steve-kaufmann-10-secrets

I speak 20 languages

was successfully added to your cart.

Cart

Members of Your Family in Japanese

When learning a new language and meeting new people, one of the most common topics you will encounter will undoubtedly be about your family.
 
Who do you live with? What are your parents like? How many siblings do you have?
 
The topic may seem simple enough, however in Japanese, the way to talk about it may be a little trickier than expected. This is because Japanese, as we know, is a language that incorporates honorifics and varying levels of politeness depending on who and what you are talking about. That being so, the words you will use to describe family will also change depending on the situation.
 
Unlike English, Japanese family members have different terms depending on whether you are talking about your family or a friend’s, and if you are talking to a friend, teacher, coworker, or boss. The difference could be as simple as adding an honorific prefix (o-, go-), or as complex as using a completely different word.
 
Looking at the chart below, you will see there is one main thing to keep in mind when talking about family: whose family it is you’re talking about!
 
When talking about someone else’s family, the most common way to formalize it is by simply adding the prefix お (o-) or ご (go-), or adding the suffix ~さん(~san). In most cases, adding –san will suffice, but in situations where you need to be super formal (such as talking to a boss or authority figure), you can (and should!) exchange さん with さま (for example, when talking to a friend about their wife, you can say 奥さん(奥さんokusan) but when talking to a boss about his wife, you should probably say 奥様 (おくさまokusama)for added politeness)!
 
It should also be noted that these rules of extra formality also apply to customers when in a store/business setting in which you are an employee or staff. In Japan, customers are regarded as higher than the staff, so you may notice that store employees always use the politest form of language with them. The same rule applies to strangers and people that you are not familiar.
 
The best rule of thumb is to always aim for the highest level of politeness when talking about someone’s family in Japanese.
 
Before I show you the chart below, here are a few notes:
 
Variations
There are two rows for “my family” because some words have a second, less casual form, similar to how in English, “mother” is the most common/standard form of the word, but you can also say “mom,” “ma,” etc. (Note that not all words have a variation however, hence the blanks).
 
Higher Formality
As mentioned above, the honorific row shows the standard polite form with the suffix さん (san), but you can exchange that さん for さま (sama) for a higher level of politeness.
 
Super Casual
Similarly, a word can be made super informal by removing the おand changing さん to ちゃん (chan); this is often done when speaking about family within the same family (for example, talking to your mom about your sister).
 
Example: お父さん (otousan) can drop the o- and take –chan instead of –san, becoming 父ちゃん (tou-chan), a super casual way of saying father (like saying “daddy” or “pops”).
 

FAMILY MEMBER NAMEVARIATION/
“MY FAMILY”
CASUAL/
“MY FAMILY”
HONORIFIC/
“YOUR FAMILY”
GENERAL TERMS
Family家族
かぞく
kazoku
ご家族
ごかぞく
go-kazoku
Parent(s)父母
ふぼ
fubo
両親
りょうしん
ryoushin
ご両親
ごりょうしん
go-ryoushin
Sibling(s)兄弟
きょうだい
kyoudai
ご兄弟
ごきょうだいgo-kyoudai
Grandparent(s)祖父母
そふぼ
sofubo
*refer to
individually
Grandchild(ren)
まご
mago
お孫さん
おまごさん
o-mago-san
Children子供
こども
kodomo
お子さん おこさん oko-san
Married Couple夫婦
ふうふ
fuufu
ご夫婦
ごふうふ go-fuufu
Fiancé 婚約者
こんやくしゃ
kon’yakusha
婚約者さん
こんやくしゃさん
kon’yakusha-san
Relative(s)親戚
しんせき
shinseki
ご親戚
ごしんせき
go-shinseki
~ in law義理の~
ぎりの~
giri no~
義理の~さん
ぎりの~さん
giri no~san
SPECIFIC TERMS
Mother
はは
haha
お母さん
おかあさん
okaa-san
お母さん
おかあさん
okaa-san
Father
ちち
chichi
お父さん
おとうさん
otou-san
お父さん
おとうさん
otou-san
Son息子
むすこ
musuko
息子さん
むすこさん
musuko-san
Daughter
むすめ
musume
お嬢さん
おじょうさん
ojou-san
Sister (older)
あね
ane
お姉さん
おねえさん
onee-san
お姉さん
おねえさん
onee-san
Sister (younger)
いもうと
imouto
妹さん
いもうとさん
imouto-san
Brother (older)
あに
ani
お兄さん
おにいさん
onii-san
お兄さん
おにいさん
onii-san
Brother (younger)
おとうと
otouto
弟さん
おとうとさん
otouto-san
Wife家内
かない
kanai

