Does it make a difference whether they teach at my school, even if they don't teach my class?


As long as you are interacting with the said person in its role of teacher, you should use 先生. Meaning that you won't if the person is your friend, family member, partner or any other relationship that doesn't involve its teacher job, even though it can still be used in this case as a joke, irony or to emphasis the teacher position.

  • 1
    Correct. We use 先生 only when they are in their professional capacity. This is not limited to teachers but also include such professions as lawyers and doctors that are also called 先生.
    – user48754
    May 27 '21 at 9:14
  • Thank you. Suppose the person teaches at my school, doesn't teach in my class, but teaches my friend's class. Would I use 先生 then, and would it matter whether we were on school grounds or not?
    – minetti
    May 27 '21 at 13:50
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    On a teacher-student situation, you can call any teacher, whether students are directly taught or not, 先生 in or outside school. The assumption is teachers always play the role of teacher at any time when they are in school or bump into a student outside school. It is only when a student has some kind of private relationship with a teacher, be it a family-to-family one or whatever, that the student might call the teacher in a different way. The main takeaway is: you can call teachers 先生 at all times.
    – user48754
    May 28 '21 at 5:53
  • I see. Would it be inappropriate NOT to use 先生 to refer to a teacher who is not my own teacher then, assuming there is no particular outside relationship between us? Suppose I run into my friend's teacher outside of school, for instance?
    – minetti
    Jun 5 '21 at 19:40

Additional Info: As long as you're learning something from an entity (doesn't necessarily have to be a human being), it can be called "先生" (at least in spoken Japanese). For example: It is very common for people to say "Google 先生に教えてもらった" (Google sensei ni oshiete moratta) when they learn something new via Google.

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