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).


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.

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


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.

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


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].

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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2 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.

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