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The Japanese language has a number of ways to show the relationship between speakers. There are are diffierent words used in different situations depending on whether the person you are speaking to is considered to be inferior, equal, or superior. While this may sound a bit harsh, it is used as a way to show respect to another person.  The most basic way to show the relationship between speakers is with the Japanese suffixes used after someone’s name.

I have listed the four most common Japanese suffixes and the situations in which to use them. Like everything it can be confusing at first, but gets easier after practice.

  • さん (san)- San is the most common used Japanese suffix. It shows politeness, and can be used in just about any situation. If you are unsure what suffix to use then stick with san.
  • さま(sama)- Sama is used when speaking to someone who you view as having a much higher position than yourself. It could also be someone who has much more knowledge than yourself. In most cases sama is a bit overkill and you are better off sticking with san.
  • くん (kun)- Kun is generally used to address younger boys, but can also be used to younger men. Kun is more casual than san and only used for males.
  • ちゃん (chan)- Chan is a prefix used in very casual situations, and therefore only used by friends. You should start off addressing someone as  ~san and as you become closer you can start addressing them as ~chan. Chan is quite commonly used to address children and for superiors to address inferiors.

In any case, if you arent sure which word suffix to use stick with san. San shows enough politeness to be used in polite situations, and is still friendly enough to be used if you are unsure where you stand in the relationship.