Here us go on one more deep dive—this time right into the word nii-chan and also everything concerned it.

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We’re going to tumble under a severe rabbit hole, uncovering the multiple methods of looking in ~ the idea that nii-chan, the handful of interpretations of nii-chan, as well as a far-ranging discussion that family names, politeness, and name-enders.

It’s an outstanding meeting of number of Japanese principles all in one word! yet first, let’s begin with the straightforward stuff.


What is the definition of nii-chan?

The an interpretation of nii-chan is fairly simple, broken up right into two parts: nii method older brother and also chan is a name ender, or “honorific suffix,” the adds a sense of endearment. So, nii-chan is a sweet way to refer to your older brother.



What does dictionary-chan need to say?

(1)自分の兄を呼ぶ語(2)若い男を呼ぶ語。また、不良じみた若い男をさしてもいう

Hmm, for this reason not completely straightforward. We’ve gained two meanings here—let’s break them down.

The an initial definition is the acquainted expression we already covered. It says, “The native you call your larger brother.”

It’s precious reinforcing the it’s a an especially endearing means of referring to her brother, so the wouldn’t be offered in all situations.

Situations whereby you’d want to show much more respect, or perhaps more frustration, would use various endings indigenous chan. Yet we’ll acquire to that in a bit.

The second definition adds something come our understanding. “A indigenous you call a young man. Also, offered to refer to young men who have actually been misbehaving.”

So, right here we view that words is not completely localized come the family. You have the right to use it as a way of scolding a young man who’s exhilaration out.

This is likely because of the cute-ifiying impact of the chan.



In Japanese, there are few actual curse words. Typically, the means you’d express anger with someone or something would certainly be to adjust your respect levels.

So, by referring to a young man as chan, you’ve described him in a sort of diminutive way, possibly emasculating him and putting him in his place.

You’ve additionally denied that the often used o- prefix that shows a measure up of respect.

It will assist to look in ~ the an ext common and also baseline way to describe one’s brother, o-nii-san.

Breaking that down

Typically, a neutral level the respect would certainly involve introduce to your older brother together o-nii-san. In its most sophisticated form, it would be written favor this:

御兄さん

That first kanji (Chinese character) 御 carries the sound or “O” and also conveys a measure up of respect.

It’s attached come the front of words all the time in Japanese along with its equivalent pronunciation, or “GO.”

As us go forward with this article, keep that respectful “O” in mind, due to the fact that you can attach it to virtually every word we talk about today together a means of adding simply a touch of respect.

The second kanji 兄 in this word can additionally be written にい and also is pronounced “NII” (like the well known knights!).

Now, I want to prepare you: this kanji is pronounce differently relying on the word it’s contained within.

When it’s through itself, it’s ani. once you want to call someone “sonny,” you could say an-chan, wherein is the an.

When it’s part of words for “siblings,” kyoudai, it’s pronounce kyou. As a details suffix it’s kei. In olden job it could be pronounce konokami.

Yeah, kanji are crazy. Anyway, wherein was I?



Right, the last 2 characters. さん is express san and also it’s component of the exact same word household as chan.

Where chan expresses familiarity and also closeness, san is sort of the middle standard that respect.

It’s neither respectful no one disrespectful. It’s simply proper. Upon conference someone, you’d virtually always refer to them together “their family members name” to add san.

To think of a an extremely rough equivalent in English, imagine girlfriend were introduced to someone named Edward.

You’d likely contact them by their full name uneven they asked friend to call them “Ed” or “Eddie.”

And, often, we only let civilization use ours nicknames after ~ we’re friends v them.

There’s a bit much more to it in Japanese, and also you’d want to it is in much an ext friendly prior to removing the san, yet perhaps that gives you an approximation the the intent behind the word.

We’ll get into an ext name enders in a moment. However first, now that we know another method to describe our nii-chan, let’s dive in a little more.

What other ways have the right to we refer to our big bro?

The brotherhood of brothers words

On our way towards a full comprehension of nii-chan, let’s continue to expand the context of the concept and also take a stroll v a couple of more words pertained to “big brother.”

Well, not large Brother, favor the Orwell personality —that’s ビッグブラザ ー, express biggu-burazaa. A little different.

Nah, what we’re talking about is the ide of “elder brother.” At least to start. You’ll watch what ns mean!

So, first up we’ve acquired the level ol’ i beg your pardon is pronounce ani. This just way “elder brother.”

This word falls into the group of kenjougo, or “humble language.” It’s a indigenous you’d usage to talk around your very own older brother to world outside her family.



In samurai times, might be pronounced konokami, as I discussed up above.

However, in those times it frequently covered a broader sense, indicating that one to be the head the the family.

兄上 is express ani-ue and falls right into the category of sonkeigo.

This is respectful, or honorific speech—a an excellent way to store in her brother’s an excellent graces once talking come him.

It’s additionally a little bit of one archaism from samurai times, therefore don’t mean to hear the terribly often.

兄貴 is pronounce ani-ki and also it’s a friendly means to speak to your large brother. It’s likewise a word used by non-family members to speak to guys older 보다 them who sometimes fill that role of older brother.

It’s slangy, and a little bit rough, however an agree word come use.

It’s around translatable to “bro” in English.

You’ll listen it largely in manga and also anime, but keep your ear peeled and also you simply might capture it in the wild.

The list seriously goes on. In one thesaurus I’m spring at, there room at the very least another dozen ways to talk about the idea of “elder brother.”

It’s worth noting that, as with in English, girlfriend can obtain away v calling her brother a the majority of things.

The usual word is ani if you’re talking to your very own brother, however if you’re talking about someone else’s brothers you’ll want to go with the full, respect-sandwiched o-nii-san.

