I always feel like I have an identity crisis when I try to say "I" in Japanese.

After reading so much about differences between the various pronouns I've gotten the impression that whatever one you use defines your perceived identity. But is your pronoun choice really that significant?

I get hung up on 俺{おれ} vs 僕{ぼく}. I understand them as: the first being "cooler" and more assertive and the second being a safer option and more humble

But does which one you pick really define your image that much? Or does the way you talk in general matter more, like picking 食{く}う over 食{た}べる

I don't know exactly what I'm asking, I guess I'm just trying to get a feel for how things are in real life vs how I understand it online. Like if you picked a pronoun that really doesn't suit you would people just subconsciously feel kinda weird when they heard you use it or would they consciously think "uhh, what the heck?"

1 Answer 1


I am sure later a native Japanese speaker will give you a better answer, but let me toss in my 二百円 first. It just so happens I have 二百円 to spare today.

So this is the rule of thumb I go by: when I need to be polite, for example, in online communication on a forum/site like SE, or with someone I have just met, I use 僕 and make sure to err on the side of caution with 敬語. But when I talk to people with whom I am on informal terms, I use 俺. When I write/talk politely but quote myself or explain my thoughts, I use 俺 also. In really formal or professional settings, I stick with 私. I am pretty sure if I went タメ口 and 呼び捨て, going full 俺, with people I don't know well, I'd be thought of as 馴れ馴れしい which is usually not a good thing in a Japanese context.

But here is the thing, what comes with choosing a personal pronoun in Japanese is a personality, one that is accrued and all-encompassing. It is not like there are only a handful of personalities on the shelf and you can assume a whole set of personality simply by choosing a personal pronoun. It is not that easy. No, it is not like the beginning of a fantasy game where you are asked to pick a class: mage, warrior, cleric, etc. Your outward personality, your キャラ, is determined by any number of things: not just your first person pronoun choice, not just your idiolect, but the way you talk and interact with people, the way you do things, the way you make jokes and react to them, the way you act at work/school, and so on and so forth.

It is interesting you should mention identity crisis, because your identity is not only determined by the pronoun you use, but also by a lot of other factors. One of them is the fact that you are a non-Japanese, non-native speaker. People may treat you more politely because of that. And you will be allowed more latitude in your use of the language. So even if your pick of the first person pronoun is intended for a certain effect or personality, it might not always come across as intended.

  • 2
    I really like this answer! People don't just have one personality after all. Even in English, people speak differently and have different attitudes in different settings. The way you talk and act with your friends is going to be completely different from how you talk to your parents or your boss.
    – Shurim
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 21:44
  • I like this answer as well~ I'll get on board with switching between ore and boku. Maybe I just won't understand japanese pronouns anytime soon- different ways to say "you", that I can understand. But different ways to say "I"? It's just such a foreign concept
    – OtheJared
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 1:32

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