13 – How to Address People and Yourself in Vietnamese


There are only 2 pronouns in English: you and I.

In Vietnamese, there are several pronouns, based on your age and your gender.

Below is a chart, listing the pronouns from oldest to youngest, separated by gender. They are also used to address family and relatives. A simple rule of thumb is to compare their age to your family member/relatives and address them accordingly.



Cụ (great grandfather)

Cụ (great grandmother)

Ông (Grandfather)

Bà (Grandfather)

Bác (Uncle older than your parents)

Bác (Aunt older than your parents)

Chú (Uncle younger than your parents)

Cô (Aunt younger than your parents)

Anh (brother older than you)

Chị (sister older than you)

Tôi (this is you)

Tôi (this is you)

Em (brother younger than you)

Em (sister younger than you)

Cháu (nephew)

Cháu (niece)

For example, if a person/stranger looks old enough to be your grandpa, call him Ông; if he looks about your younger brother’s age, call him Em, and so on. In Vietnam, seniority is kind of a big deal, so err on the side of addressing people as older to express your respect.

Also, the younger person will call the older person with the pronoun before the older person’s name: anh Nam, chị Lan, ông Tuấn, bác Hoài, chú Hiếu, etc. but the older person will call the younger person just by the younger’s name – do not add em or cháu in front of the name. The older person addresses him/herself with the pronoun but does not repeat his/her own name.

Let’s say a guy, Tommy, looks like he’s older than your parents, you will call him bác Tommy and address yourself as cháu. He will call you cháu and call himself bác.

Example: -_- I know it’s lame -_-

Tommy: Chào cháu, cháu khỏe không? (Hi, are you well?)

You: Dạ, khỏe ạ. Bác Tommy có khỏe không ạ? (Yes, I am well. Are you well?)

Tommy: Bác cũng khỏe.

Vietnamese people rarely say tôi and call people bạn. Tôi is usually used in a more formal situation. Bạn is used when addressing someone the exact same age as you, or when you just started learning Vietnamese and didn’t know any better.


7 responses »

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  4. Many thanks for your informative article.

    Am I correct in thinking that Tôi would be correct when addressing a mixed group of people – ie people both younger and older than oneself?


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  6. Addressing people in Vietnamese is much more difficult than in English. However it also has its advantages like by the way addressing people correctly, you can show much respects to people that you are talking to. Also, while seeing people addressing to others you can know exactly there relationships, range ages, positions in family, society, …. For details how to address people in both Northern and Southern Vietnamese, you should read the following articles then finish the exercises: http://www.howtospeakvietnamese.com/how-to-address-people-in-vietnamese/

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