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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Absolute Beginner Questions Answered by Hiroko, where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is… How should I refer to family members?
There are two different ways of referring to Japanese family members. One is when mentioning someone else’s family members, and the other is when you’re talking about your own family members to other people.
You need to pay respect to other people when you’re mentioning someone's family members. So you have to use “otō-san”, ”okā-san”, “onii-san”, “onee-san”, ”ojii-san”, “obā-san” and so on.
At the same time, you should be modest when you’re mentioning your own family members. When you refer to your own family members, you need to use particular words, especially in formal conversation. Your own father is “chichi” and your own mother is “haha”. You cannot use those words to refer to someone else’s father or mother.
Let’s look at some examples -
Someone asks Laura, “ローラさん、お母さんはお元気ですか." Laura should answer "はい、母は元気です."
If someone says to you, " 私は兄がいます.", you will ask them, "お兄さんは、学生ですか."
If someone says to you, “姉は大学生です.”, you will ask them “お姉さんは何年生ですか.”
If Laura says to you, “今日は祖父と祖母の家に行きます.”, you will ask her, “ローラさんのお祖父さんとお祖母さんはどこに住んでいますか.”
Interestingly, “ojiisan” can be used to refer to old men, too. When you want to say something to an old man you don’t know, you can call him “ojii-san”. But, it would be safer not to refer to someone that way, unless they look very old. Also, young men and women can be called “onii-san” and “onee-san”.
I hope this makes sense to you and you’re able to use the kinship words correctly from now on!
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!


Please to leave a comment.
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JapanesePod101.com Verified
February 9th, 2016 at 06:30 PM
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What Japanese learning question do you have?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
August 20th, 2021 at 06:17 PM
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Hi Dorota,

Thank you for your comment!

I'm so sorry for the late reply...

You learned "chichi", "haha", "ani", "ane" and so on in this lesson and they are used when you talk about your own family members to other people especially in formal situations.

However, they are not used when you call or talk with your family member.

When you call your father and mother, you would say "o-tō-san, o-kā-san", your brother and sister, "o-nii-chan, o-nee-chan."

(Some people say "o-tō-chan, o-kā-chan" and "o-nii-san, o-nee-san.")

It might be a bit confusing, but I think it's interesting!

Please let us know if you have any further question:)



Team JapanesePod101.com

July 12th, 2021 at 12:30 AM
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I heard such expression as: "Onii chan" (I hope I'm writing this correctly) or "Obāchan". In this situation because there is ending "chan", we can use this expression to our family members?

Sometimes in anime it seams like main characters are using "chichi", "haha" and "otousan", "okaasan" in the opposite way. This means that e.g. they are using "otousan", "okaasan" for their own parents. Is it possible? When yes, why it is used in such way?

Best regards

JapanesePod101.com Verified
September 21st, 2020 at 09:01 PM
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Thank you so much for your comment😄

You can say "sofubo" for grandparents and the suffix "great" is hī; for example, great great grandfather will be "hī hī ojīsan."

Please let us know if you have any questions :)



Team JapanesePod101.com

September 15th, 2020 at 03:49 PM
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I was wondering if there is a specific word for "grandparents". Or is it just: grandfather and grandmother "sofu to sobo"?

Also is there a suffix or word that is the same as "great"? Like great grandfather, great grandmother?

Thanks! 😁

April 12th, 2019 at 11:28 AM
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Hi Aeri,

I have two older brothers = Watashi wa ani ga futari imasu.

Thanks for the question!

Hi Anne,

Thanks for the question. Please see below how to say those sentences you've asked:

"My husband likes ramen." = 私の夫はラーメンが好きです。(わたし の おっと は ラーメン が すきです。)

"My wife works in Kawasaki." = 私の妻は川崎で働いています。(わたし の つま は かわさき で はたらいています。)

The key here is to use "otto(夫)" and "tsuma(妻)" By using these terms, the sentence becomes humble, just like when you talk about your parents to other people, you don't use お父さん/お母さん, but 父/母 instead.


Miki H

Team JapanesePod101.com

February 26th, 2019 at 02:01 PM
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How do I talk about my husband to another person?

For example, "My husband likes ramen."

Also, if my husband wants to talk about me, how should he refer to me?

For example, "My wife works in Kawasaki."

June 26th, 2018 at 08:19 AM
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Hello Ms.,

If I want to say I have two older brother,

can I say "watashi wa ani ga futatsu imasu?"

Thank you!

JapanesePod101.com Verified
February 6th, 2018 at 03:25 AM
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Hi RadShiba,

Thank you for the great question and sorry for our late reply.

>>Is this used for both older and younger siblings?

No. Younger brother is otōto (弟・おとうと)and younger sister is imōto (妹・いもうと)

If you are referring to someone else's younger brother or sister, you can add '-san' at the end.

Example: How old is your younger brother? > Otōto-san wa nan sai desuka?

Miki H

Team JapanesePod101.com

November 6th, 2017 at 12:19 AM
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I learned here you refer to other's siblings as お兄さん and お姉さん.

Is this used for both older and younger siblings?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
November 29th, 2016 at 03:01 PM
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ben san,


Well…that sounds a bit wired…:disappointed:

If you have to call someone who you don’t know, you should ask her name first.

If you can’t so that, just say ‘sumimasen’ to her.

Yuki 由紀

Team JapanesePod101.com