Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How does one address a stranger in a casual conversation when name is unknown? For example, I had a conversation with an older Japanese lady and I wanted to compliment her on her English (but in Japanese, for some reason). Usually in such situations I might've gone something like

○○さんは英語上手です。 or ○○さんの英語は上手です。 

But without the name it is quite difficult for me at this point. Using あなた feels really rude, neither I'm comfortable relying on zero-pronoun and going 英語は上手です without any context.

Should I inquire about person's name in such situations? (obviously, not right before I have a sentence to use the name in).

share|improve this question
You can usually use honorifics to avoid second person. 英語が 上手ですね。 – Yang Muye Jul 8 '14 at 17:46
I believe this is essentially a duplicate of: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1423/… – Dave Jul 9 '14 at 8:37
up vote 7 down vote accepted

As YangMuye explained, honorifics can be used to clarify first and second person without ever needing to use a first or second person pronoun. In that, usage of 謙譲語{けんじょうご} implies I'm talking about me. Usage of 尊敬語{そんけいご} implies I am talking about you.

An extended discussion about this topic can be read on the thread titled そちら as a second person pronoun. As far as I can understand, that thread can fully explain your question.

share|improve this answer
Thank you, it's the first time I've thought of politeness levels in that light, and it makes total sense. – Dmitriy Jul 9 '14 at 15:10

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.