There are many questions that people ask each and every day. Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Is peanut butter even real? But one thing that you might want to learn is how to say “who are you” in Japanese.
There are a few different ways to phrase this question, and I’m going to cover the four most common ones and talk about some best practices on when to use them.
Something that’s important is the tone of voice that you use with these questions, so be sure to keep a smile on your face when using them to avoid causing offense.
A Casual Way To Ask
The most common way to ask “who” in Japanese is with the word 誰 (dare). This is generally used in casual situations when you don’t have to concern yourself too much about being polite and can let loose, so to speak.
The full form of the phrase is as follows:
- anata wa dare desu ka?
- Who are you?
However, since Japanese is such a context dependent language there are many times when you can omit the word for you.
So, if you left out this pronoun completely, then you could shorten the phrase to just 誰ですか and the meaning would remain the same.
That is, as long as it was clear from the situation that the person you are addressing is the one in question.
Something else that happens with this word is that sometimes it will be used all on its own. People might just say 誰 with a rising intonation that indicates a question, or they might elongate the vowel to だあれ (daare) when they are being emphatic.
A Polite Way To Say It
There is a polite way to ask people for their identity and we will go over it now. This time the word for “who” is going to change to どなた (donata) which means the same thing as 誰, but is just a more polite version of the word.
- donata desu ka?
- Who are you (polite)?
I tend to encounter this word in situations where the person who is asking the question can’t physically see whomever they are conversing with.
If you answer the phone from a number that you don’t recognize, or if someone buzzes your house’s intercom and you answer it to see who is visiting you, then this phrase is a perfect one to use.
The Respectful Way To Ask
Now we get to those situations where someone is being respectful. It might be when a clerk is asking for your name so that they can check their system to see if you’re in it, or it could just be someone who is trying to make a good first impression.
Instead of using 誰 for “who” we will actually use the word どちら様 (dochira sama) which means the exact same thing but is considered sonkeigo which means honorific or respectful language.
The actual word is just どちら and the 様 suffix is added on to it for additional politeness.
The Japanese culture is all about hierarchies and who should show more respect to whom. When people use どちら様 they are showing extra respect to the person they are talking with and thereby raise the other person’s relative social status.
Things don’t typically stop at just that word however, there is a tendency to also use the politer version of です which in this case would be でしょう (deshou).
Here is how the new phrase is constructed:
- dochira sama deshou ka?
- Who are you (respectful)?
Let’s say that someone walks into your office whom you’ve never seen before and starts talking to you. You might be thinking “who the heck is this person” but you want to err on the safe side since it’s possible that they are high up in the corporate chain.
This is a good situation where this phrase can be used respectfully to ask them who they are.
At this point in the article, you might be wondering what the difference is between this word どなた and this last one どちら since they both translate into English as “who” and they are both considered polite language.
Well, I read an interesting article on them written by a Japanese native and they said that they both pretty much mean the same thing.
So, there’s no need to worry about accidentally mixing them up and using the wrong one.
Actually, the article even pointed out that these two words are both spelled identically in kanji as 何方!
One difference that I will point out is that どなた only has one meaning (who) whereas どちら actually has several potential meanings depending on the situation that it is used in. Here are some of them now:
- which way
- which one
So you could stick to just どなた if you wanted to be 100% sure that people know which meaning you’re using.
Only In Anime!
This last one is actually not a word that I hear people use in the real world, but is one that appears all the time in anime, manga, and of course Japanese video games.
The word is 何者 (nani mono) and it can mean either “who” or “what kind of person” when translated into English.
Often times it is used by a male character when rudely addressing another man.
One common situation is when a group of guards on horseback approach the main character in a fantasy-type anime and the captain sticks out is finger at our hero and asks who he is.
- nani mono da!
- Who are you!
I guess it would be similar to a modern day situation where a guard or policeman yelled at someone and said “Identify yourself!” or something like that.
Like I said, it’s a rough way to ask someone who they are so I do not recommend that you use it in real life. That being said, there’s a pretty good chance that you will encounter it while consuming native materials so it’s good to know what it means.
That’s All For Today
Now you know several ways to ask people to identify themselves in Japanese. There are some words that are polite, and some that are not so polite.
If you’ve got any questions about anything that I covered, then please let me know by leaving a comment down below.
Otherwise I will catch you later! Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: