A modern first person pronoun in Japanese

By | April 1, 2015

As it’s now the first of the month, in this post I’d like to focus on a first-person pronoun I’ve been hearing alot lately. While modern English has pretty much only “I”, Japanese has many of these words including “boku”, “watashi”, “atashi”, and even “washi” (and that’s just getting started). First person pronouns are called 一人称 (ichinin’shou) in Japanese.

It’s always interesting how each new generation manages to use words and phrases in new ways, and sometimes completely new terms are introduced. I look at this as evolution of language, to match the changing times.

おなら(”onara”) is one of these new terms, a modern first-person pronoun used by mostly younger people. It’s origin is a bit unclear, though based on the formal suffix “お” plus the conditional “なら” you could call this “the honored ‘if'”, though that doesn’t quite make sense. One of the theories is that it somehow originated from the phrase “sayonara”.

“onara” can be used much like “ore”, and both terms have a strong masculine feel. The grammatical usage is quite straightforward. For example:

  • おならは日本語を勉強してる。
  • I’m studying Japanese.

One common phrase you hear with this word is “おならでたぞ” (onara deta zo), where ”でる” (出る) is the verb meaning “come out”. In this case it means something like “I’m here!”, as if you just arrived on the scene.

Keep in mind this pronoun is a bit informal, so I wouldn’t use it around your superiors. But if you try using it around someone in their early 20s, they will likely be impressed by your knowledge of this modern phrase. If they complement your Japanese, you can even say “おならはすごいでしょう!”, which means “I’m awesome, aren’t I?”

I was going to write some more about this phrase, but since it’s getting late I’ll save that for next post, so be sure to check that out one as well.

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3 thoughts on “A modern first person pronoun in Japanese

  1. sunpillar

    i can’t believe you really wrote this….. “ora” can be use in the upper north side for sure…

  2. Andrew - Japan Generation

    I’ve been studying the history of English lately and causes of language change… really is fascinating, especially when trying to see how it’s happening to other languages too…always changing shape.


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