Student Advice “Gender Differences in Speaking Japanese” from Terry

Student Advice “Gender Differences in Speaking Japanese” from Terry

I am sure many of you will have heard Japanese people say to some foreigners, “Oh, you sound like a girl” and vice-versa. While it may sound strange to hear that, many foreigners learn the language from their male or female friends. They pick slangs and inflections from their wives/husbands and boyfriends/girlfriends that are normally only used by females or males in Japanese society.

In Japan, such speech patterns used by women are known as Onna Kotoba (女言葉 “women’s words”) or Joseigo (女性語, “women’s language”).  Generally, speech patterns and words used by men Otoko Kotoba (男言葉 “men`s words”) are thought to be as rough, vulgar or abrupt. Those associated with females are considered as more polite, deferential or softer in tone and more submissive.

Japanese women, traditionally, are expected to be more ladylike and feminine in their behaviour. This is known as Onnarashii (女らしい). Onnarashii also means using using particular styles of speech, like using a higher tone of voice (like the annoying commercials you see on TV!), using more honorifics and being polite in their speech, and talking about themselves and those they are talking to, more formally.
They use the honorific prefixes “o” and “go”, as well as words like wa, na no, kashira and mashoo.

In reality, of course, the actual language used by Japanese ladies tend to differ from these ideals. Onnarashii speech tends to be used mainly by those in the media (TV presenters and broadcasters) and those in education. Also, when learning Japanese, you will find onnarashii in Japanese textbooks and other materials.

For males, they are expected to be the strong and silent type, always keeping their emotions in check, much like the samurai of old. This behaviour is known as Otokorashii (男らしい, “manly” or “masculine”).
Male speak is thought of as less polite, using distinct pronouns and reduced vowels. Men tend to use `da` instead of `desu`, and use personal pronouns like ore and boku. They also end their sentences with yo, ze, zo and kana. They use less honorifics and fewer aizuchi responses.

Here are some examples of the difference in speech between males and females in Japan.

Words for “I” or “Me”

Male or Female

私, わたし

watashi – polite, used by both men and women.

私, わたくし

watakushi – polite, used by both men and women; more formal than watashi.

自分, じぶん

jibun – used by both men and women. However, in the Kansai dialect, jibun refers to “you”.


uchi – used by both men and women. One’s own name used almost exclusively by women.




atashi – young girls, women, men expressing femininity; soft, feminine.


atakushi – formal form of atashi; used by women mostly in formal situations.


atai – more recently characteristic of the Tokyo “shitamachi” (downtown) dialect; distinctly rough.



僕, ぼく

boku – boys and young men, fairly casual.

俺, おれ

ore – informal form for men and boys, women NOT being feminine/polite; distinctly masculine, sometimes vulgar.

儂, わし

washi – used by old men.

我輩, 吾輩

wagahai – archaic, somewhat boastful masculine.

我, 吾

ware – normally used by old men.

Words for “You”

Male and female

君, きみ

kimi – men to close friends, lovers; superiors (including women) to inferiors.

貴方, あなた

anata – standard polite form when used by men, usual form used by women.


sochira – informal yet relatively neutral form for ‘you’, used among peers of a similar age group usually. Less insulting than anta.


anta – informal contraction of standard anata; could be potentially insulting. Used by women when talking down to a man.


ano hito – means `that person`.




temae – archaic, extremely hostile in its corrupted form temee (てめえ)


koitsu – directive pronoun, as in “this guy”; not very friendly.

お前, おまえ

omae – direct, abrupt; sometimes hostile.


kisama – formerly an extremely honorific form of address; in modern speech is as insulting as, but more refined than, “temee”.


aitsu – used to rudely refer to someone.




anata – (when used to address a husband or male partner): equivalent to “dear”. The male equivalent is お前, おまえ omae – (when used to address a wife or female partner): equivalent to “dear”.


ano kata – means `that person`.


ano ko – used informally by women when talking about someone else.



wa – gives a distinctly soft effect; not to be confused with wa in the Kansai dialect


wa yo – informative


wa ne – ne is a tag question roughly meaning “don’t you think so?” It is sometimes placed at the beginning, rather than the end of sentences and functions to soften the tone.

no – gives a distinctly soft effect;


no yo – informative/assertive


no ne – explanatory/tag question


kashira – I wonder




kai – masculine form of the question marker ka

zo – emphatic/informative

ze – emphatic/informative

yo – emphatic/informative; also used by women, but women tend to soften by adding wa


kanaa – I wonder



Like all languages, Japanese, too is evolving. Females are using the male forms more frequently, and it will eventually become an accepted norm as young people find no problem using either form, and young women no longer wish to be pigeon-holed as soft, feminine, stay-at-home housewife types.