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Which "I" to use?

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Which "I" to use?

Postby soldieroH » Fri 01.07.2011 10:49 am

Recently I have been confused about how to say "I". I can't decide which to use: わたし、 ぼ く or おれ.
I thought that わたし is used when you don't know other person very well and that ぼ く is used with your friends and other people you know very well. But then I heard that わたし actually sounds like you are about 30-40 years old (I am 18) and that ぼ く sounds a little immature. But I know that おれ is not very polite way to say "I". :sweatdrop:
So I wanted to know which "I" version should I use with friends and which to use with everybody else and also why to use one version instead of other because I am really quite confused about it. :think:
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby Ongakuka » Fri 01.07.2011 11:43 am

You can decribe those three pronouns as 'immature, arrogant, polite' and so on, but there could be other reasons behind a person's individual use of them.

A young man that says 'watashi' might be thought of as dignified, mature and even educated by an elder, whereas it might sound a bit weak if that same person was to use it among their 'manly' friends. So you may well find yourself switching between them.

When speaking to people with clear authority above you, I recommend sticking exclusively to 'watashi.' If you feel at ease with someone that has higher status/ is older than you, 'boku' should be ok too. Amongst friends 'boku' or 'ore' will work, the latter as you know is very assertive but there is no reason to avoid it, and there are plenty of 'sensitive' males that use 'ore.' The most important thing is not to use 'ore' (and certainly not 'omae') in the wrong context.
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby soldieroH » Fri 01.07.2011 12:26 pm

Then ぼく is like something between わたし and おれ right? I am mainly confused about ぼく because of one video on Youtube interviewing japanese men about how japanese men say "I" and there was said that ぼく sounds immature and soft and that men should use おれ. Could that be just because of their interpretation of manliness?
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby Ongakuka » Fri 01.07.2011 12:31 pm

Yes, boku does have a somewhat innocent or 'naiive' nuance to it. A man who uses boku demonstrates that they are somewhat docile. But there is no 'should' use this or that, it is all down to personal choice. I believe most men use 'ore' when the situation allows for it. Perhaps the only way to get a really good feel for it is to listen to lots of Japanese (which you can do online) or find other ways to hear Japanese people conversing in different situations.

Edit: Just in case this might be of use: in informal situations I have 'ore' as a default, but quite often I choose 'boku' because I don't want to sound too assertive or arrogant. Either way, people will be more interested in what you have to say than how you define your personal character. (It might make more difference if you are trying to sound attractive to the opposite sex.)
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby soldieroH » Fri 01.07.2011 1:43 pm

Thank you very much for explaining this. :)
ありがとう ございます。 :bow:
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby Jack W » Fri 01.07.2011 8:12 pm

This is the question I always wanted to ask, but was afraid to. Finally someone else has asked it, so I don't have to. :D

My situation is rather different from the OP's, since I'll be 43 soon. So I was sort of thinking that 私 should be my personal pronoun of choice. The spoken Japanese that I have heard (which I know is nowhere near enough) makes me tend to think I'm "too old" for 僕. (And definitely too young for ワシ, or so I hope!) On the other hand, my sense is that the OP calling himself 僕 would sound completely natural, though I could see him changing to 俺 when hanging out with his buddies, as I probably would too.

And yet, two years ago I took a Japanese course, in which our teacher (who was almost 60) called himself 僕. Though the teacher assured me that it was fine if I also called myself 僕, somehow I couldn't bring myself to do it -- even though it seems to me to have a demure and respectful tone that does not diminish the speaker's masculinity, all of which would otherwise appeal to me.

I know that 私 is the "safe" choice in certain ways, and am also aware that it could give hints of my sounding weak -- but I wonder if at my age, 僕 might be even worse in that sense. Not to mention that I realize that pronouns should be used much less frequently than in English, preferably only when it's required to make myself clear.

But I am probably wrong on any or all of this, and would appreciate correction. :)
Last edited by Jack W on Mon 01.17.2011 12:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby Ongakuka » Fri 01.07.2011 8:56 pm

I know that 私 is the "safe" choice in certain ways, and am also aware that it could give hints of my sounding weak -- but I wonder if at my age, 僕 might be even worse in that sense.


I understand where you are coming from with this and your feelings make sense to me. The important way to look at it is from the perspective of the listener, not the speaker. Someone of 60 years or above might use 'boku' to their juniors because they want to be friendly, and 'watashi' may be too formal and 'ore' too 'friendly.' (なれなれしい。) Name pronouns may be accosiated with certain age groups, but it is very common for 8 year old boys to use 'ore' and quite normal for older people to be using 'boku.' Everything depends on the audience in question.
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby Jack W » Fri 01.07.2011 9:54 pm

Thanks for your explanation -- and this is really interesting, by the way. So it's not about me, but about the person or persons I'm addressing, and the situation I and they are in.

As I sat here and thought about it, I could imagine situations where I could make either 私 or 僕 work, depending on how I wanted to come across. And even ワシ might work if I were trying to put on some big old-age act ("Oh my aching back!" etc.) to try to be funny or garner pity.

But I will still save 俺 for drinking beer with the guys around the pool table. :)

EDIT: Come to think of it, I have seen at least two anime with teenage male characters who habitually called themselves ワシ. That looked and sounded really weird to me. It was generally the Big Guy On The Team, if that makes sense....
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Re: Which "I" to use?

Postby AJBryant » Sat 01.08.2011 1:47 am

I'm a little odd, and rather like 拙者(せっしゃ) and 某(それがし).

It's largely irrelevant, though -- you really won't be using first-person pronouns very much at all.
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