Age-related expressions in Japanese [Beginner / Intermediate]

By | December 16, 2013

This time we’ll learn some age-related expressions in Japanese. Age is dealt with a little differently compared to English so it’s good to make sure you have the basics down.

The simplest way to say “age” is とし(年)which also means “year”. Here are two common expressions when asking age (remember いくつ means “how many”):

  • お年、いくつですか?
  • おいくつですか?
  • 何歳ですか?

If someone asks your age, you can answer simply as below:

  • 33歳です。
  • (I’m) 33.

If you want to compare two people’s age, you can use としうえ(年上) としした(年下), though sometimes the 年 part is omitted. Different in age can be counted with (一つ、二つ、三つ、。。。)or with(1歳、2歳、3歳、。。).

  • お兄さんは三つ年上です。
  • (My) brother is three years older (than me).  [Note: normally we would assume the speaker is talking about his own brother, but depending on the context it can be someone else’s brother]
  • 彼は僕より3歳年下です。
  • He is three years younger than me.
  • 妻は三つ上だ。
  • (My) wife is three years older (than me).

One case when you typically don’t need to use 年上 or 年下 is when talking about an older/younger brother or sister of yours. Just use the appropriate words for each of these as follows:

  • お兄さん (おにいさん) – Older brother
  • 弟 (おとうと) – Younger brother
  • お姉さん (おねえさん)- Older sister
  • 妹 (いもうと)- Younger sister

“Young” in an absolute sense can be expressed with the word わかい(若い), but saying “old” is a little tricker. The word ふるい(古い)means “old” with respect to objects, but saying it towards a person is rude since it means more like “someone from an older age” or “an ancient person” (昔の人).

Besides using 若くない, you can simply use “年” to mean “old”.

  • 僕はもう年だから海外旅行なんて無理だよ。
  • I’m already old so an overseas trip is impossible for me.
  • 年は年だから退職したほうがいいかもしれない。
  • (My) age being what it is, maybe I should retire soon.

The expression “年をとる” is used to mean “to age”. For example:

  • 年をとりたくないな。
  • I don’t want to get any older.  (or “Aging sucks”)
  • 年をとればとるほど外国語の勉強が大変になる
  • The older we get, the harder it is to study a foreign language.
  • 年をとった人たちに親切にしなさい
  • Be nice to old(er) people.

”年いってる” is a similar expression:

  • “おじいさんは結構年いってるな”
  • (My) grandfather is getting pretty old.

Another verb that means “to age” is 老いる (おいる), but that isn’t used as commonly as the other expressions.

Here are a few ways to say “senior citizen”. These have similar connotation to English “senior citizen”, and roughly refer to someone over 65.

  • 高齢者 (こうれいしゃ)
  • 年寄り (としより)
  • 老人  (ろうじん)
  • 年配  (ねんぱい)

If you want to very polite when talking about senior citizens, I recommend the following two expressions (方  is pronounced  かた in both cases):

  • お年寄りの方
  • 年配の方

Conversely, here are some ways to say “young person”:

  • 若い人
  • 若者
  • わかぞう (emphasis here on “young and immature”, with a nuance like “youngster”)
  • 坊や  (young boy)
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