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I would like to know the difference between the two sentences

こちらを見ていた

and

私を見ていた

The translation is the same I think

She was looking at me

is こちら and 私 interchangeable when using を after ?

EDIT: the main character can be quite rude and also uses quite a lot of slang expressions. However, he is quite impressed by the girl in question.

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    “look this way” and “look at me”? – user4092 Jan 6 at 4:56
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    Imabi says "Just as alluded to in the introduction, kochira こちら may also be used as a pronoun, and when it is, it can either be a first person or a third person pronoun. As a first person pronoun, it is used to indirectly refer to oneself.", which would make sense, given that it literally means "this way", as the above comment has noted. – Sam Jan 7 at 15:38
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    He sometimes uses normal or formal words. こちら in this case means 私. I feel こちら is vaguer than "私". Like "around me". Because we sometimes use こちら/こっち as "us". – Kay Jan 7 at 16:34
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+50

I find this question interesting, as I sense some mismatches between English and Japanese behind it.

Let me first clarify that no native speaker would think こちら in your こちらを見ていた as a personal pronoun. こちら is indeed among words that may function as a first-person pronoun, but only in a somewhat diplomatic context like "our side" or "our organization"; even if in singular, "I, as a stakeholder", "I, representing our company" etc. So the literal translation in that situation will be "was looking at this way" which is different from 私を見ていた.

Then, can you change こちらを見ていた to 私を見ていた? Usually not recommended unless, say, you believe she is a stalker. In English grammar, we can use a person as destination to say "he visited me" or "I listen to her", which is impossible in Japanese (× 私を訪問した × 彼女を聞く). In this light, 私を見ていた is certainly a valid sentence, but not a naive equivalent of "she was looking at me". It implies the speaker is convinced that the looker is interested to know about or collect information from that personality by looking; that is like "watch me", "look into me", or "look at me" in the same way you "look at a problem".

To simply tell the objective fact that someone has the eyes focused on you, you use 方 "direction" to say 私の方を見ていた. And this would be little different than こちらを見ていた. Alternatively, you can say 私の顔を見る or 私の体を見る using externally visible parts.

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is こちら and 私 interchangeable when using を after ?

To directly answer this question, yes, and no. It is not a one to one conversion. The reason for this relies solely on the difference between the words.

こちら: The dictionary definition of this word is varied and diverse. The definitions you will encounter are, this way/direction; here; this (one); I; we; me; us; this person.

The thing about こちら is that you have a sense of vagueness about the subject you are talking about. So when you say こちらを見ていた, you could reasonably linearly translate that as, Me (object) looked at, or This way (object) looked at. Typically though, the vagueness of the word eliminates me as an option, because it is not directly clear what/who you are talking about.

The vagueness is intentional for two reasons. First, Japanese people don't like to be direct when they are referring to themselves in a humble way. It comes off presumptuous to assume she was looking at me, when she could have been looking elsewhere. It (very slightly) elevates her in the communication, and distinguishes her as a person that is respected by the speaker.

Second, it is altogether plausible that she wasn't looking directly at you, but at something behind you/to your side, so looking 'this way' could technically be more accurate than 'at me.' Unless she confirms what she was looking at, we just don't have any way of knowing for sure.

Replace こちら with 私, and you start making strong assumptions at exactly what she was looking at. You also remove the sense of respect (however small) that you would have had in the other sentence.

In practice, the difference between こちら and 私 in these sentences is the same the difference between, looking this way and looking at me, as noted in the comments by @user4092.

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こちら is a bit more formal than 私 enter image description here

source:Japanese A Comprehensive Grammar Routledge (2003)

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  • thanks a lot for your answer but this may not be the solution is this case, as the character can be quite rude – Makoto Jan 5 at 15:31

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