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私 pronunciation

Hey there, I'm a little confused how "I" in Japanese is pronunced. I have seen both わたし and わたくし. Where is the difference, why isn't there one clear pronunciation? Thanks a lot.

May 21, 2018



Since someone already commented, here's a list of some different ways to say "I" because I'm sure it might get confusing.

わたし(私): Standard "I". Formal, used by all genders.

わたくし(私): Most formal "I", used mostly in business settings. Used by all genders.

あたし(私): Informal "I", used exclusively by females to sound cute. Often left as hiragana or katakana.

わし(儂): Formal "I", used rarely by old men both and real life and as stereotypes in fiction.

われ(我): Very formal "I", used in literary style. A rather old way to say "I". Used by all genders.

おれ(俺): Informal and rough "I". Used almost exclusively by men in casual situations, but masculine females might very rarely use it.

ぼく(僕): Informal "I". Used by mostly males, especially those of a younger age. Again, females still use this pronoun (more than "俺"), but only really by tomboys.

じぶん(自分): Formal "I", but can be used to say "oneself" (they/he/she/you/me/I/etc.). As a first person pronoun, it is mostly used by males.

Adding ~ら or ~たち turns "I" into "we" or "us". EX: 僕たち.


せっしゃ(拙者): Used by samurai.


Adding to this list, there’s also うち (which is, I believe, written exclusively in hiragana or katakana, though I always figured it was probably derived from 家 or 内), which is enormously common in large parts of Japan, particularly with women. It’s widely thought of as a kansai dialect thing, and often pops up in a fictional character’s speech to mark them as being from that region, but I heard it a lot in places like Hiroshima and Okayama in the Chugoku region too, so I think it pops up in a lot of Japanese dialects, and it’s a good one to know.

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s possible to use your own name / nickname in place of a personal pronoun in Japanese. Like if your name is Maki, and your friend is eating ice cream or something you could be like, “真希もアイス食べたい!” (Maki mo aisu tabetai! - literally “Maki wants to eat ice cream too!”) instead of “私もアイス食べたい!“ (watashi mo aisu tabetai).

It sounds very childish and cutesy, and is really only supposed to be used by young kids who don’t know any better (if you’ve seen the Ghibli movie My Neighbour Totoro, it’s how Mei, the younger sister, refers to herself a lot of the time). And it’s not something you’re likely to hear from guys over the age of 5 or 6 in particular, barring the odd overtly camp stereotype in a piece of media. But it’s actually very common to hear from young women in casual settings well into high school and beyond, and I met lots of university age women who still referred to themselves that way with their friends. I also had quite a few female friends who, when we got into a conversation about the topic, said that they wouldn’t speak like that when they were outside, but that they often referred to themselves that way in conversation with their parents and siblings, as it was a habit that had kind of stuck from childhood. So I think it’s also fairly common for girls in Japanese households as well.


The difference is in formality. わたし is the regular one that you can use when talking to strangers, friends, family etc., while using わたくし in the two latter settings would be awkward because it's just a super formal version of わたし used in business settings and such. There's also わし which is sometimes written with that kanji as well, and it's yet a different version that I only see used in anime by old men.

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