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My teacher says that we should avoid あなた, like わたし, which could be taken off. Following this, I try to refer to the second person by the name: 加藤さんの趣味は何ですか. But there are situations where we forget the name. How can we say "You" without being rude, or using あなた? I give some examples, but they could be wrong:

A: 久しぶり。元気してた?
B: 久しぶりだね~元気だよ。あなたは? (is it better to say: そっちは??)

A: あなたの名前は? (is it little rude? should I hide あなたの?)

A: あなたの作ったケーキがおいしかったよ。
B: 本当?あなたのケーキのほうがおいしかったと思うけど。

店員:あなたは何を探しますか?

A: あなたはむてき!

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May I know what your teacher said about わたし? –  Louis Aug 18 '11 at 13:00
    
she says it doesnt need to be said. when u say 私 a lot, sometimes you are putting you high. I mean, it's not necessary, cuz the verbs and ending particles can say it by themselves. –  daniel tomio Aug 18 '11 at 13:04
    
Oh, yeah I can see that. Thanks. –  Louis Aug 18 '11 at 13:11
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It depends on context. あなたのことが好き is an example where it's not offensive. Another example is when a wife uses あなた to call her husband, which is usually translated into "Dear" in English. –  Lukman Aug 18 '11 at 13:34
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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This is what dictionary@goo says about あなた:

  1. 対等または目下の者に対して、丁寧に、または親しみをこめていう。
  2. 妻が夫に対して、軽い敬意や親しみをこめてい。

In definition (1), it's said that あなた is used for second person who is equivalent or subordinate/inferior/junior while being polite or intimate/familiar. Definition (2) states that it can also be used between spouses to intimately call each other.

So, あなた itself is not offensive if used appropriately while taking your relationship with the other person into consideration. You have to be careful if you want to use it with strangers because it would seem that you are assuming the other parties as equivalent or inferior to you, or that you are trying to be familiar with them. Since the Japanese culture encourages being reserved towards outgroups and strangers, you better be sure if you really want to use あなた, otherwise stick to using names (e.g. 田中さん), professions (e.g. 先生) and indirections (e.g. そちら) to refer to the other person.

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On the back of this, is there a generally accepted name of referring to a specific person when you cannot use their name, or have forgotten their name? For instance, "You were in charge of writing the report" –  Jamie Taylor Sep 18 '13 at 10:15
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For your question of how to say "you" without being rude in a context where you're not sure of the person's name or your status relationship, you can say 「そちら」.

As for when to use あなた, this might seem a little odd, but think of あなた as like calling someone "dude". You use it between friends. You can say it to strangers, but only if you're trying to convey deliberate familiarity. It's best not used in formal situations, but, again, you can get away with it if handled right.

One difference is that I wouldn't say to my girlfriend "dude, I like you", but I would say 「あなたが好き」. So I'm not saying it's a translation.

The point is that in English, pronouns can be made appropriate or not by context, and the same kind of thinking applies. "Dude" is not offensive or not, it's just used at certain times. Same with あなた.

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I'd like to say to my japanese friends "for your sake, I will speak only in portuguese" (meaning: I will speak only in portuguese, for you to improve your portuguese). In japanese could it be "あなた達のためにポルトガル語で話す"? or maybe I should change for あんた達 or also "皆のためにポルトガル語で話す". In this case, I feel あなた is not the best word to use (I don't know why). am I wrong? –  daniel tomio Aug 26 '11 at 0:48
    
If they are your friends, あなた is perfectly fine in this situation. However, since you're using the plural, あなた達, I would say instead みんな, as in みんなのために. It's softer. Also, this is also probably a good situation to avoid personal pronouns altogether. Just say something like 「勉強されるために、ポルトガル語を話してあげる」. –  Dave M G Aug 26 '11 at 1:26
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I suggest you read this thread:

In actual Japanese society, how often are second-person pronouns used?

As I replied there, I would suggest avoiding 2nd person pronouns (including あなた) completely, unless you're absolutely sure what you're doing.

As you say yourself, it's common to use the name of title of the person you're talking to, so the only trouble would be if you do not know these. Even in these cases, often context will make it clear who you are talking about without being explicit.

Also consider using keigo:

あなたの名前は?<- avoid
お名前は?<- keigo, safe

あなたは何を探していますか?<- avoid
何をお探しですか <- keigo, safe

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If you know the other party's name or title, by all means use it. Otherwise, omitting the pronoun as @dainichi suggests is the best idea, if possible.

However, when you don't know the person you're talking to and you must use something, あなた is perfectly acceptable. For example, it is commonly used to refer to website visitors, or to the person filling out a form, in advertisements and so on. Even in person you can use it if the situation is somewhat formal (in informal one you could use words like お兄さん・お姉さん・おじさん・おばさん or きみ).

Wikipedia has this to say:

相手の名前にさん付けするか、「あなた」と呼ぶのが日本語では最も無難な二人称である。ただし、両親や尊属、先生に対して使うのは失礼とされる。なお、地方によっては両親に対して方言で「あなた」に相当する語を使うことがある。

Using either (name)-san, or "anata" is the most safe/inoffensive way of referring to second person in Japanese. However, it is considered rude if used to refer to parents, relatives, or teachers. But it may be acceptable for parents in some regions or dialects.

The article goes into more options you can use for the second person.

P.S. See also http://japanese.stackexchange.com/a/4042/3295

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