In English, "personification" is a literary device. But, I am talking about when you take a common noun, and then add 「人」、「者」、 or「家」:
「日本」---> 「日本人」
「社会」 --->「社会人」
「農業」---> 「農業家」
「投資」---> 「投資家」

(1) Is there a generalized rule / guidance for knowing which nouns can be personified, and which suffix to choose?

(2) When studying Japanese grammar in English, is "personification" the correct technical term? The term "personification" when applied to English writing is completely different.

note: Sometimes, I arbitrarily say 「_じん」 or 「_しゃ」 instead of 「_の人」 without knowing if it is really a word. If the overall context is clear, most Japanese have no problem understanding what I mean. Does anyone else do this, or something similar with other suffixes?

  • 2
    I always figured there was no real rule and that they were like -er -ist in English. Just part of the word (lexicalized). Oct 13, 2013 at 13:38
  • No, personification refers to the same thing in Japanese as it does in English. For an example, see this question.
    – user1478
    Oct 13, 2013 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


I'm not a native speaker or close to reaching that level but this is my guess...

It seems like when root word is like a verb, use 者, when it is like a noun, use 人. For more business-related activities 家 might be appropriate.

In classical chinese, 者 was a 'subject nominalizer' which means it takes verbs and turns it into a subject. For example, 切玉=to cut jade, 切玉者=the one who cuts jade.

It can be hard to tell what is a noun and a verb in Japanese but basically if it's a する verb then it is likely to use 者 instead of 人.

I've never really thought about 家 but it seems like it usually appears when describing someone's occupation (as if you were supporting your family with it?). Note that 投資者 is also listed in the dictionary.


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