How to tell when 'woman' should be おんな rather than おんなのひと?

Asked 6 years ago

The introductory lesson "Final Hiragana: わ, を and ん" teaches the vocabulary "woman" spelled おんな and later on the beginner lesson "The Center of the Universe" says that おんな = female and おんなのひと = woman.

I looked up おんな in a dictionary and it can indeed mean female or woman. Is there any way to tell which word is meant? My assumption is in actual Japanese writing they would be differentiated by a kanji or context.


For the purposes of Nihongo Master dirlls however, おんな is both the right and wrong answer depending on what drill you happen to be on so it seems like a random guess.

Know someone who might be able to answer this question?

2 Answers


Standard/not polite: 女、おんあ female.

Polite: 女の人、おんあのひと woman.

It's polite here because you're referring to that gender as a person, if that makes sense? 'gender of person' is the polite way of saying which gender, which is why it becomes woman (and is the best translation for the job), even though there's not a huge difference in politeness for those two words in English. In this same way you'll see white people being referred to (at least in the lessons!) as はくじん - jin coming from the same kanji person. It's taking that connotation of what the person is and adding 'person' to make it a polite connotation.


If I remember rightly there might still be a faulty drill in that drill set - it's not just you, that one threw me for ages (and a few other users too I think)! Hope that  answered your question, and sorry this managed to get so long...

Crimson Amaryllis
Answered 6 years ago


I spoke with my Japanese friend. She told me to never call a girl おんな。It is condescending. Like you are looking down on them.

女の人 - おんなのひと

女の子 - おんなのこ (Can be used for someone under 30)

女性 - じょせい (Most polite)

Those 3 ways are the best when referring to women. 

So I would suggest just knowing 女 for the kanji

Answered 6 years ago