Personal pronouns

7 December 2018 by wolfganghofmeier

Level: A1
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Wikipedia lists 46 Japanese personal pronouns plus archaic ones as well as six different endings.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_pronouns#List_of_Japanese_personal_pronouns

 

Their use is extremely complex, depends on who is talking to whom and in what situation. The full use of these pronouns is far outside of the scope of this course. The best advice for tourists is not to use pronouns at all. Japanese rarely use pronouns themselves and instead infer them from context.

 

E.g.

I would like a cup of coffee. .. Kōhī o ippai kudasai. .. コーヒーを一杯下さい。

 

Google Translate omits the pronoun I when it translates this sentence. The translation literally reads: coffee ‘object particle o’ one cup please

 

I would like a double room. .. Watashi wa dabururūmu ga hoshī desu. .. はダブルルームが欲しいです。

 

Here I is translated as Watashi followed by the topic marker wa. The translation literally reads: I ‘topic marker wa’ double room ‘subject marker ga’ wanted it is.

 

From a Japanese point of view, it would make a lot more sense to say: dabururūmu ga hoshī desu. .. ダブルルームが欲しいです。.. double room ‘subject marker ga’ wanted it is, leaving out the personal pronoun watashi.

 

You can use watashi although men, especially younger ones, tend to use boku instead:

 

Boku wa dabururūmu ga hoshī desu. .. はダブルルームが欲しいです。

 

The most commonly used personal pronoun for the second person singular, you in English, is anata, but again, Japanese avoid using it.

 

E.g.

Do you speak English? .. Eigo o hanasemasu ka? .. 英語を話せますか?

 

Google Translate omits you in the translation which literally says: English ‘object marker o’ speak ‘question marker ka’

 

It is obvious from context that the person addressed is the one whose English abilities you are questioning.

 

Do you want a cup of coffee? .. Anata wa kōhī o nomitai desu ka? .. あなたはコーヒーを飲みたいですか?

 

Here you is translated as Anata followed by the topic marker wa but it can normally be omitted: kōhī o nomitai desu ka? .. コーヒーを飲みたいですか?

 

The only exception would be if there are several people and you is being emphasized, perhaps because everybody else has already said that they don’t want coffee.

 

Third person singular

he .. kare .. 彼

 

she .. kanojo .. 彼女

 

Again, these pronouns can be avoided, simply by using the third person’s name instead of the pronoun. Their use is easy as Japanese verbs don’t change for different persons.

 

He would like a cup of coffee. .. Kare wa kōhī o nomitai desu. .. 彼はコーヒーを飲みたいです。

 

She would like a double room. .. Kanojo wa dabururūmu ga suki desu. .. 彼女はダブルルームが好きです。

 

Oddly, Google uses three different expressions to translate would like for our examples, but they all have related meanings.

 

Plural

 

We are from England. .. Watashitachi wa Igirisu shusshin desu. .. 私たちはイギリス出身です。

 

Again, the personal pronoun would normally be omitted, unless there are several groups of tourists and you want to emphasize your group: Igirisu shusshin desu. .. イギリス出身です。

 

You (all) should wait. .. Minasan wa matsubeki desu. .. 皆さんは待つべきです。

 

Minasan actually means everyone, but it is commonly used as a second person plural pronoun.

 

They are from Osaka. .. Karera wa Ōsaka shusshin desu. .. 彼らは大阪出身です。

 

Most important point to review: avoid translating the personal pronouns I and you. Get into the habit of forming impersonal sentences.

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