Japanese

How Do You Say Mom in Japanese? It Can Change Based On This:

The word you use to talk about your mom is not the same one you use to talk to your mom. It changes again when you talk about another person’s mom, and yet again in very formal situations. With all this craziness, how do you say Mom in Japanese?

That’s what I’ll go over today. I’ll give each word along with a brief explanation as to when, and why, you would want to use it over the others.

Finally, I provide some practice sentences that you can nab for your own studies to really help lock the new information in for good!

The Most Common Way to Say “Mom” in Japanese

If you’ve watched Japanese anime for anytime at all, then you’ve no doubt heard the word お母さん (okaasan) before.

This is the most common way to say “mom” in Japanese.

But you would only use it when you are either talking directly to your mom, or talking about another person’s mom.

When you talk about your own mom, but to another person, then you will actually refer to her as 母 (haha).

Why is this?

It’s simple when you understand the Japanese culture of respect and humility.

Basically speaking, お母さん is more polite than just 母. That means that it is appropriate to use お母さん in those situations where you are being polite and respectful.

So, you show your mother respect, right? That’s why you use お母さん when you talk to her.

You also show respect when you talk to, or about, your friend’s mom. Again, you would use お母さん for those situations.

But when you are talking about your own mom to another person, you want to be humble since you are talking about your own family. That why you use 母 when talking about (but not to) your own mother.

What’s really interesting about the words お母さん and 母 is that they actually give away who’s mom you’re talking about.

There’s no need to say “my mom” when explaining something to your friend, since they would know that you are not rude enough to refer to their own mom as 母.

  • お母さんは到着しました。
    okaasan wa touchaku shimashita.
    (Your) mom has arrived.
  • 母は到着しました。
    haha wa touchaku shimashita.
    (My) mom has arrived.

Pretty neat how precise the Japanese language can be.

Variations On The Word お母さん

You may have noticed that お母さん is simply the word 母 with お added to the front and さん added to the back.

お in this case is the “polite お” that gets added to almost everything in Japanese: お酒、お茶、お久しぶり、and I could go on indefinitely.

さん is also an honorific that gets added on to people’s names, job positions, family position names (like we’ve been seeing), and more:

  • 田中さん / tanaka san / Mr. Tanaka
  • 植木屋さん / uekiya san / The gardener
  • お姉さん / onee san / Older sister

So what this means is that you can play around with dropping the polite お when talking to your own mom, and also altering the suffix さん to other possibilities.

Here are some common ways that you’ll hear it:

  • お母さん / okaa san / The basic way to say “mom”
  • お母様 / okaa sama / A more polite way to talk about (or to) someone else’s mom
  • 母ちゃん / kaa chan / A term of endearment when kids talk to their own mom. Kind of like “mommy”

And I think you get the idea.

Other Ways to Say “Mom” in Japanese That You Might Not Know About

Even though the above ways to say mom are the most common, there are still plenty of times that you will hear at least some of these other words.

ママ (mama) – This is the loan word “mama” taken from English.

母親 (haha oya) – This one is a combination of mom 母 and parent 親 to express “the parent who is the mother.” I most often see it used in narration such as:

  • 迷子になった子供は母親の顔を見るとわっと泣きだした。
    maigo ni natta kodomo wa hahaoya no kao o miru koto watto nakidashita.
    Seeing his mother, the lost child burst into tears.

Or when talking about mothers in general:

  • 母親は評価してもらえないことがよくある。
    hahaoya wa hyouka shite moraenai koto ga yoku aru.
    Mothers are often not appreciated.

母上 (haha ue) is the word for mother that was used by samurai back before the Meiji period.

おふくろ (ofukuro) is a word for mom that is really only used by men. It is a combination of that honorable お we went over earlier and the word 袋 (fukuro) which means “bag” in Japanese.

So it’s like calling your mom “honorable bag” although I’ve heard it’s not actually as rude as it sounds in English. I don’t know, I’ve never really used it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

おかん (okan) is the Kansai dialect way of saying mom in Japanese.

Just in case you’re interested in learning some 関西弁 (kansaiben)!

So Many Ways to Say Mom!

Yeah, that was quite a few ways to say mom in nihongo, and I don’t even think that it’s all of them!

I’ve run into a few others in dictionaries before, but they were all archaic, so you would probably only ever encounter them if you were researching old documents or something.

But I think you’ve got all you need to know when it comes to talking about mom in Japanese. Thanks for reading!

Which of these words for “mom” have you heard the most often?

Which ones were new to you that you thought were pretty cool?

Leave a comment – Let me know!

4 Comments

  • Abe Wine

    This is an interesting article and though I don’t speak Japanese I think it was quite interesting to learn just a little bit about the Japanese language.

    It reminds me a little bit of latin in the way that you can understand what you are referring to just by the attachments to the word and you don’t need to have add-ons to specify it like wee do in English.

    Peace Out!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it’s pretty interesting how languages take different approaches when describing things in reality. From my experience, it seems like English uses lots and lots of adjectives to describe certain things, whereas Japanese will usually just have a single word for them:

      Old Man = Roujin

      Beautiful Woman = Bijin

      Younger Sister = Imouto

      I don’t really know the reason for this, but I always thought it would be cool to be a linguist and study languages.

      Not as a means of acquiring them and understanding them, but rather the things like “what is language? What are the requirements for something to become a language?” and so on.

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