As some know, うち is another way to say "I" in Japanese, my tutor (and others) saying it's mostly used by younger women. My question is...how did this come to be? Because, I can't help but notice the exact pronunciation of this word and another common Japanese word: 家.

Did 家 (house) come first or うち (I) come first? If the former, does うち being used for "I" come from 家? If so, how did that come to be? And how did this come to be a way of saying "I" primarily by women or in other regional dialect?

I ask because I remember some time ago my tutor (when telling me what うち; "I" meant) said that うち and 家 are related and that the former's use for meaning "I" came after/was because of what 家 meant. But I forgot his explanation, so I wanted to ask here.

  • It's indeed used by women. It's used a lot in Kyoto.
    – oldergod
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 16:07
  • 宅 also means a place to live, which can also be used to address its household/members. Furthermore, it may also be used to express another person's household/members.
    – dungarian
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 0:24

1 Answer 1


The word uchi

This has multiple possible spellings. Uncommon / rare spellings marked with a †:

  • 打ち -- "hitting, striking"
  • 宇智 -- name of a former county in Nara prefecture
  • 有知†, 有智† -- knowledgeability; a knowledgeable person
  • 内, 中† -- "inside, interior"
  • 家 -- "home; the inside of a building"
  • 裡† -- "the duration of a certain state"

The top three aren't relevant here, and don't appear to be related derivationally, so let's ignore those for the rest of this post.

Sense Development

According to the entry in the big Kokugo Dai Jiten (KDJ; a bit like the Oxford English Dictionary only for Japanese), the sense of "inside, interior" is apparently attestable all the way back to 720 in the Nihon Shoki. See definition [1]-②. The core meaning appears to be "interior", but specifically "of an enclosed (or enclose-able) space".

Not long after, in the Man'yōshū poetry collection completed around 759, we see uchi used to mean "house, home, residence; place of business", as an extension of the "interior (of a building)" sense. See definition [1]-⑩-(ロ).

Much later in 1563, the word is attested meaning "my home, my house". See definition [1]-⑩-(イ).

Three and a half centuries after that in 1916, we see citations of uchi used to mean "I, me, myself", presumably as an extension of the "my home" sense. See definition [2]. The entry describes this usage as primarily feminine and primarily Kansai.


So in essence, the meanings developed historically in order as:

  • "inside, interior"
  • "house"
  • "my home"
  • "I, me, myself"
  • Any information about its relation to other 和語 like 打ち and 裡 (maybe as in within the near future?)?
    – Lucas
    Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 5:08
  • @Lucas: 打ち is wholly unrelated. 裡 is the same word as the “inside” sense, with the nuance that this refers to the “inside” of a period of time, and is thus more commonly translated as “while” or “during” or even “before”. Usage such as わすれないうちに (literally “within the span of time of not forgetting something”, idiomatically “before I forget”). Commented Jan 14, 2022 at 6:19
  • 1
    Great answer, but I noticed a typo in your second paragraph. The "house, home, residence; place of business" sense, with the Man'yōshū citation, is covered in definition [1]-⑩-(ロ), rather than [1]-⑩-(イ). (And if you wanted to include another "rare spelling," you could note that in some older texts 宅 is used in place of 家 and read as うち when it refers to someone else's home.)
    – Nanigashi
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 16:53
  • @Nanigashi, thank you for spotting the typo! Fixing momentarily. 😄 Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 16:56

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