In English, when (if ever) is it appropriate to use the possessive with a formal title when addressing someone? Kind of like I would say, "As you wish, my greatest of loves."

For example,

Thank you, my Sensei.

Or should it simply be,

Thank you, Sensei.

Or, would the 'my' be used always and only along with the subject of learning? As in

Thank you, my Sensei of Swordsmanship.

but not

Thank you, Sensei of Sauciness.

I believe there is a component of cultural understanding and lingual comprehension of Japan and the Japanese language that may be necessary to answer fully with regards to "Sensei" in particular, but in general, how are possessives and titles combined?

  • I think this is off-topic. It's more about Japanese customs and etiquette than English language as such. – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '12 at 22:29
  • 1
    (Yes, there is a Japanese SE.) In Japanese (as in English) you would not use the possessive to talk to him, but you would if you were talking to someone else, as in "My sensei is nice." And in all actuality you usually remove most pronouns or references to people, especially yourself, when speaking Japanese. Saying "I did..." or "my car is..." is thought of to sound pompous, you infer the fact it is you or your car. – BillyNair Jul 14 '12 at 4:09
  • Indeed, this is coming back to me now that you say it. I took a couple Japanese classes years ago. Thank you for pointing that out! – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 14 '12 at 5:55
  • Apparently, FumbleFingers, some people agree, as I've had 2 UN-up-votes, and now just a down vote. However, I was really interested in this one Japanese word being used in an English phrase, a frequent occurrence if you consider how often foreign (especially South-East Asian) words are used in English phrases. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in some less reputable English dictionaries. – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 16 '12 at 16:20
  • 2
    I disagree with the closure of this question. I made some edits to nudge it in the right direction, and I voted to reopen. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 18 '12 at 18:39

When using a title to directly address the title-holder, "my" is usually omitted. When referring to the title-holder to another person, "my" is usually included.

Including 'my' when addressing someone is usually used to indicate affection or love. See Walt Whitman's O Captain, My Captain or the expression you gave as an example. There are a few exceptions ("My Lord" comes to mind), but most honorifics stand alone.

While I'm not Japanese, if I were your boxing coach and you said "Thank you, my Coach" I would assume you were either being facetious or did not have English as your first language. When I took beginner Aikido in my younger days I was instructed to refer to the Sensei simply as "Sensei" or "Takahashi-sensei".

  • Thank you much! Very clear. However, I would further inquire about the subject of learning. Is this never mentioned when addressing one's "Sensei"? – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 13 '12 at 20:19
  • Even mentioning the subject of learning would be unusual English - it would be implied that he already knows he's teaching you Aikido and not some other art. An exception would be if you were referring to something the Sensei is not nominally teaching... like if he taught you to be humble, you could call him "my Sensei of Humility", but this would be to indicate something he would not naturally infer - and would not be used repeatedly. – Marcus_33 Jul 13 '12 at 20:24
  • Brilliant! And I assume using "my" in this instance is to set this other teaching off from his normal teaching as well, for his benefit as the listener, and so he would know you were being serious and not sarcastic/rude or confused? – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 13 '12 at 20:29
  • 1
    There is of course My Lord, and My Lady, My Liege... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 18 '12 at 18:27
  • @Cerberus ...and Your Majesty. – Mitch Jul 18 '12 at 22:22

I don't think this is the right site for questions about Japanese. We can answer questions about English usage and custom.

It's more usual in English not to use "my", and just use the formal title like "Sensei", where there is one. There aren't many circumstances where this applies:

Thank you, Sensei
Yes, Chef!
Of course, Minister [for a government minister]
More tea, Vicar?

There are very few other terms which merit this treatment: one wouldn't address an engineer, or architect, or teacher, or postman, or glassblower, like this.

But do say "My Lord" for a lord or a bishop.

  • Thanks for your answer. However, relating to 'teacher', I have used, following an example of my peers, the title on its own. As in, "Thank you Teacher." Of course, I have never written that phrase seriously, so I wouldn't know whether to capitalize it or not. I would assume not in normal circumstances, but using it in this way might change that. What do you think? – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 13 '12 at 20:23
  • If you said that to a teacher in a classroom in England, it would be taken as facetious. Teachers are still addressed as "Sir" and "Miss". – Andrew Leach Jul 13 '12 at 20:27
  • Got it, thank you. I was schooled in part of the USA that is even much less formal/traditional than other parts. So, a big difference in the 'culture' as well. BTW, so you know I'm not being facetious when I say "got it." I think it means you threw the knowledge at me and I caught it. Thanks again. – NOTjust -- user4304 Jul 13 '12 at 20:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.