Learning Vietnamese seem to be hard for a lot of expats or foreigners but it really just takes a bit of practice and patience to be able to learn and understand it. Neutral pronouns are typically used in written forms, or in a more formal setting. In conversations, Vietnamese use ‘kinship’ honorific terms of respect to refer to themselves or others, even when they are not related by blood. Some of the most commonly used are:

Em – Generally refers to anyone younger than you, but older than a child. It can be used for younger male and female family members of the same generation and also with acquaintances. It can be a term of endearment, used to address a female/feminine companion or spouse regardless of age. It is also commonly used to hail a service staff who is noticeably younger than you.

Anh – Literally means ‘older brother’. It is used for males older than the speaker as a form of respect. A female equivalent for this term is “Chị”. Unless the subject in question is noticeably younger or older, these pronouns are the most neutral and socially accepted ones to use in any social setting.

Chú – Means ‘uncle’ and is used to address a male person whose age is similar or slightly younger than your father’s. 

– Used to address a woman older than you and older than “Chị”. Sometimes “Cô” is also used as a polite way to address females in a position of authority and/or respect, such as teachers, government officials, restaurateurs etc.

Bác – Genderless term that refers to a person that is not considered elderly but noticeably older than the speaker’s parents.

Ông – Refers to a man who is senior, in terms of age or social hierarchy. Employers and well-respected men are sometimes referred as “Ông” regardless of their age.

– This is used to address any elderly woman old enough to be a grandmother.

For information on learning Vietnamese go to How Difficult is it to Learn Vietnamese?

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