When I speak with my mother I must say "haha", when I talk about other people's mother, I must say "okaasan", but what about when I talk about my mother to other people?

There is nothing about that in my Japanese book.

1 Answer 1


Please review the basic roles of honorific and humble expressions. "Haha" is a humble word, which means you are lowering the mother. "Okāsan" is a mildly honorific word, which means you are mildly heightening the mother. With these in mind...

  • When you speak with your own mother, don't use "haha" because there is no reason to lower your mother. You can use "okāsan", but there are some other casual options such as "mama", "kāchan", "okan", etc.
  • When you speak with or talk about other people's mother, you have to pay respect to her, so you should use an honorific expression. You should at least use "okāsan", but you may have to use more polite and honorific words such as "okāsama".
  • When you talk about your own mother to other people in formal situations, you need to use "haha" to refer to your mother. That's exactly where humble expressions come into play, after all. But when you're casually talking with your friends, you can use "okasān" or anything you normally use.
  • Isn't 母 not a humble but rather objective word, and by convention other people's mothers just require honorific language? There isn't a problem with referring to a character in a story's mother as their 母, or an animal's mother as 母, is there?
    – Angelos
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 19:29
  • @AeonAkechi Good point. 母 is not a dedicated humble expression like 愚息, and it's true that 母 is also an objective word used when keigo is not needed. Still, I've found several pages where 母 is listed in a 謙譲語 list. Practically I think it's best to consider 母 is a humble word choice when you have to care about keigo.
    – naruto
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 19:39

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