The meaning of watashi wa (私は) and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese expression watashi wa, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does watashi wa mean?

Watashi wa (私は、わたしは) means I or me in Japanese. The literal translation is as for me. To break this down, watashi = I and wa = as for.

Watashi wa gakusei desu.
I am a student.

Watashi wa amerikajin desu.
I am American.

Watashi wa = as for me

In Japanese, "watashi wa" means I or me and introduces yourself as the subject of the sentence.

Literally, as for me, watashi wa introduces yourself as the subject of the upcoming sentence.

English does not have the need for as for after I. This is because the sentence’s word order tells you who is doing what. Japanese sentences can be vague, so particles like wa help to make things clearer.

Note that you write the wa in watashi wa as は in hiragana, which is usually pronounced “ha”. This is a special exception that only applies to the wa particle.

When should you use watashi wa?

Japanese largely gets by without the need to explicitly mention subjects such as I, you, and it.

Accordingly, you can have entire conversations without saying I or you. Here is an example with the missing subjects in brackets.

(Anata wa) dochira kara no goshusshin desu ka?
Where are you from?

(Watashi wa) Amerika no shusshin desu.
I am from the US.

People therefore often watashi wa when the context isn’t clear or to emphasize themselves. As (presumably) an English native speaker, it’s natural that you’ll probably overuse watashi wa when you are finding your feet in Japanese.

But no need to worry. You will pick up the correct usage over time. I recommend listening carefully to how Japanese friends use watashi wa so you can imitate them.

Watashi, boku or ore?

In Japanese, "watashi wa" means I or me and introduces yourself as the subject of the sentence.

In polite or work-related situations, watashi is common. However, in casual settings it’s actually mostly used by women.

You certainly can use watashi as a man, but Japanese men referring to themselves in this way among friends might be perceived as feminine or a bit of a maverick.

Boku or ore are more common choices for men. Boku (僕、ぼく)is humble and gives the impression of intelligence. Ore (俺、おれ)is a rougher, slightly vulgar word, but still extremely common. Which one you choose is up to you, and more a reflection of personality than anything.

Atashi is one alternative for women, which is more casual than watashi. There’s also atai, uchi, and many more.

One cool thing about Japanese is all of the choices for saying I and you. I plan to write a detailed article on this in the near future, so stay tuned!

Getting to grips with Japanese grammar 

Confused by all this talk of subjects? Don’t sweat it. With enough exposure to the language, particles like wa will become second nature.

For more information on the nuts and bolts of the language, I recommend picking up A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar.