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Meaning Of Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, And Onee San

Meaning Of Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, And Onee San

Want to know the meaning of Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San? Well, don’t worry, check out the meaning of the words down below!

Japanese isn’t a language that can be learned overnight. It takes months or even years of practice to completely master the Japanese language. 

However, as avid anime viewers, we’ve attempted to learn a couple of words and use them in our day-to-day life. Some of the popular words from anime that non-Japanese speakers are familiar with are senpai, baka, onii chan, etc. 

Most of these words have several variations hence the meaning of them can differ. In today’s article, we’ll be covering the meaning of the Japanese words onii chan, onee chan, onii san, and onee san. 

So if you’re here to know their meanings then make sure to read further below.

Meaning of Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San

What’s The Meaning of Onii Chan?

Let’s begin with the meanings of the first two words, Onii Chan and Onee San. Onii is a Japanese word that has two kanji letters (お兄)

These kanji letters literally mean “elder brother” or “big brother”. The word “Chan” is also of Japanese origin, however, it’s just an honorary title that’s used to address a close relative like a brother, sister, a little child, etc.

Onii Chan is basically an informal Japanese word that can be used by younger siblings to refer to their older brother. And sometimes, it’s just not biological younger siblings who can use the term “Onii Chan”. 

Meaning of Onii Chan

The term can be used by anyone referring to an older brother figure and we’ll learn more about this as we go further.

What’s The Meaning of Onee Chan?

Meanwhile, Onee is also a Japanese word that has two kanji letters (お姉) which mean “elder sister” or “big sister”. Similar to Onii Chan, the word Chan here is used with Onee as an honorary title to refer to a close relative and in this case the elder sister. 

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Onee Chan is also an informal Japanese term that’s used to address someone’s older sister. Just like the word Onii Chan, Onee Chan also has a few variations hence the conditions of using the word to refer to an older female can differ.

What’s The Meaning of Onii San?

Initially, the word onii san and onee san were thought to have different meanings from onii chan and onee chan. 

However, both words have the same meanings except the suffixes and honorary titles were altered. This probably sounds confusing, hence we’ve analyzed the differences simply for you below.

The Japanese words Onii Chan and Onii San have the same meaning which is “older brother”. However, the only difference here is the suffixes used after the words. 

Chan is an honorary title and suffix that’s used mostly in informal contexts like referring to a close relative while San is a popular honorary title and suffix that’s mainly used for formal occasions such as talking to strangers or anyone of a higher rank.

Meaning of Onii San

What’s The Meaning of Onee San?

Similarly, Onee Chan and Onee San also mean elder sister but the suffixes and honorary titles can be altered depending on how a person is related to you. 

For instance, you can use Onee Chan if you’re addressing your biological elder sister and use Onee San when referring to an older female who you consider a sister figure who may or may not be a relative.

As we said, there are a set of conditions as to how these words can be used depending on the context, therefore it’s best we learn them before using these words.

How To Use Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San?

The intricacies of the Japanese language are real and unlike English, Japanese words can have alternative meanings depending on the contexts they’re used in. 

Therefore, it’s best we learn the fundamental concepts of words like Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San and how they should be used.

Meaning of Onee Chan
  • How to use Onii Chan

Onii Chan is the informal term that’s used to refer to an older brother in the Japanese language. It can be used by a younger biological sibling to address their elder brother. 

The word Onii Chan can also be used by younger cousins to address an elder cousin/cousins in their family. Apart from family members, Onii Chan can also be used to address an elderly male close to you who appears to be a brotherly figure for example a senior in high school. Keep in mind that Onii Chan should only be used by a younger person to refer to an older male.

  • How to use Onee Chan
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Onee Chan is the informal term in Japanese for older sister. It’s mostly used by younger biological siblings to address their elder sister. It can also be used by any younger member in the family to refer to an elder female if the female has a sisterly relationship with them.

Besides family relationships, the word Onee Chan can also be used to refer to an elder female at school, workplace, team, etc if they have a close relationship with you. Make sure to use Onee Chan only for an elder female.

  • How to use Onii San

Onii San is the formal Japanese term used to refer to an elder brother. It can be used by younger siblings to address their elder brother and even by younger cousins to refer to their elder male cousin. 

Since Onii San is a formal word for elder brother, it can be used on formal occasions. You can also use Onii San to address someone whom you consider your older brother even if they aren’t related to you. The term should only be used to refer to an older male.

  • How to use Onee San 

Onee San is the formal version of Onee Chan which is a Japanese term to refer to an elder sister. It should be used in formal contexts, especially when referring to an elder female in public places or on formal occasions. 

Onee San can even be used by nonrelatives who have a close relationship with an elder female whom they look up to as an older sister such as a senior female at high school or at the workplace. 

  • When And When Not To Use Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San

The Japanese people are very organized and well-mannered hence they have a set of criteria that they sincerely follow when speaking to people, especially elders. 

Since Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San are words that are used to refer to elder siblings, there are certain rules we must follow before addressing someone with those words.

Therefore, let’s take a look at the ideal circumstances when these words can be used. 

When Speaking To Family Members

As we mentioned above, Japanese traditions allow younger siblings to use Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San to their older siblings. These words can also be used by distant relatives to address an elderly male or female whom they look up to as a sibling. However, if you want to express respect towards an elder sibling it’s best to use the formal words Onii San and Onee San.

When Speaking With Close Friends 

You can use these words when speaking with close friends but make sure your close friends are older than you and not younger. Otherwise, the usage of those words would be meaningless. 

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You can use the informal words Onii Chan and Onee Chan when speaking with friends or even opt for the formal versions.

With Strangers

Don’t use these terms to address a stranger despite them being older than you. This is because Onii Chan and Onee Chan are words that not just depict the respect you have towards a sibling but also the intimacy and love as well. 

Hence, it’d be awkward to refer to a stranger using the words Onii Chan and Onee Chan.

Alternative Words for Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San

There are a few other words in the Japanese language that can be used to refer to your older siblings and, they’re quite similar to the words Onii Chan and Onee Chan.

Alternative Words for Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee SanEnglish PronunciationUsed For
お兄さまOnii SamaElder brother
お姉さまOnee SamaElder sister
兄貴AnikiElder brother
姉貴AnekiElder sister
AniElder brother
AneElder sister

Meaning of Onii Chan, Onee Chan, Onii San, and Onee San: FAQs

What does Onee San mean?

Onee San is the Japanese word that’s used to address an elder sister. It’s the formal version of the word Onee Chan which also means elder sister. However, Onee San is used in formal contexts and it depicts the respect a younger sibling has towards their elder sister.

Is it Onee Chan or San?

The words Onee Chan and Onee San have the same meaning which is the elder sister. The suffixes chan and san are used after the word “Onee” although they don’t alter the meaning of the word, they’re used in different contexts. Onee Chan is an informal term for elder sister which is mostly used to show the love and intimacy a younger sibling has towards the elder sister while Onee San is used on formal occasions as a means of showing respect to the elder sister.

Does Onee San mean sister?

Onee San is the Japanese term that means elder sister and it’s mostly used on formal occasions, unlike Onee Chan which is an informal term for elder sister. By using the word Onee san, the younger sibling expresses their utmost respect for their elder sister.

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