Ani: Not just for blood bros

I pointed out this briefly above, yet it’s worth acquisition a minute to clarify the point.

Some words because that “elder brother” have the right to be used exterior the family. The many common among these is nii-san.

This is a good way to refer to anyone that fulfills one older brother position in her relationship, even if it is it’s at work, or school, or in a group the friends.

You wouldn’t contact them ani-ue, because that suggests a blood relationship. You’d additionally be much less likely to call them nii-chan, uneven you’re a cute, lot younger girl.

Throwing that chan top top the finish sorta suck out a most the respect you’re laying out in the an initial place through calling castle “brother.”



There space a couple of other words you might hear that use the older brother phrase but are spoken outside the family.

There’s ken-kei, which isn’t used often at all. This one gives a connotation the “wise enlarge brother,” and can be provided with an yes, really relative, or with any kind of wise senior.

There’s the suffix kei, which can be attached come the end of a surname to mark them as an enlarge brother type of person.

The critical one I’ll cover is ani-bun, which has actually two potential meanings. The first one is referring to a sworn brother.

This is a word you’ll want to use once things acquire serious.

You know, favor if your friend saves your life from the oncoming samurai forces of Oda Nobunaga and you desire to seal your friendship as a brotherhood forever.

There’s another, devoted meaning the you’ll desire to be careful using. Ani-bun can additionally refer to the older man in a same-sex relationship.

That’s enough of that for now…

The flip side of ani

Well, now you recognize a bunch about talking come and about your older brother, but that’s only going to gain you for this reason far.

Let’s take it a quick peek at some of the words that cover the younger counterpart in the sibling relationship.

For this, we get the kanji , pronounced otouto. Slap a san top top there and you’re ready to speak nice come your tiny bro with sonkeigo.

It’s a little bit of a mouthful contrasted to the fairly terse nii, and also not fairly as, well, cute sounding.


Otouto-san versus nii-san. A weird pair, if friend ask me.

If we want to speak in kenjougo (that’s the humble language I pointed out earlier), then we’ll want to say gutei.

If you want to beat “ninja and also samurai” through your boy brother, you might want the archaic counterpart come ani-ue, which would be otouto-gimi.

That’s teineigo, or “polite speech” (all these varieties of speech—teineigo, sonkeigo, and kenjougo all autumn under the umbrella group of keigo which you may have heard of).

Odds and Ends: the rest of the family

For a more complete picture, let’s conveniently tackle the family members as a whole. If we want to talk about siblings in general, we’ll push the 2 brother kanji with each other to get 兄弟, or kyou-dai.

Yup, the goes for siblings together in “brothers and sisters” together well.

As for the sisters, we obtain some quite parallels through the brothers. Instead of ani, we acquire ane.

Instead that nii-chan, we gain nee-chan (nee is pronounced nearly like “NAY” or “NEIGH” in English). There’s additionally ane-ue for our samurai-era older sisters.

In fact, in virtually every means that the elder brother words were used, there’s a female counterpart.

For example, just as friend can speak to an older brother-figure her ani-san, you might do the very same with an older, unrelated woman in her life, calling her ane-san.

There’s the flip of otouto as well with imouto. And, once again, we obtain those same, reputable counterparts wherein we can mix and also match o, san, and also chan.

If you want to speak to her mom, you’d call her kaa-san, and also if you wanted to talk around her, you’d describe her together your haha.


No, that’s not a joke, that’s what you call her!

You’ve additionally got your super-respectful, pretty antiquated haha-ue and also the much an ext familiar (especially to English-speaking ears) mama.

For dads, we’ve got tou-san for when you’re talk to her dad and also chichi for once you’re talking around your dad.

For all of you wondering why Gohan’s mom’s surname was Chichi in Dragon Ball—well, you’re as lost as i am. There’s also chichi-ue and papa.

Noticing part patterns?

At last, I’ll cover part potential pitfalls for you. And also this needs to do with aunts and grandmas.

Ready because that something crazy? You speak to your aunt and women who space middle-aged o-ba-san.

You call your grandmother and also elderly women o-baa-san.

Yup, every that’s standing in the way of you and a rapid slap come the head is a slightly elongated “A” sound.

The faster way to gift inoffensive is come emphasize the O in o-ba-san and also the BAA in o-baa-san. Be mindful out over there folks!

It’s no less complicated for the men. Your uncle is her o-ji-san. Her grandfather is her o-jii-san.

And ditto with referring come middle-aged and also elderly males respectively. It’s a minefield.

The cherry on top—name enders

I’m not going to go into all the various name enders that space possible—that’s a totality subject in itself.

But on height of chan and san which we’ve currently seen, I desire to include two more very valuable ones.

You deserve to add kun come someone’s surname or their connection term (e.g. Nii or nee) in order come speak endearingly come them without putting them down.

It’s comparable to san, however is much more casual and also you’d never use it because that someone of greater status 보다 you.

While it can be supplied for either gender, it’s typically offered for boys and men.

Lastly, there’s sama. This one is the huge guns that respectability. You’ll use this as soon as speaking extremely respectfully that someone, prefer customers, high superiors, or, possibly, your own parents.

Used in the wrong way, v the dorn person, however, it can have the opposite effect.

In the same method that if you stated to your brother, every sarcastic, “Of course, your highness,” you deserve to use the respectful ax sama come be an extremely rude.

Careful once using this native or you may come turn off as very impolite!


Catch friend later, nii-chan!

So, that’s a quite thorough rundown of the meaning the nii-chan and its interplay with various uses, words, and also suffixes.

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You’ve got lots currently that you have the right to play around with, mixing and also matching siblings, honorifics, and also ways of express the exact same relationship.

Get the end there and also use it with your very own nii-chan, or who who’s a nii-chan come you!