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  5. "すみません、あなたはだれですか?"


Translation:Excuse me, who are you?

June 9, 2017



I asked a bunch of Japanese people, and they said it is not rude like everyone else says! It is a very polite and formal way of addressing a stranger whose name you do not know.

In general, when you know someones name, you use their name in the sentence when talking to them, in place of "you." I use an app for language exchange and everyone says あなた is polite.


The "rudeness" stems from improper usage. This may not have been thoroughly explained to you, by whomever you had spoken to.

It's better to think of it this way in general: あなた suggests that you have an intimate or close relationship with the person you are speaking to. If you use it and this relationship exists, it is OK and there is no foul. However, if you use it and there is no such relationship - it is "rude" because there is now a stated assumption that you are considering the person equal to you or lesser than they really are in relation to you.

In general, to avoid misunderstandings - simply make the statement without use of あなた since most statements that involve it will have been understood through context clues. Also, native Japanese will either introduce themselves briefly if you're talking to them long enough to even get to the point that you have to say "you" or will not really care because you're obviously a foreigner and don't know better.

Example: You see someone drop their wallet, you pick it up and hand it to them and say could say すみません、あなたは財布を落とした, but it's good enough to just say すみません、落とした since they know it's theirs, that it's a wallet, and thus you simply just need to state that it was dropped


I went back and asked some Japanese people, and I disagree with your second paragraph. It does not suggest such thing at all, and you would use someones name when speaking to them if you know it, and their first name if you are intimate and close with them.

I have been told by everyone I have spoken to that it is 100% normal to use あなた with people whose names you don't know. Yes, you can completely drop the word altogether in some sentences, but if you are required to use it in a sentence that may not make sense without "you", then you would use it for someone you don't know the name of, or you would use their name. I understand the usage and how context works in sentences, however the "intimate" part has never been mentioned to me ever, and everyone I have mentioned it to after you wrote this, has greatly disagreed with it.

I have however read that you need to be careful using あなた with some strangers, because it is assuming that the person is an equal to you, or that you are trying to be familiar with them. In which case, you would use something else if they are superior in some way. So maybe this is where everyone saying it is "rude" comes from. :)

I don't mean to be rude, and I appreciate you trying to help me, though. So thank you for that, but I really think that's wrong if so many people are disagreeing with it.


What app are you using? Info I provided was from when I had asked Japanese native speakers, coming from Japan because of work or their spouses, that are taking ESL class in my school. This is in addition to licensed Japanese teachers that speak fluent Japanese and English, to ensure little is lost in translation.

I'm not sure if you simply misunderstood a little or if you understand and are simply rephrasing to internalize it in your own way, especially since you repeat and agree with what I had said later about how it is rude due to implications on status and relation. I honestly feel like it is the latter.

As a note, when I said "intimate" that means you are on first name basis or have a relationship with the person, not in a boyfriend/girlfriend way, that allows you to speak casually with someone and do not need to use 敬語. The Japanese people you say you spoke to may have misunderstood you, hence their disagreement...


I use HelloTalk to speak to Japanese people who are also learning English. Yes, I agree with the part you said on the rudeness stemming from improper usage.

Everyone I have spoken to has told me that it is 100% okay and considered polite to use "anata" for someone whose name you do not know (obviously an exception to people who are superior). So that is how I have taken it. I really do not understand why you say that あなた is used with someone you are on a first name basis with, because I have asked about that to people as well and they say you would just use their name. If you're on a first name basis, would you not just use their first name? Perhaps I have misunderstood what you meant.


Ah ok. After some thought and given that app's background, I am starting to understand where you're coming from. Basically the Japanese people you are speakimg with that claim it is not rude are speaking specifically outside of situations that require 敬語. So speech in very casual settings, like with friends, or situations in which there's some familiarity with people there already.

But overall, I'm sure you get it at this point that it is definitely rude when in situations that require 敬語 like in professional/formal environments, superiors/elders, and politness/respect emphasis/addressing. Of course, everything goes out the window if you're given permission to no longer need to use 敬語 in those situations but... again there's nuances there that reflect upon your character.

Suggestion for you: I highly recommend you ask the people you are currently speaking to on HelloTalk to provide you in-depth explanation of 敬語 since there is much to it... there are even books specifically just for it! It will likely answer many other questions you may have regarding Japanese and the nuances in word choice. The language as a whole hinges a lot on mutual intelligibility hence the strong presence of such.

