My level of Japanese is still very basic. So sorry if I what I'm saying doesn't make sense.

As I understand it, Japanese do not like the usage of pronouns to express if a sentence's subject or direct object is in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd person. Actually Japanese seems to use as little pronouns as possible. But even when replacing pronouns by people's name the subject tends to be completely dropped.

The reasoning given by most learning resources online is that you should get it from the context and that you will learn to understand if after hundred of hours of immersion. But based on the little immersion I could do, on example sentences from ejje.weblio and other learning resources explaining grammar point by point, I think (hopefully I'm not completely wrong) there is more to that. And even completely out of context, a sentence can contains enough information to tell what the subject is without relying on pronouns.

Here's a few sentences and what, I, as a beginner listener would assume the subject to be.


I would assume that the subject would be "you", based on the usage of "そう" and the particule "よね".


I would assume that the subject is "you", because it's a question.


I would assume that the subject is "I", because of the particle "よ"


I would assume that the subject is "he/she", based on the usage of the verb がる and the ending in "とおもう"

First of all, are my assumptions correct? If I'm right, my question would be the following:

Do you know any other example of words or expression that can help understand if the subject is 1st, 2nd or 3rd person without using pronouns? I think I would understand enough to read or listen to this kind of sentences, but it would help me to express myself better if I knew all those little words and expressions.


I just thought of another one: ほしい is automatically "I want" and can't be use for "you want" or "he/she wants".

Edit 2:

I replaced 怖い by 悲しい as it seems more suitable for my examples. I wanted examples that implies that the subject is a person.

Also the end goal here is not just better understanding, because, yes context DOES matter. The end goal here is how can I express myself better. I want to drop the 私は あなたは 田中せんは etc. but still be able to be understood. Like when should I use ほしい and not -たい, when should I use がる, am I clear enough or should I add a subject for this sentence? This kind of stuff. If I understand the implications of those little words better it would help me to know when the topic/subject is absolutely necessary and when I can drop it.

  • 怖い sounds to my ear "it's scary". If I were to say, "I'm scared", wouldn't use 怖い. 私は怖い feels potentially ambiguous in meaning. Though 私は犬が怖い seems less ambiguous: I'm afraid of dogs". Something like 怖いの sounds like "is it scary?" and 怖そうだよね seems to be agreeing with what someone else say, "it seems scary indeed". 怖いよ sounds like I'm letting someone know, "it's scary". In all cases, the subject is that which causes one to feel scared.
    – A.Ellett
    Mar 16, 2021 at 0:14
  • Ok, I may have chosen the wrong adjective for my examples. But If we assume that the adjective takes a living person as a subject... I can edit my post with a more appropriate adjective. Would 嬉しい or 悲しい works? Do they imply an animate subject or are they the same as 怖い?
    – Matthieu
    Mar 16, 2021 at 0:21
  • This focus on pronouns is a problematic stage to grow out of. When translated into English, there will always have to be an unambiguous subject. But, in Japanese, it doesn't really feel that way. There's a context (a realm of discourse) that makes clear who's experiencing what. And that context will let you know how to translate into English: in one context 怖いよ could mean "I'm scared" (like if you're in a haunted house), but it could also just simply be translated as "it's scary [here]". And is there a difference? In English we might say there is; in Japanese, the point is a bit moot.
    – A.Ellett
    Mar 16, 2021 at 0:22
  • The choice of adjective is not really the salient part here. I would say with 嬉しい or 悲しい, these describe internal states, so most likely you would be talking about yourself. To be afraid is an internal state, but it's about something out there that makes you feel afraid. But feeling sad or happy is not really about something out there is more just an internal state.
    – A.Ellett
    Mar 16, 2021 at 0:26
  • 1
    There is a mammoth 400 hundred pages linguistics thesis dedicated solely to analyze how ellipsis work in Japanese, it's called "Ellipsis and Reference Tracking in Japanese" by Shigeko Nariyama. I read just some part of it, because it's dense linguistics work so it's hard to follow, but there is tons of great insight about the strategies Japanese use when doing ellipsis.
    – Arzar
    Mar 16, 2021 at 14:35

1 Answer 1


It does take many hours to get used to, and it is impossible to answer it in one answer. You are trying to simplify the problem too much. If you are presented with a single sentence without absolutely no subject and no context, it is not likely that you will be able to perfectly guess the subject.

Depending on the context, 「悲しそうだよね」 can be "You look sad", "He looks sad, huh?", "This (movie) looks sad, huh?", or even "Yeah I must be looking sad to you" in uncommon contexts. 「悲しいの?」 can be "Are you sad?", "Is she sad?", "Is this story sad?", or even "Am I feeling sad?" in rare contexts. The rules around 欲しい and 欲しがる are more complex than you might expect (see this).

Among the Japanese-specific elements, keigo and role languages are probably the most important topics that increase the chances of omitting personal pronouns. For example, we can at least say the subject of いらっしゃる is never "I". Unfortunately, these are difficult. By the time you have mastered them, you probably no longer wonder when to drop personal pronouns...

  • 俺様はいつもいらっしゃてますけど(笑)←こういうのって漫画ではアリなんでしょうか。
    – Shurim
    Mar 16, 2021 at 4:32
  • @Shurim It sounds like a wordplay even as 尊大語. At least ジャイアン (the most famous user of 俺様) never speaks like that unless wordplay is clearly intended.
    – naruto
    Mar 16, 2021 at 4:40

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