I would like to understand these words more clearly as I do with おとこのこ and おんなのこ

Being that おとこのこ basically translates into "male of youth" and that おんなのこ basically translates into "female of youth"

So breaking them down to their literal meaning would be of great help. Thanks!

  • 1
    Just for reference, 女の子 and 男の子 are used for any female or male, irrespective of the ages of the person. You would never use あの男 to refer to another person since it is considered too rude and direct.
    – user11589
    May 31 '16 at 22:05
  • 3
    What, really? I can call an old lady 女の子?
    – kuchitsu
    May 31 '16 at 22:15
  • 1
    Um, no. Its still rude to use for elders. I was addressing how the op said 女の子 as "girl of youth" which is slightly incorrect considering how it is not reserved for only youths.
    – user11589
    Jun 1 '16 at 0:19
  • Well, there is a usage to address younger members than you with 男の子 and 女の子, but it's very marginal. Jun 1 '16 at 8:12

The kanji for かれ is 彼(れ). かれ is an old form of あれ, meaning "that one" (as you probably know). 彼 can also be used in [彼]{あ}の (again, "that one [specific thing]"). Somehow -- and I'm not sure how etymologically -- 彼れ became 彼, which became shorthand for 彼の男: that man

The kanji for 彼女 is then basically [彼]{あ}の[女]{おんな}: that woman (again, with the かの being an old form of あの and the の being omitted). See more about this explanation here: What does かの日 mean?

These words also became shorthand when talking about relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend), but I don't know about the etymology of this either.

  • I don't quite understand the etymology part. 彼 was originally a neutral word for both genders (as Japanese has no grammatical gender) until they started to differentiate he and she after European languages. Jun 1 '16 at 8:16

Adding as a follow-up to the other two posts.

Full disclosure: I edited both the and 彼女 entries over at the English Wiktionary.

The reading

Pronouns and places

  • The れ ending in かれ・あれ・それ・これ・どれ・だれ is a kind of nominalizing (noun-forming) suffix that appears in certain kinds of pronouns. See also われ・おのれ etc.
  • The こ ending in あこ・あそこ・そこ・ここ・どこ is a different kind of nominalizing suffix that refers to a "place". Has apophonic (different-vowel) forms か and く. See also すみか・みやこ etc.
  • あそこ is a shift from older あしこ, in turn from even older かしこ.
    • The あ and older か is this same 彼 as a distal marker: "yon, yonder", referring to something far from both speaker and listener.
    • The し is an ancient directional marker that has mostly vanished, but still shows up in the odd word, such as むかし (むか from 向く, し as the directional).
    • The こ is the same locational こ.

彼【かれ】 development

  • This originally meant "that thing [far away]".
  • Over time, it came to be used elliptically to refer to "that person [far away]".
    Compare the sense development for あなた that exhibits a similar re-use of a term for its indirectness. This originally similarly meant "over there far away", then came to mean "that person over there" and later "you".
  • Still later, during the course of 蘭学【らんがく】 and studies and translations of Western texts, the sense of "that person" shifted again starting from the late Edo and finally becoming widespread during the Taishō era, including a specifically "male" sense, alongside the specifically "female" sense expressed by the term かのじょ.

彼女【かのじょ】 development

  • This term only appears in texts as late as the Edo period. The reading was originally かのおんな or あのおんな, and it meant "that woman [far away]".
  • The first written appearance of the kanojo reading is in 1876, in the 改正【かいせい】画引【がくびき】小学【しょうがく】読本【どくほん】 (“Revised Stroke-ordered Elementary-school Reader”), while the first clear use of this term as a pronoun for "she" is around 1888, both dates per the Daijirin entry.

According to this link:


  1. distal demonstrative, something far off removed from both speaker and listener

  2. third person pronoun: he, she particularly, male personal third person pronoun: he

I found it interesting that the kanji for 彼処{あそこ}, which means "over there" also contained the kanji 彼{かれ} which may be a reason why it is used for the pronoun "he" and in the same way 彼女{かのじょ} for "she" as other people are somewhat distant from oneself.

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