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JLPT N5 Vocabulary – People

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In addition to the words for your immediate family, the N5 also includes the more basic vocabulary you need to refer to people, starting with how to refer to a man and a woman:

おとこひと
otokonohito
man

おんなひと
onnanohito
woman

And you can talk about younger people by just adding :

おとこ
otokonoko
boy

おんな
onnanoko
girl

Note that you can sometimes abbreviate man and woman to just おとこ or おんな in writing, but not adding the ひと in conversation can sound a little rude.

To refer to people above your position, for example if you are in a customer service position, you can use かた:

日本にほんかたですか?
nihonnokatadesuka
Are you Japanese?

つぎかたどうぞ。
tsuginokatadouzo
Next person, please.

And to refer to the whole group of people, you can say みなさん:

みなさん、おはようございます。
minasan, ohayougozaimasu.
Good morning everyone!

Picture of ticket machine

When buying train tickets or admission to a park, you will typically see two options:

大人おとな
otona
adult

子供こども
kodomo
child

Should I use あなた (anata)?

In some situations, あなた can sound a little informal or rude. When speaking to people your age or older, superiors, strangers that you have just meet, or anyone you want to show respect toward it is best to avoid using あなた.

Does this mean you will be dragged out into the street in summarily shot if you use it in the wrong situation? Well, no, most Japanese will understand that you are learning and will be understanding. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to use it and in fact it is often dropped unless needed for clarity.

Also, wives will commonly use it to refer to their husbands. It’s kind of a term of endearment like “honey” in English, at least as long as the tone is friendly and welcoming ;).

How to use 自分じぶん (jibun)

The word 自分じぶん in Japanese, in general, is used to refer back to a person. In English, we have a whole series of words that we use when the object is the same as the subject in a sentence. If you are using a knife and cut your finger, you don’t say “I cut me.” Instead, you say “I cut myself.”

自分じぶん in Japanese serves a similar purpose but is used a little differently. There aren’t specific words that refer to himself or herself for example. Instead, what is being referred to is implied from context. Let’s look at a few examples:

わたしは じぶんの あしを あらいました。
watashiwa jibunno ashiwo araimashita.
I washed my own feet. (lit. I washed self’s feet.)

田中たなかさんは じぶんの でんわばんごを わすれました。
tanakasanwa jibunno denwabangoo wasuremashita.
Mr.Tanaka forgot his own phone number. (lit. Mr.Tanaka forgot self’s phone number.)

It is very commonly combined with the で particle to mean that you did something by yourself:

じぶんで ばんごはんを つくりました。
jibunde bangohano tsukurimashita.
I made dinner by myself. (lit. [I] made dinner with self.)

じぶんで してください。
jibunde shitekudasai.
Do it yourself please. (lit. [you] do it with self.)

What can be confusing is that in Kansai, じぶん can often be used in questions to refer to the listener:

じぶん、どこから ましたか。
jibun, dokokara kimashitaka.
Where did (you) come from? (lit. self, where did [you] come from?)

The speaker is, in fact, asking about you, not him or herself. This won’t come up on the test, but something to keep in mind.

People at School

A student at any kind of school is a 生徒せいと, this includes things like English conversation schools, dance schools. It’s basically the blanket term for any kind of student. Meanwhile, 学生がくせい usually refers to university student. What about elementary school, junior high school or high school? They each have specific terms:

小学生しょうがくせい – elementary student
shougakusei

中学生ちゅうがくせい – junior high student
chuugakusei

高校学生こうこうがくせい – high school student
koukougakusei

If you are studying abroad, the term is 留学生りゅうがくせい (ryuugakusei).

What about 先生せんせい (sensei)?

The word 先生せんせい is usually used as a title, which means that it is typically attached to the end of name, or used to address a teacher. It is not typically used as the name of job. For instance, the following sentence sounds a little strange:

わたしは 英語えいごの 先生せんせいです。
watshiwa eigono senseidesu.
I am an English teacher.

Most people will understand what you are saying, but the best word to use is 教師きょうし, which means a classroom teacher.

外国人がいこくじん (gaikokujin) vs. 外人がいじん (gaijin)

You may have heard that the word ‘外人がいじん’has a very negative meaning, and is derogatory. If you have had the misfortune of watching “Fast and Furious – Tokyo Drift” you will notice they throw this word around like it has a lot of weight. And indeed, it is banned from television, and is generally considered rude to use. It has the literal meaning of ‘other person’, which just doesn’t sound good.

However, you will hear this word used quite commonly in the Kansai area to refer to foreigners. Most people use it without really realizing the connotations. And of course, foreigners will use it among themselves to joke around. Generally speaking though, you should try your best to use 外国人がいこくじん when referring to foreigners.

How to use 〜たち (tachi)

The suffix たち is used to make words plural. But wait a minute, Japanese doesn’t have plurals, does it? Ahh, but it does. However, it is only used in certain circumstances. Specifically, it is usually only used to make words referring to people or animals plural. Here are a few examples:

わたしたち – we
watshitachi

かのじょたち – they (group of women)
kanojotachi

かれたち – they (group of men)
karetachi

ねこたち – those cats
nekotachi

Some other useful vocabulary:

みなさん – everybody
minasan

おまわりさん – police officer
omawarisan

いしゃ – doctor
isha

ともだち – friend
tomodachi

Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below. If you think you have these words mastered, go ahead and take the quiz.

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