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What is the difference in meaning and usage between 母 (haha) and お母さん (okāsan)?

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母 and お母さん differs in the level of politeness the speaker uses to address someone and changes based on the situation. As rule of thumb 母 is humble and お母さん is respectful. So if your addressing your mother you would call her お母さん on the other hand when talking about your mother with someone else calling her お母さん would come off as rude, so you call her 母, but would call the other person's mother お母さん.

In general Japanese makes a great deal of linguistic distinctions based on the relative social positions of the speaker and listener. You can check out more here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorific_speech_in_Japanese.

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Easy way to describe the difference is,

母 (haha) = mother
お母さん (okāsan) = mom

When a grown-up talks about his or her mom with someone else, it's funny to say "My mom is xxx." Well, it may not be so uncommon in English-speaking world, but in Japan, unless you are in elementary school or younger, you are expected to describe your mom as "mother." It's simply more formal.

Like H. Ha said, it's also possible that お母さん can be used by the person who describes herself. Though the sentence in the example,

お母さんは愛しているよ。

does not sound natural Japanese unless there are sentences before or after this one.

Anyway, there are several more ways to commonly describe "mother," but these two are probably the most common ones.

When you describe your mom, you'd want to use 母, while when you describe someone else's mother, you hardly say 母. You need to say,

"あなたのお母さん" or "あなたのお母様" = "your mom" 

Hope this helps.

  • The part at the absolute top strikes me as potentially misleading. Correct me if I'm wrong but my sense is that people don't say 母 for other people's mothers in polite speech? (thus breaking the mother = 母 suggestion). – virmaior Sep 24 '16 at 6:47
  • @virmaior ,you are right. We don't use 母 when we describe someone else's mother. In English, it's common to say, "your mom or mother is xxx," but in Japan, somehow, we tend to say "your mom is xxx" and hardly use "your mother is xxx." there are a few other way to describe someone else's mother and it is also not uncommon to use お母様 to describe someone else's mother. We (Japanese) just pay extra attention to describe someone else's mother or other family member. Hope this helps. – Mari Oct 5 '16 at 15:02
  • ごめんのですが、率直に言えば、それは一切役に立たないです。I'm not grasping the Japanese you're writing in English. 特にどの言葉は「Mom」とどの言葉は「Mother」の訳にしていますか。それを定義にしないとわからないです。上記のように翻訳すると、英語母国語のものとして、当ていないと思います。僕の個人的な意見で、"mom"は「はは」で、"mother"は「お母さん」か「母上」と似ている言葉です。 – virmaior Oct 5 '16 at 15:29
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お母さん (okāsan) is more colloquial, and can be used as YOU (second person).

These answers seem good: https://hinative.com/ja/questions/1826

ex. お母さんは愛しているよ。 (mom says) I love you.

Great point.   お母さん can be 1st person.

or it can mean "your mother".


Thanks for the note re: *[お母さんは愛しているよ。] not being natural Jp.

If Fujiko Hemming were a mother (or if Kuwata Keisuke was female and a mother) (or if 忌野 清志郎 were alive, and ...), she would say that.

追記 :  たしかに *[お母さんは愛しているよ。] ってのは少し不自然なんだが、 きょうび日本全国で毎日 数百人(またはそれ以上)のお母さんが自分の子供に *[お母さんは愛しているよ。] と語りかけている、と想像するのは、それほど困難ではないでしょ。

  • 2
    If Fujiko Hemming were a mother (or if Kuwata Keisuke was female and a mother) (or if 忌野 清志郎 were alive, and ...), she would say that. -> Do you mean "Fujiko Hemming and Kuwata Keisuke would use it, so the phrase is natural/good/okay." or "The phrase is not natural/good/okay, but Fujiko Hemming and Kuwata Keisuke would use it because their Japanese sucks."? – Chocolate Sep 24 '16 at 1:36
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    そもそも海外の人がほぼ知らない歌詞とか人物とか作品を引き合いに何かを説明しようとするのは止めたほうがいいと思うのですが…(忌野清志郎や桑田佳祐の口調やキャラなんて僕もほとんど知らない) – naruto Sep 24 '16 at 1:50
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    たしかに*[お母さんは愛しているよ。]ってのは少し不自然だが、 きょうび日本全国で毎日数百人のお母さんが自分の子供に *[お母さんは愛しているよ。]と語りかけていると想像するのはそれほど困難ではないでしょ。 -> そういうのを屁理屈と言います。「不自然だ、でも日本には1億人もいるんだから、誰かが言うかもしれない」ような日本語をわざわざ選んで日本語学習者に教えないで、もっと自然な例文を教えてあげてください。 – Chocolate Sep 24 '16 at 2:15

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