Pronouns

Nouns are words that directly represent/refer to other things, commonly described as being a person (firefighter, Abe Kōbō, Steve), a place (Mos Burger, Japan, kitchen) or a thing (coffee, book, the theory of relativity).

Subject pronouns

Personal pronouns refer to a person who is the subject of a sentence. Unlike English, Japanese has multiple pronouns to refer to oneself and the person(s) you’re talking with, each carrying its own distinct nuance.

PersonSingularPlural
1st I 私(わたし・わたくし)
僕(ぼく)
俺(おれ)
We 私たち
僕たち
俺たち
2nd You あなた
そちら
You (all あなたたち
3rd He
She
It
彼(かれ)
彼女(かのじょ)
N/A : それ*
They 彼ら
彼女たち
Interrogative Who/whom 誰(だれ) Who/whom 誰(だれ)

*Japanese does not have a subject pronoun for “it” (It ate the banana). The closest option is それ, which is technically a demonstrative pronoun.

Object Pronouns

Object pronouns replace the object of a sentence. Japanese does not distinguish between subject/personal pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, they) and object pronouns (me, you, him/her/it, us, them) at the word level. Rather, subject/personal pronouns become object pronouns when used with a direct object marker such as を.

彼は私を見つけた。He found me.
   → here, 彼 is a subject pronoun.
私は彼を見つけた。I found him.
   → here, 彼 is an object pronoun.

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns show who owns something. Japanese does not distinguish between subject/personal pronouns (I, you, he/she/it, we, they) and possessive pronouns (mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours, theirs) at the word level. Rather, subject pronouns become possessive pronouns when used with the possessive particle の.

私は彼の子供です。I am his kid.
   → here, 私 is a subject pronoun.
それは私の子供です。That is my kid.
   → here, 私 is a possessive determiner.
その子供は私の( 子供 )です。That kid is mine (my kid).
   → here, 私 is a possessive pronoun.

A major purpose of possessive pronouns is simply to avoid redundancy. That kid is mine sounds nicer than that kid is my kid. Possessive pronouns let us say more with less words by making use of context.

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns refer to a specific thing or a place without saying exactly what it is.

LocationThingsPlaces
Close to speaker This これ Here ここ
Close to listener That それ There そこ
Far from both That (over there) あれ Over there あそこ
Interrogative Which/what 何 (なに・どっち) Where どこ

はペンです。This is a pen.
田中はあそこで遊んでいる。Tanaka is playing over there.

Indefinite pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to a non-specific person, place or thing.

PersonPlaces
Someone だれか Somewhere どこか
Everyone
No one
だれも* Everywhere
Nowhere
どこも*
Anyone だれでも Anywhere どこでも
시간Thing
Sometime いつか Something なにか
Always
Never
いつも* Everything
Nothing
なにも(かも)
なにも
Anytime いつでも Anything なんでも

* ・・も words in Japanese can be positive or negative, depending on the sentence.

私は何もかも忘れてしまった。 I forgot everything.
私は何も覚えていない。 I remember nothing.

だれもが彼を知っている。Everybody knows him.
だれも彼を知らない。Nobody knows him.

Reflexive pronouns

A reflexive pronoun is used when when the object and subject of a sentence are the same. Although English has several reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, itself, herself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves), Japanese can use one for all of these scenarios: 自分(じぶん).

Although 自分 can work much like English reflexive pronouns do, its usage extends far beyond the English usage, is very context dependent and can be very ambiguous. This guide will only introduce one very simple structure.

彼女は鏡で自分を見た。The woman looked at herself in the mirror.
キミならできる!自分を信じて! You can do it! Believe in yourself

Some verbs are paired with 自(じ)or 自己(じこ)and imply a reflexive pronoun.

自己紹介してください。Please introduce yourself.
彼は殺をした。He killed himself.

Intensive (reflexive) pronouns

Intensive pronouns are used in order to place special emphasis on a given noun, often following it. Unlike reflexive pronouns, these are purely for emphasis and can be omitted.

お金それ自体は善でも悪でもない。払い方次第です。
Money (in and of) itself is neither good or bad. It depends on how it is used (spent).
私のお母さんは親切そのものです。
My mother is kindness itself