Wild Nihongo!
さま / さん

さま / さん

さま / さん Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Suffix

Essential Meaning: Mr. / Mrs. / Ms.


  • Name + さん / さま
    • E.g. 柴原しばはらさん [Mr. Shibahara]
    • E.g 柴原しばはらさま [Mr. Shibahara]


  • さま and さん are used to show respect to someone by referring to them indirectly. For example, 柴原しばはらさま [Shibahara-sama] is less direct than 柴原しばはら [Shibahara] and is therefore more polite. 柴原しばはらさま literally means “Appearance of Shibahara“. さま is extremely formal and conveys a very large difference in social status between the speaker and the referent. さん is less formal than さま and is used quite frequently.
  • First names are generally not followed by さま, but there are some highly polite situation (e.g. customer service) in which first name + さま may be used.
    • E.g. *ジョンさま [John-sama] Affixing さま to a personal name is strange in most situations. There is a conflict in respectfulness between using the first name (which is very personal) and using さま (which is very polite).
    • E.g. 客様きゃくさま [Mr. Customer] In the absence of knowing someone’s name, a customer service worker will often refer to a customer / guest as お客様きゃくさま. This is somewhat equivalent to referring to someone as sir or madam in English.
  • When さま is attached to a personified object, it expresses endearment rather than respect.
    • E.g. 花子はなこちゃん、今夜こんばんはお月様つきさまもお星様ほしさまもきれいねえ。[Hanako-chan, the moon and the stars are pretty tonight, aren’t they?] In this case, さま is used to refer endearingly to the moon and stars.
  • In some cases, さま may be attached to some action or state that is related to the hearer in order convey politeness. These usages are mainly idiomatic and may be remembered on a case by case basis.
    • E.g. ごちそうさま [Thank you for the food]
    • E.g. 世話せわさまになりました [Thank you for taking care of me.]
    • E.g. どくさま [I give you my condolences]
    • E.g. つかさま [You must be tired.]
    • E.g おかげさま元気げんきです [Thanks to you, I’m doing well.]
  • さま is often used in writing when referring to some addressee (as in a letter).
    • E.g. 山本やまもとさま [To Mr. Yamamoto]
  • さん is the informal version of さま and is therefore less formal and more intimate. さん can generally replace さま when the difference in social status between the speaker and referent is not particularly large (which is most of the time). In these cases, さま would be overkill.
    • E.g. 田中たなかさん [Ms. Tanaka]
  • さん is also attached idiomatically to certain occupations。
    • E.g. 魚屋さかなやさん [A fisherman]
    • E.g. 菓子屋かしやさん [A confectioner]
    • E.g. 酒屋さけやさん [A liquor dealer]
    • E.g. 校長こうちょうさん [A school principal]
    • E.g 市長しちょうさん [A city mayor]
    • E.g. 課長かちょうさん [A section chief]
  • ちゃん is used with children’s names and with terms of kinship to express close intimacy.
    • E.g. かあちゃん [Mom]
    • E.g. とうちゃん [Dad]
    • E.g. おじいちゃん [Grandpa]
    • E.g. おばあちゃん [Grandma]
    • E.g. おじちゃん [Uncle]
    • E.g. おばちゃん [Aunt]
    • E.g 花子はなこちゃん [Hanako]
    • E.g. 太郎たろうちゃん [Taro]
  • くん is is a similar term to ちゃん, but it is etymologically distinct from さま and is actually derived from Chinese. くん typically attaches to the first or last name of a male equal or someone of lower social status. For example, it may be used to refer to a male or female in an institution setting (e.g. a school).
    • E.g. マイクくん [Mike]
  • In some cases, an honorific can be affixed to someone’s name based on their position or job title.
    • E.g. 田中たなか先生せんせい [Master / Teacher Tanaka]
    • E.g. 柴原しばはら所長しょちょう [Section Chief Shibahara]
    • E.g. すが首相しゅしょう [Prime Minister Suga]

Example Sentences:

王様おうさまみみはろばのみみだ。[The king’s ears are donkey’s ears]

神様かみさましんじますか。[Do you believe in God?]

かあさま、どこにいらっしゃるの。[Mother, where are you?]

きゃくさまえたよ。[A customer has come.]

WILD Examples:

At :20, listen for this line: さまさまちょっとこわ[The sun, the sun, is a little scary!] In this case, the sun is being personified with さま as a term of endearment. This is a very common way of referring to the sun.

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