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Lesson 166: Family members

In Japanese, talking about family members is more complicated than in English. This is mainly due to the fact that there are different words for mother, father, sister, etc., depending on whether or not it is one's own family member that one refers to.

So, for example, if I was referring to my own mother in conversation I would use はは, but if I was talking about someone else's mother, I would refer to her as かあさん.

It is important to note that this rule applies only when speaking with a non-family member. It is perfectly natural to call one's own mother かあさん when addressing her directly. You can think of it this way: just as you do not use the polite suffix -さん when talking about yourself, neither do you use the polite form when speaking about your own family.

Another point worth noting is that when referring to your family members with the plain form, you do not need to use わたしの(my) or わたしたちの(our), as this would be redundant.

Below is a list of the different family words in both their plain and polite forms. Some words, however, do not have a different plain and polite form. For these words, simply use the suffix -さん when talking about someone else's family.

English Plain Japanese Polite Japanese
father ちち とうさん
mother はは かあさん
older sister あね ねえさん
older brother あに にいさん
younger sister いもうと いもうとさん
younger brother おとうと おとうとさん
parent(s) おや おや
(both) parents りょうしん りょうしん

The that you see in りょうしん is an honorific similar to in for example みせ. The difference is that is used in front of words that use an originally Japanese, or くん pronuncation, whereas is used in front of words that use pronunciations that are derived from Chinese, called おん.

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