Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Separated from a friend or family member in a huge crowd or an unfamiliar mall, and there’s nothing to do but call them on the phone and figure out where they went. To solve this problem, it’s time to learn how to say where are you in Japanese.
The first thing I want to go over is the basic phrase so that you can immediately learn one way to ask this question. But after that I’d like to spend a little bit of time going over some other stuff as well.
One of those things is the Japanese word for “you.” This word isn’t quite as straightforward in Japanese as it is in English, and it can be confusing to know which version of the word you should use. I’ll try to clear that up in today’s lesson.
I’ll also go over some things like the right particles to use since that can often be a source of confusion for situations like this.
The Basic Phrase
The most basic way to ask someone where they are, and the first one you’ll likely come across in a Japanese phrase book, is the following:
あなたはどこですか？ (anata wa doko desu ka?)
Where are you?
The above phrase is written entirely in hiragana, which is the more common way to see it written these days. However, there are kanji for these words that you will sometimes run into, depending on the time frame that the material was written in and also the preference of the author.
Here is the same phrase, but this time written with the full kanji, and the question mark is also removed since it’s unnecessary when you end the sentence with the particle か.
Now, having provided this above phrase to you, I thought that I would also give another common way to ask this same question. It means the same thing (for the most part) but is structured a little bit differently. Here it is now:
どこにいますか？ (doko ni imasu ka?)
Where are (you) at?
Let me point out a few things about this second phrase. The first thing is that I have omitted the Japanese word for “you” since it is implied by the context, and is therefore not necessary.
Think about it, right? If you are talking to your friend on the phone and you ask this question, then it’s pretty obvious that it is their location you want to know about. After all, you’re not talking about anyone else!
The Japanese language can be ambiguous like this, but it’s something that you get used to after a lot of exposure.
The other thing that you’ll notice from the second phrase is the different verb. Instead of the copula です I wrote the verb います which can have a lot of potential usages in the language, but in this case means “to be” in Japanese.
That, combined with the particle に for “at” makes the sentence sound more like “where are you at (precisely)?”
Either of these phrases will get the job done, and both of them are polite ways to ask the question. Having said that, I’d like to start talking about some other things so that you can change the sentences to suit your particular needs.
When to Use ni or de
One of the first things we need to talk about is the particle that was used in the second example sentence. It was に for the basic question, but as you may or may not know, there is a second Japanese particle for “at” that you can sometimes use.
I’m talking about the particle で which also gets translated into English as “at” many times. So how do you know which one to use?
Well, the basic rule is that で is used when an action verb (like eating or singing) is taking place at a location, whereas に is used when the verb is いる, 住む, and a few others.
So let’s take an example to see this in action. If you were talking to you friend and they told you that they were doing something at a location, like shopping for new clothes, or eating a delicious meal, or watching a movie, you would want to use で for “at” in the sentence.
Where at? (Where is this action taking place at?)
However, if they are just telling you that they are existing in a place (I’m at home, I’m at the mall, I’m at school) then it would default to the に particle instead. Like I mentioned, there are a few other verbs that always get に used with them, but only a few.
If you’re wondering why the Japanese language is like this, then I’m afraid I don’t have a good answer. It’s just one of those things that I learned to get used to, and I advise you to as well.
There are a lot of situations like this in any organic language that “are just that way” and the sooner you can learn to accept it and move on, then quicker you can become good at the language.
I could give you a dozen example of situations like this in English, but I’m sure you can think of them as well.
Different Words for “You” in Japanese
One of the really interesting things about Japanese is that there are usually a lot of different words for the same thing. For example, there are a lot of different words for “you” in Japanese.
The one I used above is あなた which is a faily polite and normal way to say “you” in Japanese, but isn’t actually used by natives all that much.
Why you ask? Well, because it’s actually a lot more common to just use the person’s last name in place of the word “you” even when speaking directly to the person.
So let’s say you’re talking to Mr. Takana and you want to ask him where he is. You would say:
田中さんはどこにいますか？ (takana-san wa doko ni imasu ka?)
Where are you at (Tanaka-san)?
I would advise you to use the other person’s last name + さん as the default option, and only really fall back on あなた when you can’t remember said name.
Besides that though, here are some other Japanese words for “you” and their implications. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and there are still more words out there to learn.
あなた (anata) = The normal, polite way to say it.
あんた (anta) = Generally used to address someone you are mad at.
お前 (omae) = Usually used by men, it can be a little rough.
てめえ (temee) = Very rude. Kind of like saying “you bastard!”
Something else to keep in mind is that it’s common practice to use a person’s social / work position in place of their name. So if you are talking to the class president, you might call them 会長 (kaichō) instead of their family/given name.
What Other Ways Can You Ask?
Do you know of any other ways to ask “where are you” in Japanese? If so, and you’d like to share them, be sure to do so by leaving a comment down below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: