And kanji with manga
Thursday, June 13, 2019

Female Language

In Japanese, "female language," or joseigo 女性語, refers to words and manner of speech predominantly used by women in Japan, that, consequently, would sound weird if used by men.

It's also called "women's language," and onna-kotoba 女言葉, "women's words."


The concept of "female language" is a cultural and historical one. In the past, certain women spoke in certain way, and that influenced how the next generations of women spoke, until we got the mess we have today.

There's nothing special about the meaning of words in female language. Everything that can be said using feminine words can also be said in a non-feminine way.

It's merely a matter that, if a lot of women speak in a way and you speak like them, you sound like you speak like a woman. And if you're a woman, then you're fitting right in and that's great. If you're not a woman, however, you'll sound unusual.

Not all female language is strictly female. Some words are simply more commonly used by women than men. Some words are used by both genders, but in one specific way used more by women. There are words that were used more by women and then started being used by men afterwards.

In anime, the use of language is often stereotypical and exaggerated: male characters often speak in a very male way, and female characters often use a lot of female language. Notably, female language in more traditional forms is often used by certain types of characters.

For example, ojousama お嬢様, "rich girl," characters often use it conspicuously, probably to hint they received a different education based on traditional manners compared to the rest of the female cast.

As do their mothers, and other rich, refined ladies. Anachronistic characters, those always wearing traditional kimonos, specially geisha and so on, often use a set of female language from their era.



The simplest way female language manifests in Japanese is in pronouns.

Many languages have a grammatical case which reflects the gender of the noun: e.g. "gato" and "gata" both mean "cat." In English, nouns don't have a gender, but third-person pronouns—"he" and "she"—do have genders.

In Japanese, nouns don't have genders and third-person pronouns, although gendered, are normally not used at all since you refer to people by their names, instead.

However, Japanese has various first-person pronouns—"I," "me"—some of which are feminine and some of which are masculine.
  • atashi あたし
    atakushi あたくし
    atai あたい
    uchi うち
  • watashi
    watakushi 私 (or ワタクシ)
    (feminine or neutral.)
  • ore

Among the above, watashi can be considered either feminine or neutral depending on context.

In formal contexts, you're supposed to use watashi, regardless of your gender. In informal contexts, there's no such obligation, and using the more feminine watashi instead of more masculine ore and boku becomes a matter of personal choice.

On the other hand, there are female characters that use masculine first person pronouns. Some of them simply use a masculine pronouns, others are tomboys, they behave in a masculine way, and using a masculine pronoun is but one part of their whole profile.

They're called boku-kko ボクっ娘, ore-kko 俺っ娘, boku-shoujo ボク少女, boku-onna ボク女, and terms alike. Although they also exist in real life, you're more likely to find them in anime.

Among second-person pronouns, this one is often used by women (not toward women, by women).
  • anata あなた
    anta あんた
    • In particular, it can also be used by wives to refer to their "husband."


The term te-yo-da-wa kotoba てよだわ言葉 refers to the "words te, yo, da, wa," which are often used by women at the end of their sentences.

It originated in the Meiji period (1868–1912) and is said to be the source of most female language used in modern Japanese today.
  • -te ~て
    (this is the thing at the end of the te-form of verbs.)
    • The te-form used as an imperative is gender-neutral, but used as a question is female language.
    • kaette 帰って
      Go home. (neutral, imperative.)
    • dou nasatte? どうなさっ
      dou nasaimashita ka? どうなさいましたか?
      dou ka shite? どうかし
      dou ka nasaimashita ka? どうかなさいましたか?
      Did something happen? (female.)
  • yo
    (assertive particle.)
    • sou yo そう
      That's right!
  • da wa だわ
    (copula plus wa わ assertive, emotive particle.)
    • muri yo 無理よ
      muri da wa 無理だわ
      It's impossible.
    • sou da wa そうだわ
      sou desu wa そうですわ
      That's right.
      It's so.

The wa わ sentence-ending particle is used so much by women that sometimes you'll hear people saying it's used exclusively by women. This isn't true. Men use wa わ sometimes too.

At Sentence End

Some other sentence-ending particles also often used by women include:
  • kashira かしら
    I wonder. (sentence-ending particle.)
    • nani kashira?かしら
      nan-darou? 何だろう?
      What is it, I wonder?
  • -de ~で
    (see naide ないで.)
    • akiramenaide 諦めない
      akiramenai de kudasai 諦めないでください
      Please don't give up.
  • nasai なさい
    (creates imperatives. The usage is female when attached directly to nouns rather than to verbs.)
    • benkyou shi-nasai 勉強しなさい
      Go study. (neutral.)
    • benkyou nasai 勉強なさい
      Go study. (female.)
  • ne
    (neutral when after a copula, female otherwise.)
    • sou da ne そうだね
      That's right. (neutral.)
    • sou ne そう
      That's right. (female.)
    • kirei da ne 綺麗だね
      It's pretty, isn't it? (neutral.)
    • kirei ne 綺麗
      It's pretty, isn't it? (female.)
    • muri wa ne 無理わね
      muri wa yo ne 無理わよね
      Yep, it's impossible.
  • no
    (nominalizer normally used to ask questions. In fiction it's used more by women. It's also used assertively to explain things.)
    • dou natteru no? どうなってる
      What's going on?
    • watashi wa kaeru no! 私は帰る
      I'm going home! (bye!)
  • no yo のよ
    (nominalizer plus assertive particle.)
    • baka na no yo 馬鹿なのよ
      [He] is an idiot.

There's a trio of words that are normally gender-neutral nominalizers, but that are used by women as sentence-ending particles instead.
  • koto こと
    (used in diverse ways.)
    • {kirei na} koto desu
      It's a thing [that] {is pretty}. (neutral.)
      It's a pretty thing.
    • kirei desu koto
      It's pretty. (female.)
  • mono もの
    (only when used to explain why things are somehow, because.)
    • {kirei na} mono desu
      It's a thing [that] {is pretty}. (neutral.)
    • kirei da mono 綺麗だもの
      kirei da kara 綺麗だから
      Because it's pretty. (female.)
  • mon もん
    (contraction of mono もの. Specially used by small children.)
    • kirei da mon 綺麗だもん
      Because it's pretty.

A few other words:
  • kudasai-mase くださいませ
    kudasai-mashi くださいまし
    (kudasaru くださる in masu form in imperative form and noun form.)
  • choudai ちょうだい
    (same meaning as kudasai ください.)
    • okane choudai お金ちょうだい
      okane kudasai お金ください
      Give me money.
    • yamete choudai やめてちょうだい
      yamete kudasai やめてください
      Please stop.


The o- お~ prefix is often used by women in order to create bikago 美化語, "beautified language." In the sense that simply by using the suffix the words sounds prettier (i.e. more feminine). Some examples include:
  • ote
    Hand. Hands.
  • okashi 菓子
    kashi 菓子
  • oniku
    niku 肉

In particular, the prefix is used in plural words for body parts featuring reduplication, which are generally used when talking to babies, presumably, by mothers more than by fathers.
  • otete


Historically, old Tokyo 東京, called Edo 江戸, was divided in the upper-class, Yamanote 山の手, "mountain's hand," and the lower-class, Shitamachi 下町, "down-town."

The language used by the the upper class was called Yamanote Kotoba 山の手言葉, "mountain's hand words." In other words, the following words were used by rich ladies of the era:
  • zamasu ざます
    (from gozaimasu ございます.)
  • gokigenyou ごきげんよう
    How are you? (greeting. Also used particularly used by ojousama characters in anime.)
  • asobasu あそばす
    asobase あそばせ
    (from asobu 遊ぶ, "to play," "to have fun," but used as an auxiliary.)
    • gomen-asobase ごめんあそばせ
      shitsurei-shimashita 失礼しました
      [I'm] sorry.
    • oide-asobase おいであそばせ
      irasshai いらっしゃい
      Welcome. Please come in.


Another set of historic words are the arinsu-kotoba ありんす詞 used by prostitutes in the Edo period (1603–1868). It's also known as:
  • kuruwa-kotoba 廓詞
    Red-light district words.
    • A synonym for kuruwa is yuukaku 遊廓, of which Yoshiwara 吉原 was a famous one.
  • sato-kotoba 里詞
    Village words. Countryside words.
  • oiran-kotoba 花魁詞
    Courtesan words.

Although this set has many historic words in it, there's really only one that's important to know about:
  • arinsu ありんす
    (contraction of arimasu あります)
    • kirei de aru 綺麗である
      kirei de arimasu 綺麗であります
      kirei de arinsu 綺麗でありんす
      It's pretty.
    • koko ni aru ここにある
      koko ni arimasu ここにあります
      koko ni arinsu ここにありんす
      It's here.
    • mondai ga aru 問題がある
      mondai ga arimasu 問題があります
      mondai ga arinsu 問題がありんす
      There's a problem.

A character using this word may hint a courtesan background. For example, Yūgiri ゆうぎり from Zombieland Saga.

However, since arinsu is merely a contraction, it's not exclusively used by courtesans. There are many exceptions, even in anime, like Holo from Spice and Wolf, who is a goddess, and Shalltear from Overlord, who is a vampire.

Furthermore. arinsu comes from the polite arimasu, which means it's not used casually. For example, Tsukuyo 月詠, one of the Yoshiwara's guardians from Gintama 銀魂, uses arinsu when speaking politely with clients, which happens almost never in the series.


There's a bunch of interjections often used by female characters in manga, for example:
  • ara あら
    arara あらら
    ara ara あらあら
  • maa まぁ
  • ufu' うふっ
    ufufu うふふ
  • ohoho おほほ
    *the infamous ojousama laugh*
  • kya' きゃっ
    kyaa きゃー
    *fangirling noises*
  • hidooi ひどーい
    (a longer pronunciation of:)
    • hidoi 酷い
      Horrible. Cruel. Mean.
  • iyaan いやーん
    yaan やーん
    (this is a weird one.)
    • Literally, it's supposed to work like these:
    • iya yo
      iya no yoのよ
      It's unpleasant. (literally.)
      Do not want. I'd rather not. No, thanks.
    • Which mean you'd use it when you disagree with an idea or find something unpleasant, you don't want it.
    • However, iyaan いやーん, deliberately dragged out like that, is often used in joking or flirting tone instead.

Lastly, there's this:
  • ee ええ
    Yes. No. (agrees with whatever the other person asked.)
    • Also used by men in formal contexts.

Male Language

The "male language," danseigo 男性語, or "men's language" is the opposite of female language: words predominantly used by men that women wouldn't normally use.

It essentially boils down to:
  • Feminine words:
    • Prettier.
    • Polite.
    • Weak.
  • Masculine words:
    • Uglier.
    • Rude.
    • Strong.

Yep, that's a lot of stereotypes. Masculine words are alright in casual contexts, but they tend to be avoided in formal contexts because they sound impolite.

Which kinda sounds like in order to present yourself as serving your superiors, your boss, your clients, and not present yourself as above them, you have to sound less masculine than usual, which hints how sexism is ingrained in society, language, and blah blah blah.

On the other hand, the idea that ladies shouldn't use filthy (masculine) words seems to be international.

Anyway, as for words that are used more by men:
  • zo
    (expresses emphasis)
    • katta zo! 勝った
      [I] won!
  • ze
    (basically zo ぞ and ne ね merged into one.)
    • issho ni ikou ze 一緒に行こう
      Let's go together. (how about that?)
  • yatsu
    Guy. Person.
    • baka na yatsu da バカなヤツ
      [He's] an idiot guy.
  • ano yatsu あの奴
    ayatsu あやつ
    aitsu あいつ
    (third person pronoun.)
    • aitsu wa baka da あいつはバカだ
      He's an idiot.
  • omae お前
    kisama 貴様
    temee てめぇ
    You. (pretty much any second-person pronoun that's not anata.)
  • oi おい
    Hey. (interjection.)
    What are you doing? Stahp!
  • kora こら
    (used to call someone's attention. In fiction, it's the staple of gangster characters.)
    • aan? yannoka, kora?
      Ahmm? Wanna fight, huh?!

There are many female characters that will use the words above and speak "like men" to sound strong in a fight, but the opposite never happens: nobody attempts to appear weak by using feminine words, despite the obvious strategic value in doing so. (Sun Tzu, ~500 B.C.)


The term onee-kotoba オネえ言葉 refers to female language used by male gays, transgender women, okama オカマ, and so on, but it's a bit more complicated than that. It involves a disproportional use of words like:
  • yada やだ
    (often used when someone does something unexpected, that the speaker can't believe is happening, being said. "No way.")
  • mou もう
    (diverse meanings.)
  • chau ちゃう
    (contraction of te-shimau てしまう, "ended up doing.")
  • ttara ったら
    (used after names of people, pronouns, to say something about them.)

The act of using onee-kotoba is referred to by the verb hogeru ホゲる. Some okama think you're supposed to use onee-kotoba if you're an okama, but not all think this way.

Furthermore, there are also men that aren't gay, or trans, or anything, but use onee-kotoba. They're simply called onee オネエ.

えっ やだ それじゃあ パニックでオネェ言葉
Manga: Handa-kun はんだくん (Chapter 3, 半田くんと委員長)
  • Context: a guy panicked so hard he started speaking in onee-kotoba.
  • panikku de onee kotoba
    [Using] onee-kotoba due to panic.
  • e' yada sore jaa
    えっ やだ それじゃあ
    [Eh, no way, then that means...]

In anime, okama characters often use female language or onee-kotoba, which counts as a form of gender expression.

By contrast, "trap" characters (otokonoko 男の娘) generally look and unconsciously behave femininely, but don't consciously use female language, reinforcing the idea that they ultimately identify as men and simply happen to look like girls.


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  1. This topic was really helpful. Sometimes it's tricky to know the difference between male and female language.