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Is it rude to address someone with “あなた/Anata”? In that case, how should we call people?

There are many Japanese words that address “you” with different levels of politeness. This article will focus on the use of “あなた/Anata” and explain why あなた isn’t appropriate in some situations and suggest alternative expressions of あなた.

あなた is probably the most common word that addresses “you” in Japanese and it is a very general word to refer to a person. Hence, although the word itself isn’t particularly rude, it can express that certain sense of disrespect. This is because the use of あなた seems too generalised and makes it seem that the person you are talking to is not special. Probably you have seen あなた being used so many times in the textbook or in the test, but we don’t really hear them in daily conversation. This is because even if you are using あなた to someone who’s equal, some people may feel you are condescending. あなた is also not for people with higher rank or seniority. If you think you have used あなた as an honorific, it may make the other person feel uncomfortable. At the very least, it is rude to call your boss or business partner あなた so it should not be used.

Then what is the correct way to call your superiors?

If you can't use あなた for your superiors, check the relationship between you and the person you are addressing, and remember the appropriate way to call them.

  1. When you are addressing your boss, call him or her with their job titles such as chief Clark, section chief, or director.

  2. if you are addressing client with position name, call by their job title or “title+name+sama”

  3. “様/さま/Sama” means “Mr.”, “Mrs”, and “Ms” in Japanese but more polite than “さん/San”

Basically, you can never go wrong by calling someone by their first name.

  • If it's someone from your company, call them by their last name + san (Mr./Mrs./Ms)

  • If it's someone from another company or outside the company, call them by their last name + san or last name + sama.

Remembering someone's name and calling them by their first name is a sign of respect for them. It will give them a better impression of you than using あなた.

Various second-person honorifics that can be used in business situations

There are rules about the honorific titles you can use depending on the person you are addressing. It is useful to remember these honorifics as it is often used in emails, letters and business correspondence.

貴殿/きでん/Kiden - Used for men on an equal or higher rank

貴女/きじょ/Kijo - Used for women on an equal or higher rank

貴兄/きけい/Kikei - Used for a person of equal or closer seniority

Maybe you don’t mind being called あなた by someone younger than you. But because Japan has a seniority-based society, many Japanese people care about these things and will not feel good about it. When in doubt, you can add "san" or "sama" to their last name. I hope this article will help to build smooth relationships, especially in the business scenes.

Momoka Yamaguchi

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1 Comment

Victor K
Victor K
Oct 01, 2020

Amazing article! I found this super helpful!! Thanks for explaining! 🥳🥳Looking forward to next one 😁

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