As the title says^^ I think 生徒 is for elementary school, what about the other two?


4 Answers 4


Students are 学生 for most of their educational life:

kindergarten      幼稚園児(ようちえん・じ)
elementary school 小学生(しょうがく・せい)
middle school     中学生(ちゅうがく・せい)
high school       高校生(こうこう・せい)
university         大学生(だいがく・せい)
graduate school   大学院生(だいがくいん・せい), 博士課程の学生(はくし・かていのがくせい)

I would always pass myself off as はかせかていのメンバー (member of the doctorate course). I was never corrected on this.

The other two act as group descriptors, rather than something a student would refer itself as:

児童  "children", up to including elemenatry school
生徒  "a member of the body of students", middle school and up

According to Japanese animated television series, Japanese spend what is called their life in school and then transform into a rigid plant-like lifeform. Hence there are a lot of other terms describing that growth phase, such as:

  • [弟子]{でし} (novice of some craftsman)
  • [在校生]{ざいこうせい} (enrolled high school student)
  • [在学生]{ざいがくせい} (enrolled student)
  • [書生]{しょせい} (scholarly student)
  • [学僕]{がくぼく} (student learning under and working for a teacher)
  • 書生 sounds obsolete, doesn't it?  weblio.jp/content/%E6%9B%B8%E7%94%9F (「明治期から大正期の学生の別名」) And I think 学僕 is quite old-fashioned too... Btw, could you tell me what you are referring to by the "Japanese animated television series"? And... do you say [博士]{はくし}課程, and not [博士]{はかせ}課程? I was in Kyoto and used the latter, so maybe it's a regional thing though.
    – user1016
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 14:56
  • 児童 is not limited to pre-elementary. Elementary teacher's versions of textbooks refer to students as 児童. Also 生徒 I feel is closer to being related to the relationship between 教師 vs 生徒 than having anything to do with age, though on this point I'm not 100% confident.
    – Mr. Wizard
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 1:57
  • @Chocolate I used はかせ in Tokyo. I think I've never heard anyone use はくし. "Japanese animated television series" aka. Anime was just me sarcastically applying the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis to Japanese. Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 7:12


I think 生徒 is for elementary school>>残念ながら、本来は違うんです・・・^^;








Translated Version:

"I think 生徒 is for elementary school"--I'm sorry, but I don't think this is right.

As established by the Ministry of Education,

Kindergarteners are 幼児,
Elementary/primary school students are 児童,
Middle/secondary/junior high and high school students are 生徒,
College and university students are 学生

So strictly speaking, 高校生 and 中学生 are not 学生; and 小学生 are not 生徒.


In Japan, it is not uncommon in everyday conversations that 高校生 are called 学生, and there are many people who use 生徒 for 小学生. (But of course, 中学・高校 teachers don't say うちの学生, they say うちの生徒; and 小学 teachers don't say うちの生徒, they say うちの児童.) As for things like newspapers, we would expect the words to be correctly used.

Also, people who are under instruction, as opposed to providing instruction, are frequently called 生徒. For example, the phrase "Our calligraphy class student(s)" is more naturally realised as "うちの書道教室の生徒" than "うちの書道教室の児童".

  • 5
    I second this. This should have been the accepted answer! Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 14:40

Did you look this up in a dictionary? Even WWWJDIC has

学生 student (esp. a university student)
生徒 pupil
児童 children, juvenile

which is quite accurate I'd say. 生徒 is pupil, not just for elementary school. If you want to be more specific about the level, there are

小学生 elementary school pupil
中学生 middle school pupil
高校生 high school pupil
大学生 university (undergraduate student)
大学院生 graduate student


This is the clearest answer that I found.

学生 are who studies (at some institution). 生徒 are who are taught (from some teacher).

I teach tai chi privately and therefore my students are referred to as 生徒.

  • I am not sure why people downvoted your answer, but you could perhaps expand a bit more on exactly what you mean. If I understand you correctly, you are basically saying what is written in more detail e.g. here: gimon-sukkiri.jp/jidou-seito-gakusei
    – a20
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 12:28

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