In most cases, 汝 is the formal/archaic second person pronoun, "you/thou", and 己 is a humble and archaic first-person pronoun or a way to refer to oneself.

However, confusingly, in many dictionaries, both the first-person pronoun and second-person pronoun are listed as definitions of 汝 and 己, and some compounds using these two kanji actually list them interchanged with each other as variant forms.

[汝等]{うぬら} Pronoun

  1. ye; you. ​Archaism, Derogatory, usu. plural
  2. me; I; us; we. ​Archaism, Only applies to わいら

Other forms 己等 【うぬら】、汝等 【わいら】、汝等 【なむだち】、汝等 【なむたち】

[己]{な} Pronoun

  1. I​. Archaism
  2. you.​

Other forms 汝 【な】

Why have 汝 and 己 become associated with both "I" and "you"? In Chinese, 己 is associated solely with the self and 汝 is associated solely with "you".

In what cases would 汝 be used as "I" and 己 used as "you"? [汝]{うぬ} and [汝等]{わいら} seem to be the only readings of 汝 that mean "I", while the standard reading of [汝]{なんじ} only means "you/thou". However, the standard reading of [己]{おのれ} can mean both "I/self" and "you". If it was in a text, how would you be able to tell which it refers to?

  • 1
    i’ve often wondered the same thing. but keep in mind that no one really has a problem understanding “見る.” where the subject and object could be in principle just about anything. but context gives it away. i tend to think of words like 己 as a placeholder in the sentence and not think of it too literally. japanese however is not alone in having the same word embodying apparently contradictory meanings. this came up a lot in sanskrit texts i studied too. – A.Ellett Sep 5 '20 at 4:03
  • Are you talking about the word or kanji? Kanji is just neat mnemonics for a word, and when the reading is not immediately clear, it is usually reduced to kana. – broken laptop Sep 5 '20 at 6:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.