Lastly, to clarify - when you're on a first name basis with someone you're permitted to speak casually and not need to use 敬語 unless needed or you want to emphasize respect in whatever you're stating. So you can say both their name or あなた freely. Confusing maybe, but again this is why I recommend reading into 敬語 (that's けいご in kana btw, in case you are not familiar with the kanji)


It is kind of odd to say あなた to someone whose name you know, but unless it is a formal setting, it isn't considered rude


All people with concerns regarding あなた... I highly recommend spending time studying 敬語 (けいご). It is a huge portion of Japanese and will help you understand the nuances that come with word choice and situational awareness, especially since mutual intelligibility is core to Japanese.


I was talking to a couple once and had to use あなた, but I felt so embarassed that I said あなたさん、fully knowing it was wrong but I wanted to stay polite lol

Then during my travel, it occured to me that people would refer to others (or even me) as お姉さん/お兄さん/お祖母さん/お祖父さん etc. when they don't know their name. So I guess that would be correct to say that even if we're not family related?


As for songs and commercials [ print, tv, radio ], the あなた means the general audience without specifying any particular person. Technically it is not rude in that sense.

For husband and wife where you watch dramas, when the woman addresses the man あなた, well, it means "Dear" or "Darling". It does not have the same meaning.

In the ranking of politeness, it is something like あなた [you], きみ [hey you], おまえ[oi you ! ], きさま [you, looking for a fight ?]. What is spoken on anime or drama to attract viewers is sometimes exaggeration, things that Japanese know dont happen in real life, but foreigners who don't really know much may think that is reality and get culture shock when they interact everyday to find that tv and real life are not the same !

There is a Japanese writeup about this various versions of "you" somewhere online. But the bottomline is clear, when in doubt, just use すみません or どもすみません to excuse yourself or ask something. 100% foolproof, no worries about not being polite, getting into trouble, and definitely will leave a good impression everywhere you go.


Is it polite to use あなた in this context?


I disagree with everyone who replied. I asked a few Japanese people, as I commented below, on a language exchange app if it was rude to use あなた, and they said it is polite and formal. I think when some people said it was rude to use, it was partially correct.

When talking to someone you know, you would use their name in a sentence in place of "you". In this case, it would be somewhat odd to use あなた with them. However, if you don't know someone and they are a stranger, it is perfectly acceptable to use あなた. It is not rude.


Can any native speakers confirm?


I'm not a native speaker, but I agree with Ariel.

I explained the situation to my partner who is a native Japanese speaker, and she tells me that the use of あなた here, in and of itself, isn't rude unless you should know the person's name (but then, why would you ask who they are?), and in more general circumstances, the use of あなた to refer to a stranger (i.e. someone whose name you don't know, and are not expected to know) is "polite", or at least civil. She explained that the Japanese tendency to avoid pronouns might have originally stemmed from a concern about politeness, but nowadays it's more like a habit of structuring one's thoughts without them.

Further down in this thread somewhere, 「すみません、誰ですか?」 was suggested as a more polite alternative to this exercise's sentence, since it didn't use あなた. When I mentioned this to my partner, she was shocked and said it's even more impolite. The impoliteness in this exercise comes from the use of だれ as it conveys a sense of standoffish-ness, a la "who are you, you shouldn't be here", which is exacerbated by leaving out あなた (making the phrase more curt).

I'll admit, context and tone play a huge role in any sentence, and since I agreed with Ariel's opinion, it's possible I unconsciously said those phrases in a certain tone which led my partner to anchor her thoughts around a particular scenario. But, if the use of あなた is actually as obviously rude as people seem to be claiming that it is, you would expect the anchoring effect to be easily overcome by "common sense".


Completely agree with what you said! Not a native speaker but I've studied for quite a few years now and have lived in Japan for a bit. One thing that I've noticed is that, like your partner said, 誰 actually sounds more impolite than あなた does. Almost like by asking the question you're challenging the listener and their right to be there.

Instead of あなたは誰ですか I've heard some people use あなたは?and leave out 誰 all together. Given that both parties don't know each other it would be obvious you're asking who they are. Similar to お名前は?leaving out the question word works to make the inquiry more polite.


@owly121 It depends on the situation you're in, and how you want to be seen in that situation.

