Oniisan, oniichan, oniisama?

Have you ever wondered what it means onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san, onee-san and other Japanese variations? These words are used to refer to brothers in the Japanese language and are often heard in anime. In this article we will do a thorough search to understand the meaning and difference of these words.

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We have previously written an article talking about the Japanese family members, to remember let's also leave a video that our Sensei made about family members below.

Before you start reading this in-depth research and explanation of the different ways to say brother or sister in Japanese, we recommend watching our video about family members in Japanese.

Two sisters hugging a Pokemon

The different ways to speak older brother in Japanese

In Japanese there is a hierarchy of treatment, a formal, common and informal language. This is one of the main reasons why there are so many variations and ways to say big brother in Japanese. To make it easier, let's put a list of words below, exemplifying the idea a little:

Remembering that all the words in the list below refer to older sisters or brothers:

descriptionOlder brotherElder sister
Keigo - Too formal - Sovereignonii-sama <お兄さま>onee-sama <お姉さま>
Sonkeigo (brothers from above)aniue <兄上>aneue <姉上>
Formal - Daily life - Commononii-san <お兄さん>onee-san <お姉さん>
A little more informalnii-san <兄さん>nee-san <姉さん>
Without any respectful, informal suffixnii <兄>nee <姉>
Informal and diminutive suffixonii-chan <お兄ちゃん>onee-chan <お姉ちゃん>
Totally informal with diminutive suffixnii-chan <兄ちゃん>nee-chan <姉ちゃん>
Alternative to nii and neeani <兄>ane <姉>
Precious, esteemed, honorableAniki <兄貴>aneki <姉貴>

Aniki it is often used by the yakuza, it is like a comrade brother, where the character <貴> refers to something precious, esteemed and valuable.

Kyoudai and Shimai - Other ways to talk about siblings

The relationship between younger and older siblings is highly valued in Japan, not to mention that the Japanese have a knack for placing younger sisters who call their brother onii-chan in anime.

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We already mentioned that brother and little sister are imouto <妹> and otouto <弟>, but remember that it is not as common to use suffixes as san <さん> and chan <ちゃん> for younger siblings, but neither is it wrong or unusual.

If you search for younger sister at the jisho you will see that there are infinite ways to convey the idea of a younger sister, however unusual.

If we want to speak in the plural brothers and sisters we can use the combination of the ideograms of older brother with younger brother. Speaking in Japanese kyoudai <兄弟> and sisters in Japanese are spelled shimai <姉妹>.

Kyoudai can encompass all siblings even female, although you can rarely find Kyoudai written in other ways using 2 of the 4 characters used for siblings <兄 - 弟 - 姉 - 妹>.

Have you noticed how anime overdo this little sister scheme? Most of the time they are lolis, but do you know what loli means? Click here and read our article on loli, lolicon and lolita.

I hope this article has cleared all doubts about the words onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san, others related to brothers in Japanese like imouto, otouto, kyoudai and shimai! Thanks for the comments and shares!