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In modern Japanese「お前」is generally considered to be disrespectful or condescending. But sometimes in colloquial speech it's used between friends or even lovers in a way that conveys they are being overly familiar but it's clear no disrespect is intended. This can be observed in manga, TV dramas, and so on.


Update: Here are a few random examples from around the web:


It would seem there is an invisible line that distinguishes when it's okay to use it in an endearing way.

It what manner, or in what circumstances, or with whom can one use「お前」so that it would be taken to be meant endearingly?

This goes beyond language and into Japanese psychology and social "pecking order" (whether rank is merely perceived or officially established), and therefore is very cryptic territory for someone learning Japanese as a second language without a large life experience database to draw from. To put it another way, I didn't grow up around friends or classmates who use the word to refer to one another.

These days I opt to play it safe and avoid trying to use「お前」in any positive sense because on the rare occasions I tried it was always taken as disrespectful and caused a problem. Nonetheless, I'm a little frustrated that discerning the nuance is still difficult for me.

It's also worth acknowledging here the common double-standard situation where it's considered acceptable for a boss or superior to address you with「お前」but if you speak that way in return you are considered to be way out of line. But that is more of an issue of implied entitlement due to status, and is sort of a different matter than what I'm referring to in this question.

I mean specifically the usage of「お前」where due to the circumstances and the bond between those speaking, the word actually gets interpreted positively instead of negatively.

Finally, to what extent is the interpretation up to the person being addressed that way because of their personal preference? I mention this because there are some people who I imagine would never take kindly to being referred to that way. Like, it's just not in their character to relate with others in that manner. (It could just be me reading too far into this though, I can't tell.)

There a lot of nuance to sift through here. If anyone can illuminate on this matter, please explain.

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    Try to concentrate on one question per post; posts with more than one question are considered to be bad posts in SE. Commented Feb 7 at 3:05
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    FYI salon.mainichi-kotoba.jp/archives/30666
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 7 at 3:50
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    I personally don’t see how this might be split into multiple questions. Everything seems to be centering around one big question.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 7 at 4:53

2 Answers 2

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First of all, the term お前 itself never suddenly inverts to become a word inherently filled with positive endearment. It's simply that it's not polite, and that the absence of politeness sometimes means being relatively more intimate (and sometimes more dignified or arrogant).

As a simple guideline, those who can naturally use お前 in a friendly manner are almost always the type of characters who can comfortably use 俺 (or occasionally わし) as their first-person pronoun in everyday life. Practically speaking, if you're not this type of person, you'll never need to use お前 in your entire lifetime. (Characters like female knight/thief/sage commonly use the combination of 私 and お前, but this is mostly limited to the world of fiction, and such お前 sounds dignified or arrogant.)

In urban white-collar business settings, you'd better not use お前 at all, even to your subordinate. It might have been acceptable 50 years ago, but using it today could lead to accusations of harassment. I certainly used お前 with classmates when I was attending a rural elementary school (simply because everyone around me did), but after becoming an adult and moving to Tokyo, I have never used お前 at all, even with my personal friends.

Even if you were to marry a Japanese person, there's usually no reason to start calling your partner お前. You might find scenes in manga or in enka where being called お前 is something to be happy about, but realistically, most modern young adults dislike being called お前 by anyone.

On the other hand, if you become a hip-hop/rock musician, athlete, blue-collar worker, or apprentice in traditional arts or such, you probably will be familiar with お前 in everyday life. But you don't have to worry about this too much before you're actually in such an environment.

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  • At least in fiction, I've seen women talking to their children or pets with お前 a lot as well, even if they otherwise have quite feminine speech patterns
    – Angelos
    Commented Feb 7 at 10:34
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    @Angelos A stereotypical strong mom from the mid-Showa period may call her children with お前, but it's rare nowadays. It's so rare that if I heard a real mother calling her child お前 on the train, I'd probably turn around in surprise. Addressing a pet with お前 has also become fairly uncommon.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 8 at 4:59
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First I assume you are a male non-native speaker of Japanese. Females can use お前, but in reality it happens rarely (or at least it boils down to personality and not to situations. I guess there are female manga characters who use お前).

Typical situations include

  1. When a grandfather (or even a father) speaks to his grandson. He can say お前が大きくなったら... to mean when you grow up. Here there's no issue of disrespect or anything.

  2. Maybe 50 years ago, a husband spoke to his wife using お前 commonly enough. Today, much less husbands do this.

  3. Speaking to a (male) friend whom you know at least since you were a student. If you are close enough with him, using お前 is just a sign of casual friendship. Using it to female friends may or may not work, which mostly depends on individuals.

I suppose 1 and 2 are instances of condescending that is/was taken for granted so much so that it is not really considered as disrespectful. 3 depends on personal relationship.

So if you are in your 20-40s, most probably, the answer to when to use お前 is "never".


to what extent is the interpretation up to the person being addressed that way because of their personal preference?

This is partially related to 3 above, but it depends on how you talk normally as well. If you normally use です/ます and start using お前, it is just odd and will never be considered non-disrespectful. As mentioned, if you talk to someone like a childhood friend, お前 may work (I believe such a situation is not so likely to happen to a learner of Japanese).


There are not so clear social classes in Japan, but there is certainly a class factor in お前 usage. In particular, if you work with people in so-called 職人 type of jobs (e.g. construction), they may speak in sort of more vulgar manner and calling each other with お前 (even in the working environment) is not so rare.

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