Meaning of Onii-chan, Onee-chan, Onii-san and Onee-san


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

Previously we wrote an article talking about family members in Japanese, to remember we will also leave a video that our Sensei did about family members below (Sorry, this video is only available in Portuguese).

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san
Ore no Imouto ga konnani Kawaii wake ga nai

The meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san

Onii-chan and Onee-chan is nothing more than an informal way of talking older brother and older sister. Onii [お兄] literally means older brother and Onee [お姉] means older sister. Chan is an children’s honorific of treatment, informal and intimate, as if it were a diminutive (little sister).

The most formal and common is to use the suffix san, so we hear a lot also the words onii-san for older brother and onee-san for older sister. Both these oniichan, oneechan, oniisan and oneesan expressions can be used as an honorific suffix after the name such as: Kevin-oniichan.

This treatment is used for any older sibling you have, sometimes it is even used with people you consider a sibling, even without any kinship. The younger brothers have treatments similar to the words otouto [弟] meaning younger brother and imouto [妹] which means younger sister.

See a complete basic table with the different ways of saying brothers and sisters in Japanese:

兄弟きょうだいkyoudaiBrothers Sisters
あにaniOlder brother
あねaneEldest sister
おとうとotoutoYounger brother
いもうとimoutoYounger sister
双子ふたごfutagoTwins, twins
義弟ぎていgiteiYounger half brother
義妹ぎまいgimaiYounger stepsister
Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san - manga us 1

Oniichan or Onii-chan, what’s right?

Oniichan or Onii-chan, what’s right? There is no right way, this stroke is just a romanization option that we use to separate the brother words from the suffix chan or another suffix like san. Be careful not to just write onichan because there you will be referring to the demon, ogre or monster Oni [鬼].

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san

Futago – When the brothers are twins

If both are twin brothers, what do they call each other? Who will decide to be the younger brother or older brother? The Japanese word for twins is futago [双子] which literally means children in pairs or together.

In reality, everyone is already aware that even twins, even when born at the same time, are taken in order, so those who first came out of the mother’s belly are considered older. So it can be said:

  • futago no ani [双子の兄] twin brother;
  • futago no ane [双子の姉] twin sister;
  • futago no oniisan [双子のお兄さん] older twin brother;
  • futago no oneesan [双子のお姉さん] older twin sister;
  • futago no otouto [双子の弟] younger twin brother;
  • futago no imouto [双子の妹] younger twin sister;
  • tsuin [ツイン] from English twins;
Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san
Space Brothers

The different ways to say older brother in Japanese

In Japanese there is a hierarchy of treatment, a formal, informal and informal language. This is one of the main reasons there are so many variations and ways of saying older brother in Japanese. To facilitate we will put a list of words below exemplifying a little the idea:

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

Description Older brotherEldest sister
Keigo – Very Formal – Sovereignonii-sama [お兄さま]onee-sama [お姉さま]
Sonkeigo (top)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 suffix, informalnii [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 e neeani [兄]ane [姉]
Precious, dear, honorableAniki [兄貴]aneki [姉貴]

Aniki is often used by the yakuza, it is as if it were a brother comrade, where the ideogram [貴] refers to something precious, esteemed and valuable. Also read: Meaning of Senpai and Kouhai.

Meaning of onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san
Eromanga Sensei

Kyoudai, shimai – other ways to speak about brothers in Japanese

The relationship between younger and older siblings is highly valued in Japan, not to mention that the Japanese are slow to put younger sisters who call their brother onii-chan in the anime.

We have already mentioned that brother and younger sister are imouto [妹] and otouto [弟], but it is not so common to use suffixes as san [さん] and chan [ちゃん] for younger siblings, but neither is wrong nor so unusual.

If you search for younger sister in jisho you will see that there are endless ways to pass on the idea of younger but unusual sister.

If we want to speak in the plural brothers and sisters we can use the junction of the ideograms of older brother and younger brother. Brothers in Japanese is written kyoudai [兄弟] and sisters in Japanese is written shimai [姉妹].

Kyoudai can encompass all siblings up to the female, although rare you can find Kyoudai written in other ways using 2 of the 4 ideograms that is 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 clarified all doubts about the words onii-chan, onee-chan, onii-san and onee-san, others related to siblings in Japanese like imouto, otouto, kyoudai and shimai! Thanks for the comments and shares!

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3 thoughts on “Meaning of Onii-chan, Onee-chan, Onii-san and Onee-san”

  1. are you sure about this ? ‘Both these oniichan, oneechan, oniisan and oneesan expressions can be used as an honorific suffix after the name such as: Kevin-oniichan.’
    other site said what become suffix is the name instead not nee or nii and it become like nii-san or jii-san. i also often hear when someone said name+nee or nii they sometime also just say nee-san or nii-san to that person that mean they still say brother or sister to the elder not just name with honorific nee or nii.
    if i was not wrong, i heard something like this in certain anime.
    nee nee, towa-(o)nee-chan. naze onee-chan wa….. translated is : hey2 (big)sis(towa). why (big)sis is ….? but if nee or nii become suffix/ honorific the translate become weird
    hey2 towa. why big sis is… ? it’s like me asking towa about big sis (not same person).
    i hope i get reply because i often get this translate from official while fansub translate still sis, while from my experience, reading and hearing the correct 1 is from fansub not official.

    • Japanese is very flexible, there is no right or wrong in that sense, although it is quite unusual, it is not weird for someone to use onii-chan as a suffix. Perhaps there was an error in the translation of this article that was originally written in Portuguese. I just wanted to say that it’s possible to use Kevin-oniichan, not that it’s something to do.

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