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I'm aware that this is a common question and one that can be quite situational, but I have a few specific questions regarding nuance between these two pronouns for "I".

jisho.org describes 俺 as "Male term or language, sounds rough or arrogant". However, based on my knowledge, I'd say that this is the most common pronoun among college and older males (please correct me if I'm wrong, I may just watch too much anime where the characters are over-confident). While I understand that it may sound too colloquial in a formal situation, is 俺 really as arrogant as a dictionary definition makes it out to be?

In a similar vein, would 僕 sound overly submissive or weak for an adult male (I'm personally a 20 year old college student), or would it just sound more humble and polite (still colloquial, though)?

Last, do people change their pronoun based on the situation? For example, would an adult use 僕 typically around friends/coworkers, but if it's necessary to take a leadership position briefly or make a strong point, switch to 俺 to be more assertive, then back to 僕 when the situation gets more relaxed again?

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I'd say that this is the most common pronoun among college and older males

I wouldn't say it's the most common one, but in a manly/friendly/aggressive environment you might encounter it. In real life speech it's not as common as 僕 and 私 since there are a lot less situations where you can use 俺 safely. It is used a lot on the internet, though. It's the most common pronoun I encounter in BBS boards.

While I understand that it may sound too colloquial in a formal situation, is 俺 really as arrogant as a dictionary definition makes it out to be?

In Japanese, the nuance some words carry often changes as your environment changes. It depends on a lot of things; context, the people around you, level of politeness, and so on. If you are at work, you're at a polite setting, so using 俺 would come off as overconfident and arrogant. If you're with your manly mates, it comes off as normal. So it really depends on the context in which you're using it. What's for sure is that it's definitely not as common as animes make it out to be and most times it will sound rude/inappropriate/arrogant.

In a similar vein, would 僕 sound overly submissive or weak for an adult male (I'm personally a 20 year old college student), or would it just sound more humble and polite (still colloquial, though)?

Again, it depends on the context. Some use it almost all the time, some don't. The nuance it carries is that you're just a normal dude, not much more than that. If you're in a formal setting, it could sound a bit inappropriate in the sense that it might sound weak or rude, but generally you should be able to get away with 僕 in almost every situation. How a speaker perceives someone using 僕 is up to them, but I would advise to avoid it in serious settings(work, business, etc).

Last, do people change their pronoun based on the situation?

I don't think people change their pronoun if they're trying to make some sort of point, it sounds kind of anime-ish and weird. Japanese people don't use personal pronouns that much anyway. In fact, when you can avoid it, you generally should.

Tip: don't learn Japanese from anime. It's highly unrealistic.

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First, I'd like to explain the whole scheme concerning personal pronouns.

  1. You are supposed to use Standard Japanese when you speak in public or formal situations and in this case, you basically use 私 (derived from old Tokyo) only.
  2. Otherwise, you speak in a dialect of your own.
  3. In many areas including most populated ones, people speak New Tokyo dialect, which is almost a virtual standard, and in which people use おれ (derived from Kanto, Tohoku) or ぼく (derived from current Yamaguchi pref.).

As for use of おれ or ぼく, the former おれ is (I believe overwhelmingly) more common than ぼく as the first person's pronoun in private speech, but it depends on people.

Some people use ぼく among internal societies beside their private use of おれ, like pupil in school(*1) or athletes in sport industry. But as long as you speak in the same society, switching one to the other is not likely to happen.

(*1) It can be said that ぼく is the standard for elementally school classes.

  • Sorry, but this didn't really answer my specific questions (aside from the one about switching). – charlieshades Apr 4 '16 at 3:15
  • I avoided the parts already answered. – user4092 Apr 4 '16 at 4:13
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I typically use 僕 when talking to some one older who I respect. I will use 俺 if I am talking with male friends. I rarely ever use 私 unless Im talking to some one I have just met.

Im not a native speaker but I have never had anyone correct me on my usage

僕 is generally only used by younger boys but it can also be used by some one who feels they are young or younger than the person they are talking to

俺 is typically an arrogant way of saying I. People who use it usually have higher self esteem than most and think very highly of themselves. Especially if they use it around other who are not good friends

But like I said Im not a native speaker so I could be wrong on some points

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    俺 is not necessarily arrogant and reserved for people who think highly of themselves. But I think it is unusual to ever use it with complete strangers or in very formal settings. – Amani Kilumanga Apr 3 '16 at 5:37

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