In this question ("When shouldn't I use 「〜さん」when referring to a third person?"), the consensus seems to be that one should avoid referring to one's own boss, coworker, etc. in an elevating manner by using ~さん.

Nevertheless, referring to other people's relatives in general still calls for a respectful manner of address with ~さん. It intrigues me what happens when these two "guidelines" overlap; for example, when your boss happens to be the husband of the person you are talking to, or when you are talking to your coworker's wife about him.

My gut feeling says using ~さん and being respectful has precedence in those cases; would that be correct?

2 Answers 2


First, when you talk to a person who is not involved in the company, i.e. not a customer etc., you basically don't regard your boss or coworker as one who belongs to your own group in relation to the listener unless you have particular reason to do so (for example, the listener is enough close to you).

Second, in general, bond among a family is considered tighter than that of a company. So, a coworker you are referring to belongs to the listener's side unless the situation is strictly official, where being family member is not an important factor.

So, you usually use honorifics, as you say.

  • Might be worth adding that when talking to family members that you might use the full name, as they usually all go by the same family name. Apr 4, 2017 at 1:13

Yes, you should. All these cases are the attitude of humbleness, modesty and respect.

Apparently without -san

  • introduce your wife to another person

Grey zone

  • refer your co-worker or boss in your family/casual conversation

Apparently with -san

  • refer a person you don't know well or not in your family/company
  • refer a person to another person you should talk formally.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .