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Suppose you're talking to somebody and want to ask them about something related to them. My Genki textbook has some examples of how you can actually do this and also address them at the same time by using a の-modified noun with their name in the topic. Here are two examples from the textbook:

リーさんの専攻は文学ですね。(Ms. Lee, your major is literature, right?)

たけしさんのデートはどうでしたか。(How was your date, Takeshi?)

My problem is, I've never seen this outside of Genki. Also, since I'm not a Japanese native speaker, this way of addressing somebody sounds bizarre to me. And the English translation above is actually not literal, for a good reason. ("Speaking about Takeshi's date, how was it?" sounds bonkers when it's Takeshi you're asking.)

So, my question is: is this way of addressing the person you're talking to common? Or is this one of those things that textbooks might teach you at the early stages for the lack of a better option even though it's clunky and unusual?

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    The first one sounds totally natural but the second sounds a little textbooky unless it was said in a context where the speaker was asking multiple people how their respective activities went. It sounds much more natural without たけしさんの.
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 12, 2023 at 2:39
  • @aguijonazo, I see, thank you for the comment. Why doesn't this apply to the first example as well? Wouldn't it then also be more natural to omit リーさんの? Jun 12, 2023 at 10:29
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    専攻 forms a more permanent association with a person than デート, which is a one-off event. This makes 〜の専攻 more natural than 〜のデート regardless of whether that person is the listener or a third person. For 〜のデート to sound natural, there must be a stronger reason to specifically associate the person with デート.
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 12, 2023 at 10:39
  • @aguijonazo, brilliant, this helps a lot! Thanks! Jun 12, 2023 at 11:30

1 Answer 1

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Yes, this is the most natural way to say it.

And the English translation above is actually not literal

It can never be. The problem with Japanese is that it doesn't have a word for "your". (or my, or his, or her...) The possessive pronouns are constructed via the main pronoun + の, and there's not a dedicated word for it. Imagine instead of "my book" or "your car" we'd have to say "I's book" and "You's car" now, but that's literally what Japanese does.

Having cleared that point above, now let's look at how to address the other person.

Ms. Lee, your major is literature, right?

Here's in order to say "your literature", you either have to use a word for "you"(あなた、きみ, etc.), or just say the name of the other person(リーさん), then add a の to make is possessive.

In Japanese, the most common way is to use the other party's name instead of any pronouns when you are not too familiar with them, but also not wanting to sound too cold. Using あなた all the way would sound TOO aloof and emotion-less, and it's used mostly in business or customer-service settings, where it's all about respect and you're not developing anything personal. Using 君, on the other hand, is reserved for more close relationships or superior-to-subordinate relationships.

So in short, use あなた when you don't know their name, then change to their name once you learn it. For friends and families, 君 or お前 will do.

P.S.

Even when you don't know the other party's name, there are ways most of the time where you can get by without using あなた, and it would be more natural to do so. Example:

あなたの名前はなんですか? ❌
お名前はなんですか? ⭕️

By using the Keigo お・ご prefix, you are insinuating you're talking about the other party's stuff, coz no one would use Keigo on themselves*. お財布、お名前、お家 will NEVER be interpreted as the speaker's stuff.

*Except for 謙譲語 and 美化語

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  • That's a perfect explanation, very detailed and lucid, thanks a lot! It does indeed make total sense when you put the points you raised together. I'm happy to accept your answer! Jun 11, 2023 at 21:26
  • Glad to be of help! :)
    – dvx2718
    Jun 11, 2023 at 23:30

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