Confusing phrase in Genki Vol. 1, Lesson 6

Hello all, quick question here that’s driving me a little nuts. I’m in Genki, Vol. 1, Lesson 6, doing the exercises on page 161.

Right in the middle of the page is an exercise to ask a pair partner “why you think the following.” In the example, one person is asked why they didn’t eat lunch. Then we get the following exchange:

A:あまりお金がありませんから。B: さんは?

The first part is relatively simple: Because I didn’t have enough money. But what the heck is the response さんは? It’s not in the book’s dictionary, nor in any other dictionary I own or can find online. Am I missing something simple here?


Are you sure it’s not Bさん, as in, B stands for a name.


I don’t own genki 1 so I can’t check, but are you sure it’s “B:” and not just “B”? That would imply it’s just a placeholder name.

dammit, Leebo’d again


You know, it might be. Now that I look closer, there isn’t a colon. So maybe a shorthand for something like, “How about you Mr. B?”

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Yes, exactly. I think books should use more real names instead of A and B like that, to get people used to them, but if they are using letters then that’s how I would expect them to get used.


Awesome. Thank you!

So I haven’t seen this explained anywhere but it looks to me that Aさん, Bさん etc. are somewhat common ways to refer to unidentified people? I’ve seen this in multiple contexts now, not just Genki, but also other teaching materials, Satori reader, etc.

That’s a bit odd when coming from English or something similar (I think maybe in English one can say “Mr. X”, but I don’t think it’s that similary often). So it would make sense to explain that somewhere.

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Do you mean in a situation where you don’t know a person’s name and thus have no way to refer to them? I honestly can’t really recall uses of it outside of textbooks (or the like) just doing it so they don’t have to pick names.

Oh well, we definitely say such things at work when discussing standard procedures that involve more than one staff member, as in A授業員 and B従業員. Also when referring to any hypothetical cargo, warehouse, or customer.
「貨物がA取引先からB取引先に名義変更される時」, 「A品目とB品目があった場合」 and so on.

Surely I do agree that those are niche uses, but at the same time I don’t feel like it’s thaaat unheard of either.

Answering the original question, yes I think using A and B is a common way Japanese user to refer to hypothetical non-specific entities, humans or not.

Well, I’ve also seen it used on Satori Reader, for example in the context of a true crime story, where they probably want to avoid mentioning the names of victims, witnesses, etc. (although they do name the perpetrator).

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We also do it in English for textbook stuff so I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it.

I don’t recall ever seeing that beyond the occasional “person XY” or “Mr. X” or so. Certainly not in my teaching materials when I was learning English.

You don’t recall things like this? Not talking about materials for teaching English, just situations with various people as “Person A” “Person B”.

Giving the people involved realistic names just would be a little distracting I think.

Hm yeah you’re right, I forgot about situations like this. Though in English it’s more “person A”, and in Japanese it’s “Mr. A”, which I guess could be initially confusing. I also feel like I’ve seen it more in Japanese so far than in English, but that might be a coincidence.

I was never overly confused by it, but yeah, the first couple times it was slightly puzzling.

I wouldn’t let the weirdness of saying “Mr.” in English get in the way of whether the Japanese is strange or not. We typically don’t use “Mr.” with first names alone in English, but they use さん with first names alone. We don’t use “Mr.” for talking about a bookstore (like, the actual store), but you can say 本屋さん in Japanese to talk about the store. さん just doesn’t fully equate to “Mr.” so it gets seen in other situations as well.


I’m not saying that Japanese is “strange”, but everything is “strange” to you when you’ve not seen it before. :smiley: Good point though that it’s more of an instance of a larger pattern than just this specific thing, though.

Also, probably not everything can or has to be explained in textbooks, some stuff is just so implicit you’ll pick it up eventually.

Oh, this is interesting! I thought 本屋さん was how you refer to the employee who works a the book store, like パン屋さん would be a baker right? are they used interchangeably or is there some subtle difference between 本屋 and 本屋さん when referring to a book store?

With さん attached it can either be the proprietor or the store itself. There may be a tendency to add さん to smaller establishments, but it’s not unheard of for it to be used with big chains that have no personality as well.


I am currently working my way through the Genki textbooks also and I strongly suggest watching ToKini Andy on youtube. He does a whole run through of each lesson in the textbook, it helped me to understand the things I couldn’t get my head around. He also uses B san in his examples.

On work environment we refer to other companies with さん all the time, no matter how big they are. ヤマハさん、本田さん、トヨタさん、etc
Of course in a casual conversation among employees of the same company we might drop it, but it’s considered a big mistake dropping it when talking with someone from outside.

Surely when you are talking with someone about their own company in a business setting you are supposed to say 御社, but it’s not that uncommon two talk about a third company, specially on the service industry. On that situation doing 呼び捨て is a big no-no.

And, as with people, on formal e-mails and such you are expected to write it as 様, because why not.

Still find it very triggering to give companies the same treatment we give to people, tho.