personifies objects and demonstrates some sort of affection or estimation for those objects, which normally wouldn't happen. You don't normally get to express your love for objects this way, nor character get many chances to do this, so it rarely occurs in the language.

Other Pluralizing Suffixes

Besides ~ra and ~tachi, there are also other pluralizing suffixes which work more or less the same way.

One of them is gata 方. This one is easy because it's like the formal version of ~tachi, it's pretty much only used with the pronoun anata or nouns. For example:
  • anata-gata 貴方方
    You (plural)
  • sensei-gata 先生方
    The teachers

The other one is domo 共. This one is a lot more frequent in manga and anime, and is almost always at the very opposite side of the spectrum. Worse than ~ra.
  • gakidomo me! ガキどもめ
    These brats!
  • yaroudomo! 野郎ども
    You guys!

Except, of course, it's not so simple.

Outside of anime-land, domo is actually a polite suffix. It's humble. So a word like watakushi-domo 私ども is actually a very formal and humbling way of saying "we."

In Japanese, words like domo are self-deprecating (humble) toward yourself, but deprecating (rude) toward others. So you wouldn't use domo with second and third person pronouns anata, kare, etc.

Tassu 達す & Tassuru 達する

So now you know basically everything there's to know about tachi, ra and other pluralizing suffixes.

If there is one thing I think you might still have trouble with, that would be the words tassu 達す and tassuru 達する, because they include the word tachi 達, but work completely differently from the way this article explains.

This is because they don't include tachi. They just happen to have the same kanji. The words tassu and tassuru mean "to reach" or "to accomplish." See most confusing kanji for beginners for other uncommon words that share the same kanji as more common words.

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