The Japanese language is both interesting and frustrating. For example, there are a ton of different words that you can use for the same thing. For example, what is people in Japanese?
There are so many different answers that I had to write an entire article covering them!
Let’s start off first with the common ways to say “people” in Japanese and then move on to some more specific ones that are used in certain situations.
The Japanese Word for People
The first word to cover is 人々 (hito bito) which means “people” in Japanese and is very common to see. It is used to talk about people in general and has other common translations such as “everybody; men and women” and more.
- kare wa sukuriin ni muragaru hito bito no tokoro e modorimashita.
- He returned to the crowd clustered at the viewing screen.
Something to note is that since the “noma” character 々 is just a kanji repetition mark, it is also possible to spell this word as 人人 and it means the same thing.
As you probably know, the singular kanji 人 (hito) means “person” so by adding a second one in it clearly refers to the plural.
This is important because in Japanese grammar there is no distinction between singular and plural.
The word 犬 (inu) can mean “dog” or “dogs” depending on the context. Likewise, the word 人 can mean one person or several.
That being said, it is much more common for 人 to just mean one person since the alternative 人々 which means more than one person is an available option.
- ano hito, dare da?
- Who is that person?
Now let’s take a look at three other words that are similar, but bring a different meaning.
Other Useful Versions
The Japanese language uses different words to show different levels of respect.
The word 人 is a neutral word, meaning that it isn’t rude or respectful.
But there actually is a word that can be used when speaking to, or about, people who deserve your respect. The Japanese word that I’m talking about is 方々 (kata gata) and means something like “honorable people.”
For example, if a performer was going to speak to the crowd he would say “ladies and gentlemen” in English which shows much more respect than just saying “men and women” when addressing them.
In the same way, 方々 can be substituted for 人々 when the situation calls for it.
Another strategy that can be employed is to utilize 達 (tachi) which is a pluralizing suffix for people and animals.
You simply add it on to our earlier noun to make 人達 (hito tachi) which is makes it exclusively “people” which is plural.
Finally, the last word that I wanted to cover in this part is a little bit different from the ones before.
The word is 大勢 (oozei) and means “crowd of people; great number of people.”
It is usually combined with another word that specifies what type of people are in a large group. This could be family members, senior citizens, or any other demograph that identifies them as having something in common.
- kazoku ga oozei ita n desu.
- I have a big family.
So far we’ve covered generic words, but now it’s time to go over a couple that are specific and can therefore only be used in certain situations.
Nations and Tribes
The word 民 (tami) means “people” but it brings with it the meaning of a nation. These people are the citizens of that nation, or the subjects of a kingdom.
In other words, there is some larger group that they belong to.
When get much clearer on what that group is when this kanji is combined with others. Notice that 民 is read differently in this compound words than when it is used on its own.
- 国民 (koku min) people of a country
- 庶民 (sho min) commoners
- 民族 (min zoku) ethnic group
- 市民 (shi min) townspeople
The trick in these situations is to pay attention to the meaning of the other kanji and see how it can be applied to 民.
A good way to think of 民 is as “a group of people” that have some element that connects them to one another.
There are actually a ton more words that use this kanji, so be on the lookout for it the next time you’re reading.
Counting People in Japanese
We’ve covered the word used when talking about just “a person” and we’ve also covered a lot of ways to talk about many people based on different criteria.
But what about when we want to say a specific number?
In that case, we need to use 人 as a counter along with the appropriate number. When we do this, the reading for that kanji changes from “hito” to “nin” for nearly all of them.
Unfortunately, the first two have irregular readings and they have to be learned by heart.
When you want to say “one person” in Japanese, you say 一人 (hitori) and when you want to say “two people” it is 二人 (futari).
But once you’ve passed that mark you can simply take any number, like 三 (san) for “three” or 十 (juu) for “ten” and then add on the 人 counter to the end of it.
Being Specific and Vague
We’ve covered a lot of words in this article. Hopefully, they have all been interesting and easy to understand.
The thing that is really cool about them is that they can be used in order to be incredibly precise. You can not only say overall word “people” but you can also specify if they belong to a nation, if they deserve your respect, or if there is a very large crowd of them.
This is something that generally takes a lot of words to express in English, so it’s neat how Japanese does it with so few.
But of course that brings with it one of the biggest problems with learning Japanese: there are so many words!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: