Are there pronouns in Japanese?

Q: I always read your FAQ’s, and I have a question of my own. Someone may have already asked this, but are there pronouns in the Japanese language?? For example: I, you, me, he, she. I never hear any, when people speak in Japanese it sounds like they are speaking in 3rd person. Thanks, Alex

A:  Hi Alex,

There are pronouns in the Japanese language, but as you correctly noticed, you don’t use them anywhere near as much as in English.  In fact this is one way in which bad Japanese textbooks make people look stupid, by always putting the “watashi wa” at the beginning of sentences, it makes you look really uneducated.

Usually you just miss the pronoun off and say things like “スタバに行く” = sutaba ni iku = starbucks go.  So how do you tell who exactly is going?  Well that’s one genius of Japanese, you don’t have to say who you are going with!  :)

Usually you pick it up from the context though. For example if someone says ケーキ食べたい = keeki tabetai = cake want to eat,  it’s pretty obvious who is wanting to eat cake – the person who’s talking!

If you really need to clarify your best friend will be the word 誰 = dare = who, so to ask:

Who with?  You say 誰と? dare to

Or who is going / is eating / etc.? 誰が? dare ga

So another example,  昨日来ましたよ = kinou kimashita yo = yesterday came.   What would you say to find out who exactly came?

Dead easy.

This is why you don’t need to spend so much time learning sentence structure in Japanese.  If you ever see two people conversing it’s like a game of tennis, with a couple of words said, then the other person says a couple of words.  Most of the words you can pick up from context, like pronouns, are just missed out so it’s much more efficient than English!

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