How to Say “I am” in Japanese – Don’t Use “Watashi (wa)”


How to Say I am in Japanese - Why You Shouldn't Use Watashi Wa 私は

In English, we start a lot of our sentences with “I’m…“, so it’s only natural that you want to know how to sayI amin Japanese. However, after living in Japan I found that translatingI am…” is rather complicated because there are a bunch of words that meanI” and it is common to leave out the “I” or “I am” part when speaking Japanese. Here is, for example, how to sayI am Alex” in Japanese.

“Watashi” (私) is the generic Japanese word for “I” and is usually followed by the particle は (wa) to form sentences starting with “I am…”. So for example “Watashi wa Arekusu desu” (私はアレクスです) means “I am Alex”. However, it is common and more natural to omit “Watashi wa” and just say “Arekusu desu”.

If that was too fast, don’t worry! Below you will find the detailed answer of how to sayI’m…in Japanese and we will also cover the differences betweenwatashi (wa)“, “boku (wa)“, “ore (wa)“, and the other Japanese words that meanI“. You can also read the in-depth explanation of why you shouldn’t usewatashi (wa)” (私は) aka “I am” when speaking Japanese.

How to Say “I am” in Japanese

The formal and most common way to say “I am…” in Japanese is “Watashi wa … desu” (私は〇〇です). Watashi (私) means “I“, wa (は) is the topic particle which marks what the speaker wants to talk about, and desu (です), the last word, is the polite copula that can be translated as “am“, “is“, or “are“.

Watashi wa ___ desu.
私は〇〇です。
I am ____.

This is a basic and kinda useful sentence structure to introduce or talk about yourself. So here are a few more example sentences that illustrate how you can use “Watashi wa ___ desu” to say things like “I’m (name)“, “I’m (age) years old“, or “I’m a/an (occupation)“.

Watashi wa Sakura desu.
私は桜です。
I’m Sakura.

Watashi wa juusan sai desu.
私は十三歳です。
I’m 13 years old.

Watashi wa isha desu.
私は医者です。
I’m a doctor.

However, please note that not all English sentences that start with “I am ___” or “I’m ___” can be translated like this.

The English expression “I’m home“, for example, translates into “Tadaima” (ただいま), one of the many greetings used to say “hello” in Japanese. And, “I’m sorry” is either “Gomen” (ごめん) or the politer “Gomen nasai” (ごめんなさい) in Japanese.

Tadaima.
ただいま。
I’m home.

Gomen (nasai)
ごめん(なさい)
I’m sorry.

It also often happens that “I am ___” just translates as “Watashi wa ___” (私は〇〇) without the desu (です) at the end. Or, the informal and more declarative copula da (だ) is used instead of it.

Watashi wa nemui.
私は眠い。
I am tired.

Watashi wa nemui desu.
私は眠いです。
I am tired (more polite)

Watashi wa nemui da.
私は眠いだ。
I’m tired! (more casual)

Another good example is the present continuous “I am ___ing” because you can’t add desu (です) after a verb.

Watashi wa hashitteiru.
私は走っている。
I am running.

Watashi wa oyoideiru.
私は泳いでいる。
I’m swimming.

So always keep in mind that “Watashi wa ___ (desu)” (私は〇〇です) is just a basic Japanese sentence structure that can be used to translate a few but not all English sentences that start with “I am ___“.

On top of that, it is actually more common and natural to omitWatashi (wa)entirely in Japanese. It’s so counter-intuitive that it can be one of the hardest things to wrap your mind around when learning Japanese. Take a deep breath and let’s look into it!

Why You Shouldn’t Use “Watashi (wa)”

Whenever it is clear that the topic or subject of a sentence is “I” it is common to leave out that part of the Japanese sentence and omitwatashi wa” (私は). While generally speaking, it is grammatically correct to use the full sentence including “Watashi wa”, it is not natural in spoken Japanese.

So, when we look at the English sentence “I am (name)” it literally translates as “Watashi wa (name) desu” (私は〇〇です). However, in a Japanese conversation, especially in a casual setting with friends, it is way more natural to just say “(Name) desu” (〇〇です).

