Informal Japanese with strangers

I’m wondering how I should speak to strangers who are my age or younger, for example on something like Hellotalk. From what I’ve seen on movies and TV, Japanese guys never seem to use formal speech in a context like that. Should I just use casual Japanese too here? I care somewhat about being polite, but being overly polite is not my thing.



This is something I struggle with every now and then too - when to switch to more casual language, drop the keigo etc.

I tend to ask people that I feel like are “friends to me” at some point if I can use casual talk (呼びタメ) or then just let them know it’s okay to not use keigo with me. I’ve also been told “no need to attach the -san” in the past, meaning the person was okay with me calling them by ちゃん, so in a less formal way.
Sometimes I just observe when the other person stops using the more formal language with me, and then do the same myself, kinda dropping a few less formal expressions / message or so.

But I do always start out with the more formal expressions, not keigo but with です、-ます etc. Sometimes I do feel I might be a lil too polite though :rofl:


Just today a Japanese streamer I was watching talked about how if she was approached by another Japanese person on the street and they talked to her in タメ語, she’d try to get the hell out of that situation as fast as possible because she’d be afraid they’re some sort of crazy. Paraphrasing and just one persons opinion, but the point is your languages polite likely is their normal. It’s a bit weird to get used to, especially because 丁寧語 isn’t as present in media and on the internet, but keep in mind these are completely different cultures.
Not an expert myself, but I’d start out with 丁寧語, try to pay attention to what formality level the person you’re talking to is using and when in doubt, just ask, especially on HelloTalk. That’s what the app is about.


As a non-native speaker, you’ll be forgiven for mistakes in either direction, overly informal or overly polite.

Human nature is to unconsciously mimic the style (and even accent) of the other person in the conversation, so you’ll likely fall into the right degree of informality naturally, but until you’re comfortable I’d say it’s best to err on the side of politeness.

But best to use plain polite forms (like です rather than でございます). Overly polite can sound grating and insincere.


…plus, keigo is harder to get right :slight_smile:


What about でござる? :slightly_smiling_face:



On a more serious note - I’ve been given a lot of lenience from native speakers in my politeness levels as I’ve learned. Some friends have pushed me to use タメ口 when I’ve been formal for too long, but mostly if I’m です/ますing it people are fine.


Thanks for the replies. Maybe to add a question on top. What is the best “I” word to use in informal Japanese? I’m guessing it’s 俺? People who teach this kind of stuff seem to suggest 俺 is somehow risky to use. But that seems strange to me. 私 is for formal contexts, and 僕 seems to be too boyish for an adult man to use.

僕 might strike you as too ‘young’, which is an impression my friend had too, but then he met a man who was in his sixties and referred to himself as 僕. I think it’s more a matter of the sort of impression you want to give:

  • 私 – neutral, polite
  • 僕 – less neutral, still polite, though perhaps slightly less so, and can be used casually as well; somewhat more refined/cautious about language use
  • 俺 – very casual, not polite; possibly quite rough

I personally only use 俺 with my closest Japanese-speaking friends, or with people who speak really casually (e.g. when I’m having a タメ口-only conversation on Twitter). I’ve also noticed that when one of my friends is a little drunk (and I guess you could say we’re fairly close), he tends to slip into using 俺 with me, whereas he usually tries to stick to 私. Point is though, it’s more a matter of how close you are to the other person. If you’re really comfortable with each other and can be really frank, then if you feel like an 俺 sort of guy, just go ahead. It’s really a ‘no filter’ sort of pronoun. Otherwise, even if it’s casual, 僕 is fine. For what it’s worth, my half-Japanese friend started his first conversation with our Japanese teacher using 俺, then he caught himself and switched to 僕. He didn’t feel particularly obliged to use 私, so I think that shows you pretty clearly how 僕 is sort of an in-between personal pronoun.


You’re a foreigner so I think it comes with the territory and they are probably used to it. If you care that much about sounding polite just end things with ます or です (and their different forms). Thats the safest way. You don’t need to use Keigo or anything crazy.


I would say if you’re amoung a group of friends who also use 俺 and you are considered a friend within that group it’s okay.

My native boyfriend only ever uses 俺 with his family and friends. When introducing him to my friends, it wasn’t until about the 4th time they hung out where he dropped the 私 and switched to his 俺.

EDIT to add: The whole time while using 私he was using casual speech aka no です・ます form


この俺さま :sunglasses:


That’s very interesting to me, and funny how that dynamic works with your friend when he’s had a few drinks haha. It remains a weird concept for me to wrap my head around. I can deal with switching between two different forms. But to have to juggle between 3 different ways of saying “I” seems excessive, from a foreigner’s perspective at least.

1 Like

Does he ever use 僕?

1 Like

My father-in-law uses 僕.

It’s not explicitly childish as a first person pronoun. It’s less formal than 私 and less rough than 俺.

The only time it’s absolutely limited in use is when it’s used as “you” for like 5-year-old boys. Don’t call anyone else 僕. But that’s easy enough to remember.


Not that I can remember since he uses mostly 俺 around me… It was hard to remember him using 私 outside of being on the phone tbh. But that’s also a personal preference of his to use 俺。

My male coworkers, especially the one next to me, used 僕 when we first met and will switch to 俺 when talking with the other male coworkers. If I join that conversation, he keeps using 俺. But we are also friends, so when he talks with people who visit our work he only ever uses 私.

Either way when talking with strangers, never 俺 and always 私.

I’ll ask my boyfriend now, but he’s working so I’ll come back later with the results.


In my experience living in Japan, 僕 tends to be a very safe, can be used in both casual and semi-formal situations. You’ll hear 俺 a lot from male speakers, but as a non-native speaker I think 俺 can be harder to get right in the sense that the rest of your tone and word choice should match that level of casualness/roughness. If you’re not confident in that, then I’d stick to 僕. Like was mentioned above, I feel like language learners learn that 僕 is boyish and young, and it can be, but my boss in the office (probably 60s) uses it often.


I wonder if bosses can get away with it more than underlings… My boss who is also up close to 60’s talks in casual speech often to us, and uses 僕 but whenever someone responds they use 私. I remember learning in my business Japanese course that bosses can talk however they like to the subordinates but you’re not supposed to respond in kind


@Alyosha He says he only used 僕 when he was younger


Yeah, you’re supposed to always use polite language when speaking to your boss or 先輩. Few days ago I saw some kind of documentary about Japanese society from early '80s, and they showed it as one of the principal rules in the workplace. In that movie they also said that, conversely, the bosses are kind of supposed to speak roughly/informally to subordinates, to indicate their position.