And kanji with manga
Friday, April 20, 2018

oniisan

In Japanese, oniisan お兄さん means "older brother," and sometimes refers to a young man. It's also romanized onīsan, with a macron for the long vowel.

The younger counterpart is otouto, "young brother." The female counterparts are oneesan お姉さん and imouto, "older sister" and "younger sister," respectively.

Kanji

The word oniisan is normally written with kanji, as お兄さん.

The kanji of oniisan means "older brother," ani.

Sometimes, oniisan is spelled with hiragana instead, as おにいさん, or おにさん, specially if it's a small child saying it, due to aesthetics.

Variants

With family words in o__san お〇〇さん pattern, the o~ お~ prefix can be removed, and the honorific suffix can be changed between ~san ~さん, ~chan ~ちゃん, and ~sama ~さま.

The affixes o~ and ~sama can be spelled with kanji for added formality. This rarely happens, however.

o~
Default.

Relaxed.
~sama
Respectful.
Distant.
Formal.
oniisama
お兄さま
おにいさま
おにーさま
お兄様
御兄様
niisama
兄さま
にいさま
にーさま
兄様
~san
Default.
oniisan
お兄さん
おにいさん
おにーさん
niisan
兄さん
にいさん
にーさん
~chan
Chummier.
Diminutive.
oniichan
お兄ちゃん
おにいちゃん
おにーちゃん
niichan
兄ちゃん
にいちゃん
にーちゃん

Relaxed.
onii
お兄
おにい
おにー
nii

にい
にー

Beware: the word oni refers to a sort of demon instead.

Meaning

The word oniisan means "older brother," "elder brother," in the sense of someone who is your brother, and who is older than you.

It doesn't mean "oldest brother." If you have two older brothers, they're both oniisan for you.

  • {ichiban ue no} oniisan
    一番上のお兄さん
    The older brother [that] {is most above}. (literally.)
    The oldest older brother.
  • choukei
    長兄
    Eldest brother.
    • nagai
      長い
      Long. (distance, time.)
  • chounan
    長男
    Eldest son [of a family].

The word oniisan is sometimes translated to English as "big brother," or oniichan as a chummier "big bro." The size of your brother has nothing to do with word. Your oniisan can be smaller than you.

  • {ooki na} oniisan
    大きなお兄さん
    A {big} oniisan.

Toward Young Men

In Japanese, some family words can be used to refer to random people whom aren't actually related to you. The word oniisan can refer to a random "young man."

This is similar to how you can call a random old man a "grandpa," in Japanese, too: ojiichan おじいちゃん, even if he isn't your grandfather.

The diminutive variant, oniichan, can sound patronizing or intimate, e.g. if you have a character who is with a gang, mocking some random young man while trying to extort money from him, he's probably going to call the young man oniichan.

お!若ェな・・・ 兄ちゃん・・・言っとくが出航したら一年は陸に戻らねぇ・・・ 海ではお前の“男”が試される・・・ それは分かってるんだろうな? ギロッ
Manga: School Rumble, スクールランブル (Chapter 88, SOULS AT SEA)
  • Context: Harima Kenji 播磨拳児 goes join a ship crew to sail the seas.
  • o! wakee na...
    お!若ェな・・・
    Ooh! Young, [aren't you]...
    (relaxed pronunciation.)
    • wakai
      若い
      Young.
  • niichan... ittoku ga shukkou shitara ichinen wa oka ni modoranee...
    兄ちゃん・・・言っとくが出航したら一年は陸に戻らねぇ・・・
    Kiddo... [let me warn you], after [we] set sail, [we] won't be back shore in [at least] one year.
  • umi dewa omae no "otoko" ga tamesareru...
    海ではお前の“男”が試される・・・
    In the sea, your "man" will be tested...
    (passive voice.)
    • In the sense of how much of a man he is, i.e. if he's man enough to brave the seas, or if he'll chicken out.
    • See also: otoko, quotation marks.
  • sore wa wakatteru-n-darou na?
    それは分かってるんだろうな?
    [You] understand that, [right]?
  • giro'
    ギロッ
    *glare*
    (mimetic word.)

In anime, it's typical for a high school boy character to get called oniisan by some random little kid. It makes sense to think of this like this: if the kid had an older brother, he would be around the same age as that boy, so the boy is like an oniisan (in age) for the kid.

あっ 白血球のお兄さんいたよ! あっ 赤血球のおねーちゃん!
Manga: Hataraku Saibou はたらく細胞 (Collage)
  • Context: a "platelet," kesshouban 血小板, drawn as a cute anime girl, referring to other cells.
  • a', {hakkekkyuu no} oniisan ita yo!
    あっ 白血球のお兄さんいたよ!
    Ah, big brother {white blood cell} [is over there]!
    (appositive no-adjective.)
  • a', {sekkekkyuu no} oneechan!
    あっ 赤血球のおねーちゃん
    Ah, big sis {red blood cell}!
ピアス多いなこの人・・・ おにーちゃんコーヒーってにがいの にがいねーー
Manga: Horimiya ホリミヤ (Chapter 1)
  • Context: a little boy talks to a random teenager.
  • piasu φ ooi na kono hito...
    ピアス多いなこの人・・・
    [He] has a lot of piercings, this person.
    (dislocation.)
  • oniichan koohii tte nigai no?
    おにーちゃんコーヒーってにがいの?
    Oniichan, is coffee bitter?
  • nigai nee
    にがいねーー
    It's bitter~~

Honorific

The word oniisan can be used as a honorific suffix after someone's name. Doing this calls the person an oniisan.

淳兄の高校生やったころは そりゃもう 格好よかなんてもんじゃなかったですよ ケンカもめっぽう強かし 頭もよかし
Manga: Kids on the Slope, Sakamichi no Apollon 坂道のアポロン (Chapter 18)
  • Context: the speaker confidently talks about how amazing Jun was.
  • {Jun-nii no koukousei φ yatta} koro wa
    高校生やったころ
    Around the time {brother Jun [was] a high school student}.
  • sorya mou
    そりゃもう
    "That [was] already"
    • Expression used to assert something was incredible.
  • {kakkou yoka nante} mon janakatta desu yo
    格好よかなんてもんじゃなかったです
    Not something {[you'd call just] cool}.
    • He was more than just cool.
    • Note: this is kyuushuu dialect. In which i-adjectives sometimes end in ka instead.
    • kakkou yoka 格好よか
      kakkou yoi 格好よい
      kakkou ii 格好いい
      Cool.
  • kenka mo meppou tsuyokashi
    ケンカめっぽう強かし
    In fighting, too, [he was] extremely strong.
    • tsuyoka 強か
      tsuyoi 強い
      Strong.
  • atama mo yokashi
    頭もよかし
    [He was also smart.]

vs. Ani

The difference between oniisan and ani 兄, which also means "older brother," and has the same kanji but they're read differently, is that oniisan has honorifics, but ani does not.

Since you don't use honorifics toward yourself, when talking to other people about your family, you use ani 兄 to refer to your older brother, and oniisan お兄さん to refer to their older brother.

However, when talking to your own family, oniisan refers to your own older brother.

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