Watashi wa Arekusu desu.
私はアレクスです。
I am Alex (not natural)

Arekusu desu.
アレクスです。
I am Alex (natural)

And this is actually true for all the sentences we have covered so far. In a Japanese conversation it is way more natural to just say:

Juusan sai desu.
十三歳です。
I’m 13 years old.

Nemui.
眠い。
I am tired.

Nemui desu.
眠いです。
I am tired (more polite)

Hashitteiru.
走っている。
I am running.

Feels strange? I know! It took me so long to get used to this.

I am also fully aware that all the Japanese textbooks and probably your Japanese teacher, too, use the “Watashi wa ___ desu” (私は〇〇です) sentence structure. And if you ask them they will probably say you have to (or should) use “Watashi wa ___“, because it is correct. And they are not wrong. It is not wrong! But also, it is not natural.

After living here in Tokyo for more than 6 years I know that none of my Japanese friends and none of my coworkers useWatashi wa” (or “Anata”) when the topic and/or subject are clear.

So please believe me when I try to convince you to omitwatashi wa” (私は) in order to speak natural Japanese.

Watashi vs Boku vs Ore – What’s the Difference?

Watashi (私) is not the only Japanese word that can be used to say “I“, “I am ___” or “I’m ___“.

There is the politer version which is watakushi (私), the semi-formal boku (僕) which is often used by young males, the feminine sounding atashi (あたし) which is sometimes used by girls, and the rather rough ore (俺), which you can often hear when watching anime. All of these Japanese words mean “I”.

So instead of “Watashi wa ___ desu” (私は〇〇です), you could also say “Atashi wa ___ desu” (あたしは〇〇です) or “Boku wa ___ desu” (僕は〇〇です), for example.

Atashi wa Sakura desu.
あたしわ桜です。
I’m Sakura.

Boku wa juusan sai desu.
僕は十三歳です。
I’m 13 years old.

You need to be a bit careful, though!

Watashi (私) is the gender-neutral word for “I” that can be used in any situation.

Atashi (あたし), on the other hand, should only be used by females and only in casual situations, while boku (僕) is most commonly used by young males in formal and informal situations. Sometimes men might use it in casual situations, too.

In the chart below you will find the most common words that can be used to sayIin Japanese and see by whom and in which situations they are usually used.

watashi私、わたしgender-neutralany situation
watakushi私、わたくしgender-neutral (polite)formal situations
boku僕、ぼくmasculineformal and casual situations
ore俺、おれmasculine (sounds rough)only with your close friends
atashiあたしfemininecasual situations
atakushiあたくしfeminine (polite)casual situations
Most Common Ways to Say “I” in Japanese

How to Say “Yes I’m” in Japanese

In Japanese “Hai, sou desu” (はい、そうです) is the common expression that is used to say “Yes, I am“. It literally translates as “Yes, that is right” or “Yes that is true” and depending on the situation it can also be translated as “Yes, I do“, “Yes, it is“, “Yes, she is“, and “Yes, he is“.

So, for example, when someone asks you the question “Are you a student?” (学生ですか) you can confirm it and say “Yes I am” by saying “Hai, sou desu” (はい、そうです) in Japanese.

Gakusei desu ka?
学生ですか?
Are you a student?

Hai, sou desu.
はい、そうです。
Yes, I am.

There are also two more casual versions that can be used. The first one is “Hai, sou da” (はい、そうだ) and the second one is “Hai, sou da yo!” (はい、そうだよ). Both phrases translate as “Yes, I am” but they sound more casual and also more empathic or enthusiastic. So only use them with friends.

Hai, sou desu.
はい、そうです。
Yes, I am. (polite)

Hai, sou da!
はい、そうだ!
Yes, I am. (casual)

Hai, sou da yo!
はい、そうだよ!
Yes, I am! (more casual)

Alex (RockinJapanese)

おはよう. I'm Alex. I have started studying Japanese when I was still a high school student and I have been living and working in Japan since 2015. I'm still learning new Japanese phrases and words every day and I thought that publishing them online will be useful for you, too. Hopefully, my study notes and free Japanese lessons will help you to reach the Japanese level you want to have! If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime! Alex

Recent Posts