In English any verb can be turned into a kind of noun called an "agent noun", that just means the do-er of the action:

  • to drive - driver
  • to walk - walker
  • to think - thinker
  • to drink - drinker

Yesterday I wanted to communicate the notion "drinker" meaning plainly "one who drinks".

My Japanese is not good and the people I was talking with had a similar level of English. So maybe we missed something, but the best they could come up with was words meaning more like "drunk" or "habitual drinker". In English "drinker" could mean this but could also, depending on context, just mean "not a teetotaller" or even refer to a person or thing that drinks, even in non-alcohol senses.

The English Wiktionary only lists these two as translations of English -er:

  • 者 (...しゃ, -sha)
  • 家 (...か, -ka)

Others that have been identified by various people reading this question are:

  • 手 (...しゅ, -shu)

So could 者 or 家 actually be appended to some form of 飲む to give something similar to the English range of meaning that "drinker" has?

And really "drinker" is just the real life example. I'm actually interested in the general case of turning arbitrary verbs into agent nouns just as much.

  • 2
    There's also 手 as in driver 運転手, player 選手.
    – Szymon
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 6:11
  • Ah yes I think I found this when going through vocabulary another time. I'll include it (-: Commented May 5, 2014 at 6:13
  • On the topic of -手【しゅ】, this question makes for some excellent reading.
    – senshin
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 6:14
  • 3
    Kanji representing related morphemes: 家・手 and 師・士・者・員・人
    – user1478
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 6:16
  • 者 read as もの can also be used in this manner, no?
    – Kaji
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


There are various agent suffixes or just plain nouns that get used in Japanese, as opposed to the one straightforward -er suffix in English. You've mentioned a few, but all with the on'yomi -- the kun'yomi get used too for at least the following:

  • shu in on'yomi compounds, te in kun'yomi compounds
    選手 senshu -- "chosen hand" → player chosen to be on a team
    選び手 erabite -- "choosing hand" → someone who chooses, a chooser
    買い手 kaite -- "buying hand" → a buyer

  • sha in on'yomi compounds, mono in kun'yomi compounds
    初心者 shoshinsha -- a beginner
    曲者 kyokusha -- someone very skilled in the performing arts; a crafty or cunning person
    曲者 kusemono -- a crafty or cunning person

  • jin or nin in on'yomi compounds, hito or variations thereof in kun'yomi compounds
    商人 shōnin -- business person, shopkeeper, merchant
    商人 akindo (from akibito) -- business person, shopkeeper, merchant
    仲人 chūnin -- a go-between
    仲人 nakōdo (from nakabito) -- a go-between

In reference to your question about how to say "drinker", there are some idiomatic and cultural issues in translating between English and Japanese that require unpacking. For instance, Japanese doesn't have any implication of "alcohol" when you say that someone "drinks". So if you just say 飲む人 (nomu hito), it's too vague to mean anything terribly useful -- this means something like "someone who drinks [some unspecified liquid], someone who swallows [something unspecified]". The question that arises in the mind of the listener here is, "What does this person drink? Water? Soup? NyQuil?". If you want to specifically say that "someone drinks alcoholic beverages", you have to be specific in Japanese: お酒を飲む人 (osake o nomu hito), "a person who drinks alcoholic beverages".

Regarding the broader question of creating agent nouns from verbs, it really depends on the verb and the context. The most basic way is [verb or verb phrase in plain form] + hito, as in the "drinker" example above. Most of the 手・者・師・家 etc. examples tend to be idiomatically constrained.

  • 2
    This is a good answer. One thing though, you seem have backwards where I really was looking for a generic term for "drinker" (say the context such as water/soup/NyQuil was already clear, or it's intentionally left open or ambiguous). English "drinker" has this sense as well as the alcohol sense. Anyway you still covered it so thanks! (-: Commented May 13, 2014 at 8:10

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