Also, do you use どちら instead of what? If you replaced だれ with どちら, あなたはどちらですか means "which one are you?" But if you replaced あなた with どちら, どちらはだれですか means "who is which one?" which makes even less sense.

だれ is often substituted with どちらの方, which is a polite/respectful way to say "a person of which (name/origin)"


Thank you everyone for your explanations


So do you use どちら instead?


My Japanese teacher (she is from Japan) told us not to use あなた because it's rude. Though I don't understand why it is taught by every book and app I tried so far.


Because they want to make Japanese seem like it works like English, which leads to such strange sentences


Maybe the book-makers and app-makers think that it's necessary to to include the pronouns for the sake of grammar and to avoid confusion; but they often forget to note that such words are often ommitted and might make the speaker sound rude.


Yes, this is the case. It's primarily there as a learning aide for English (and other languages that are pronoun dependent) speakers.


You can use anata with people that you don't know their names, but it's rude to use it with people you know them Please watch this video for more https://youtu.be/pPYMi2eemeA


'Taught', not 'teached'.


Yeah, my teacher said she would only use it when she was very angry with someone.


Most 'taught' Japanese is conversational Japanese that focuses on a formalized version of the language. You would not use 'あなた' in business, or with someone older than you.

It used to be that you would not use the word at all because it was considered fairly rude. ( It was the verbal equivalent of point directly at someone and looking down at them. ) However, with the changing generations it has become less rude to use among those in your age group in day to day situations.

You still would not want to use it with someone who is your 'social superior' (i.e. someone who is older than you, has a higher station in the workplace than you, ect.).


"Who are you?" is also rude in English. There are other, more acceptable questions to ask someone you don't know. However, it must be the best translation for this sentence.


From what I've read, people don't normally address who they speak to as あなた. I'm assuming あなた is a stranger, so I think using it is not polite. Not entirely sure


You are correct. It is largely regarded as not polite and not commonly used.


As far as I know, it's not rude (in fact, it's polite) to use it when you don't know the other person's name. When you know it, it is rude, and you should use their name instead. The usage of second person pronouns in Japanese is more complex than that, but basically if you're talking to someone you just met, use あなた unless you know their name.


I somewhat disagree; you'd use it in all contexts where you'd still use "Mr" or "Ms" in English. That is, professional acquaintance, someone "superior" or "senior" to you, etc. in addition to people you don't know. With peers, it would be weird, and you'd use a different form of 'you' depending upon familiarity, affection, etc


そちらさま (そちら様) - you​. Honorific or respectful (sonkeigo). Can be used as respectful "who". (Used when you don't know the person, someone of higher status).

あなた (貴方) - you (referring to someone of equal or lower status)​. Usually written using kana alone. Polite (teineigo). Considered the most harmless way to say “you.” Not to be used with parents or when showing respect. (Calling people by name+san or their status like "mother", ''teacher" can be more polite). Also, used as "dear" when a wife calls a husband.

あん (貴方) - you​. Usually written using kana alone, familiar form of あなた.

あなたがた (あなた方) - you (plural). ​Honorific or respectful (sonkeigo).

あなたたち (あなた達) - you (plural)​. Usually written using kana alone.

きみ (君) - you; buddy; pal. ​Male term or language, Familiar language, also used colloquially by young females.

お前まえ (お前) - you (formerly honorific, now sometimes derog. term referring to an equal or inferior). ​Familiar language, Male term or language.

お前さん - you​; my dear.

お前たち - you (plural)​. Familiar language, Male term or language.

おまえさま (御前様) - ​you. ​Honorific or respectful (sonkeigo), Archaism.

おまえら (お前ら) - you (plural)​. Familiar language, Male term or language.

Also, don’t say Anata too much. Japanese people more often than not will omit the “you” information from their sentences. Similar to omitting “I”, this information is mostly derived from the context or other grammar clues.


If there's really no other way to say it then just hope that the person you're speaking with doesn't get offended with あなた。


In my experience, native Japanese are extremely forgiving of foreigners when it comes to things that would otherwise be considered rude.


But there is; one could just drop the "あなた": すみません、誰ですか?


Exactly as Roy stated. あなた can simply be dropped since it would be made clear, through context of discussion, that you are referring to the person spoken to. It's important to bear in mind that Japanese has a heavy amount of mutual intelligibility involved due to Japanese culture having a focus on the importance of interpersonal relationships and social connection, unlike English where ideas are bluntly presented because the "language" is oft just seen as a tool to convey ideas and nothing more.