つま
tsuma
奥さん
おくさん
oku-san
Husband
おっと
otto
主人
しゅじん
shujin
ご主人
ごしゅじん
go-shujin
Grandmother祖母
そぼ
sobo
お婆さん
おばあさん
obaa-san
お婆さん
おばあさん
obaa-san
Grandfather祖父
そふ
sofu
お爺さん
おじいさん
ojii-san
お爺さん
おじいさん
ojii-san
Aunt伯母
おば
oba
伯母さん
おばさん
oba-san
伯母さん
おばさん
oba-san
Uncle伯父
おじ
oji
伯父さん
おじさん
oji-san
伯父さん
おじさん
oji-san
Cousin従兄弟
いとこ
itoko
従兄弟さん
いとこさん
itoko-san
Niece
めい
mei
姪子さん
めいご
meigo-san
Nephew
おい
oi
甥子さん
おいごさん
oigo-san

LingQ

Speaking About Family Members in Japanese

Now that you know how to say each family member’s name, it’s time to learn how to use them properly in a sentence. In English, you could simply say either “MY mother” or “YOUR mother,” however in Japan, remember, it is important to keep in mind WHO you are talking to.
 
Japanese people do not usually use the word “you” (あなた, anata) in conversation, as it is considered too casual. In most cases, they simply use the other person’s name plus さん at the end.
 
So if I were talking to Joe about his wife, though in English I could easily say “Your wife” without sounding rude, in Japanese, I would say ジョーさんの奥さん (Joe-san no oku-san), which literally translates to “Joe’s wife.”
 
In other words, it is common and more polite to refer to someone in third-person, even when talking to them directly.
 
Example: (When talking to Joe):
ジョーさんの奥さんは優しいです。
Your (Joe’s) wife is kind.
 
Higher Formality:
ジョーさんの奥さまは優しいです。
Your (Joe’s) wife is kind.
 
If I were telling Joe about MY wife, I could say 私の妻 (watashi no tsuma, literally “my wife”), however in a casual conversation in which the subject is already known (i.e., Joe knows you are talking about your own family), then I could eliminate the 私 and simply say 妻.
 
Example:
私の妻は優しいです。
My wife is kind.
妻は優しい。
My wife is kind.
(Super casual, subject is implied but not stated).
 
In summary, there are many ways to refer to friends or family in Japanese, but the defining rule on which term to choose is ultimately depending on the level of authority of the person you are talking to, and whose family you are talking about.
 
It can be a little confusing at first when memorizing words with different variations, and which ones are preceded with お or ご for politeness. But when in doubt, always remember the suffix さん and さま, which can be added to any of the terms above – it never hurts to be a little extra polite!
 

Learn Japanese family member vocabulary faster

A great way to learn Japanese family member vocabulary is through context, or reading short dialogues.
 
But where can you find them?
 
LingQ of course.
 
LingQ has 100s of Japanese lessons including ones that talk about family. Not only that, using LingQ, you can listen to the audio that’s been recorded by native Japanese speakers, look up your words, save them, review them, and more. Below’s a quick snapshot of what one of the lessons looks like on LingQ’s mobile app (iOS and Android).
 
Learn Japanese on LingQ
 
As you can see, you can listen to the audio, look up words, and read along anytime, anywhere. LingQ lets you learn using content you love as well thanks to it’s unique import feature. This allows you to import content from YouTube, anime, music, and much more. LingQ’s guide to importing can be found here, so check it out.
 
 

Leave a Reply