I'm accustomed to thinking of おまえ, in modern Japanese, as a second-person pronoun and form of address that is used by men and boys with their inferiors or equals. But in 『少年と犬』, by 馳星周, there's a forty-year-old female character, 紗英{さえ}, who uses おまえ at least twice in addressing the dog of the title, whom she and her husband have adopted at this point in the novel. She has given the dog the name クリント, and she calls him that sometimes, too, but on page 139 she rhetorically asks the dog


Then on page 141, after the dog's calming presence has helped her keep her cool while speaking with an angry and unreasonable customer on the phone, she says:


I'm wondering whether it's common for women and girls to address dogs and other animals as おまえ. If so, are there other contexts in which they might be likely to use おまえ? And if not, does this character's use of おまえ reflect some regional usage (she lives outside 富山市), or is it perhaps meant to convey something about her personality? So far, it's clear that she's a very capable, hardworking person who is unhappily married to a feckless and self-centered man, but we don't know much about her beyond that. (She hasn't had occasion to wear makeup in a long time and isn't stereotypically "feminine" in dress or affect, but that's more the result of her circumstances than anything else, and she doesn't seem particularly "masculine" either. Nor does she seem to be eccentric, in her speech or in any other way.)

I did look up おまえ in 大辞林, and the relevant part of the entry there (多く男性が用いる) does seem to leave plenty of room for use by women. However, it doesn't say anything about when such exceptions to the general rule occur, or what they might mean. My efforts to find an answer here on JLSE and elsewhere on the web have also proved fruitless.

1 Answer 1


The Japanese pronoun choice is quite context-dependent, but I can confidently pinpoint that this おまえ is "a way to address a junior family member". In this sense, it has no particularly masculine or feminine connotation, and is rather regarded as a conservative (or old-fashioned) usage in the present day (the younger generation is less likely to use in this way).

As you may know, so-called gendered speech in Japanese is not as fixed as the "grammatical gender" but more a product of "gender" in sociological terms, that a man or woman should talk or behave in such-and-such manners, which of course floats with times. Generally, at least in my generation, many women do use おまえ in friendly circles, as it represents an unreserved and familiar attitude (regardless to gender on this point).

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    Thanks very much. It sounds like in this particular case this is a long-established usage that I was simply unaware of (in my very limited experience with Japanese women directly addressing their junior family members, including pets, they've tended to use names). But your second paragraph confirms something that is becoming increasingly clear to me lately: I'm now so old and out of touch that my understanding of current usage is woefully out of date! One of many reasons I find this site, and your contributions to it, so valuable and interesting.
    – Nanigashi
    Sep 1, 2020 at 16:42
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    @Nanigashi Thank you for your comment. Personal pronouns in Japanese can be difficult even for Japanese because they're not rules but social relationships itself, which I think is similar to matters like whether you need pay a tip or not, or sign off with "best regards" or "best wishes" etc. (which are my personal confusion during US trip, though) Sep 2, 2020 at 1:21

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