あなた is often avoided since you would usually know the person's name being spoken to. It maybe a surprise to some people, but Japanese culture isn't one to condone randomly and openly speaking to strangers out of the blue without any formalities or simple self introduction (oft seen in Western cultures like America).

The "rudeness" thus comes from you failing to remember a person's name after it was provided to you. あなた is reserved only in cases where you know the person well (casual speak) or really don't have much choice but to use it - though again in these "emergency" cases you'd just drop あなた altogether.

So for example, if you were to need to say "Behind you!" - you could say あなたのうしろ ... but just yelling うしろ is more than enough to get your point across.


Sumimasen, but how do you pronounce that?


"Sumimasen, dare desu ka?"


"donata desu ka" is more polite especially when you want to show respect. Sorry, got no japanese keybord on thus device but donata is a word comoosed of two kanji: "who" (dare) and "polite person or way of doing something" (kata).


I think the rude part is using "dare," rather than "donata," since presumably if you do not know the person, you are unlikely to address them with the more informal "dare."


No, this sentence isn't considered rude at all. It's true that どなた is more formal than だれ, but politeness and formality are not always the same thing. Less formal does not (always) equal more rude.


I am still kind of confused about "anata". Half of the comments say it is polite to use if you don't know someone's name/with a complete stranger, and the other half say you should only use it if you have a close relationship with the person because it is so impolite. Which one is it?? I have heard "anata" used in songs but it is always referring to someone the singer likes/is close to. And the singer, always female, uses "boku" and "atashi" to refer to themselves.


I think the community is very confused about the subject. I may be wrong on some things as well, but I have been trying my best to get different opinions from actual Japanese people, and everyone seems to say that あなた is polite to use for someone whose name you don't know. You can always drop the "anata" in some sentences, because context can do it's work. After you learn someone's name, you then replace "anata" with their name when speaking to someone.

I believe the "rudeness" some people mention really just comes from "anata" assuming that you are equal to the person you are speaking to. In which case, if you are speaking to someone superior to you, or someone older, you may use another name to address them. I don't think anata is formal in any way when it comes to relationships. You only really use it if you don't know the persons name, which is what I have been taught by Japanese people I speak to on another app. I've learned most of my Japanese from speaking to them, really.

Also, to explain a bit why they might use "anata" in a song, is probably because you wouldn't use someones specific name in a love song. For the target audience, they would put "anata" to help the audience envision and put themselves in the song. If the singer said "Tanaka" as the name, that wouldn't put the audience in a similar position to imagine themselves as the singer. I hope that makes sense, haha.


I agree, the discussion got a bit confusing. @Kreyvarr and @lyrhia are right. You mostly avoid "anata", and a lot more is understood through context than in English. 'Onisan' and 'Oneesan' are fine too but I haven't heard a lot of it...


anata has a specific use for women when addressing their husbands/lovers. though im not sure how common it is in modern times.


when someone butts in on your conversation


Use "anata" with strangers or people you're unfamiliar with, and it's perfectly polite. Don't use it with people you know though, that's impolite, use their name instead. OwO


I always see j drama couple calling each other "anata" playfully.


I'd like to add my two cents to this politeness conversation. The most formal way I know of asking for someone's identity is 「すみません、どちらさまでしうか?」(which, as far as I know, closest translates to "Whom might you be?")

Have to say I'm not a native and just regurgitating what I've heard and learnt. I wouldn't know the specific context for using that sentence either, so correct me if I'm wrong.


Perfect Blue, anyone?


Starts playing the kazoo


All this discussion about whether this is polite or rude in Japanese, and no one else seems to have mentioned that this English sentence ("Who are you?") is rarely appropriate and is often rude. It may be more useful in Japanese than in English, but either way it probably can be avoided.


"I'm sorry, who are you?" should be accepted too right?


Saitama to Fubuki after seeing her for the 100th time.


Ok enough about politeness. Can I ask a stranger who disrespects me "omae wa dare desu ka?!" Or doesn't "dare" suit that situation? Thanks.


I guess you could, but the pairing of です, which is ostensibly polite, with お前 (decidedly not polite) in such a confrontational context sounds unnatural. Much more common (at least in Japanese dramas) is お前は何様だ【おまえはなにさまだ】or お前、一体何様?【おまえ、いったいなにさま?】

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