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Family Words and Terms in Japanese Explained

You may know that many words in Japanese have multiple versions depending on:

    1. Who is speaking
    2. To whom he or she is speaking
    3. and the level of formality of the occasion.

Japanese family words and terms are no exception.

However, maybe you are here just to get a vocabulary list. If so, no problem! Let's start with the main family words and then we will break it down into the nitty-gritty regarding usage.

    • 家族 kazoku family
    • お父さん otousan father
    • お母さん okaasan mother
    • 両親 ryoushin (both) parents
    • 息子 musuko son
    • musume daughter
    • ani older brother
    • otouto younger brother
    • ane older sister
    • imouto younger sister
    • おじいさん ojiisan grandfather
    • おばあさん obaasan grandmother
    • otto husband
    • tsuma wife
    • 赤ちゃん akachan baby
    • 義理の父 giri no chichi father-in-law or stepfather
    • 義理の母 giri no haha mother-in-law or stepmother
    • ママ娘 mama musume stepdaughter
    • ママ息子 mama musuko stepson

The above lists the most common and useful terms of family relationships. However, it should be noted that there are different words used whether you are talking about your own family or talking about someone else’s family. Japanese also distinguishes between older and younger siblings.

And… there are many more kinship terms one might use. For example, a wife speaking to her friend might call her husband うちの人 uchi no hito [literally, our (family's) person], but this list covers the most useful words. (Want to know a distant family term? Leave a comment below and we will be sure to add it!)

As I mentioned at the top, these family terms have an honorific (尊敬 sonkei) and humble (謙譲 kenjou) form. Which one to use is determined by who you are speaking to and how formal the situation is.

Here are a few situations:

  • Referring to someone else's family [honorific]
  • Referring to one's own family members in a casual situation (among friends) [honorific or other terms]
  • Referring to one's own family members in a formal situation or to people with a higher status (your boss) [humble]
  • Speaking to your family members directly [somewhat honorific except for younger siblings; you may use the more casual ちゃん honorific instead of さん]

TERMS OF FAMILY RELATIONSHIP

 

Referring to someone else's family

My family (casual with friends)

My family (formal)

To my family members

Father

お父さん
otousan

お父さん
otousan


chichi

お父さん・パパ
otousan / papa

Mother

お母さん
okaasan

お母さん
okaasan


haha

お母さん・ママ
okaasan / mama

Older Brother

お兄さん
oniisan

お兄さん・
お兄ちゃん
oniisan /
oniichan


ani

お兄ちゃん
oniichan

Older Sister

お姉さん
oneesan

お姉さん・お姉ちゃん
oneesan / 
oneechan


ane

お姉ちゃん
oneechan

Younger Brother

弟さん
otoutosan


otouto


otouto

Given name

Younger Sister

妹さん
imoutosan


imouto


imouto

Given name

Grandfather

おじいさん
ojiisan

おじいさん・おじいちゃん
ojiisan /
ojiichan

祖父
sofu

おじいちゃん
ojiichan

Grandmother

おばあさん
obaasan

おばあさん・おばあちゃん
obaasan / 
obaachan

祖母
sobo

おばあちゃん
obaachan

Husband

ご主人
goshujin

旦那
danna

主人・夫
shujin/otto

お父さん
otousan
(with children)

Wife

奥さん
okusan

奥さん
okusan

妻・家内
tsuma/kanai

お母さん
okaasan
(with children)

 

You might be thinking why say the honorific among friends? Using the humble form would place you beneath the person with whom you are conversing. But you can also use other non-honorific terms (such as the above mentioned うちの人 uchi no hito for one's husband or うちの子 uchi no ko for one's child).

The other question you might have is why not use honorifics for younger siblings? The terms are from the perspective of the younger child. This is because Japanese culture highly values age and experience. Younger siblings use the honorific titles for the older siblings, but younger or equal siblings are usually simply addressed by their given name.

In Yumi's case, she has a younger brother and a younger sister. Since she is the eldest, her mother calls her お姉ちゃん oneechan, but her younger siblings are called by their given names.


2 Comment

  • they have stepdaughter just not on the chart.

    ママ娘 mama musume stepdaughter

    grace
  • Please add the Japanese word for stepdaughter!

    Sydney

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