Sensei or Sensai – Which Spelling Is Correct? (+Examples)

With the ever-growing and expanding world cultures, it’s not a surprise that we’ve grown accustomed to borrowing words from other cultures and nations and applying them as part of our own. However, borrowing foreign words can be confusing too. Like, is it ‘sensei’ or ‘sensai?’ Let’s find out.

Sensei or Sensai – Which Spelling Is Correct?

‘Sensei’ is the correct spelling of the Japanese-borrowed word that means a master or a teacher of a particular craft. ‘Sensai,’ on the other hand, is not a word at all and is neither a Japanese-borrowed word. ‘Sensai’ might have been confused with ‘senpai,’ another Japanese-borrowed word.

sensei or sensai

‘Sensei’ is the correct Japanese-borrowed word. ‘Sensei’ means a master or a teacher. Fans of animes must have heard this often, especially in sports and martial arts, where trainees or athletes address their trainers and coaches as ‘sensei.’

On the other hand, there is no such word as ‘sensai’ even in the group of Japanese-borrowed English words. If not ‘sensai,’ the nearest possible Japanese-borrowed word would be ‘senpai.’ ‘Senpai’ generally means an upperclassman or someone older than you, mostly in a school setting.

‘Sensei’ and ‘senpai’ are definitely not interchangeable, given the difference in the meaning of the two foreign words. We use ‘sensei’ when describing a relationship between a mentor and a trainee, while we use ‘senpai’ when describing the relationship between a lowerclassman and an upperclassman, or a junior and a senior.

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Sensei

‘Sensei’ is a correct Japanese-borrowed foreign English word. ‘Sensei’ is often used in Anime martial arts or sports shows when the athletes or trainees address their trainers or mentors. ‘Sensei’ is also used to address doctors as they are specialists in the medical field.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a ‘sensei’ is ‘a teacher of karate or other martial art (= a traditional Japanese or Chinese form of fighting or defending yourself).’

However, other sources would explain that ‘sensei’ is a general term to address someone who is a master of a craft. So, in given contexts, ‘sensei’ is also used for doctors and teachers as well.

Below are examples of using ‘sensei’ in a sentence.

  1. Our sensei canceled karate practice today.
  2. Sensei Kurata helped me prepare for the competition.
  3. Who’s your sensei in Jiujitsu?
  4. Sensei, when’s our next practice?
  5. Sensei, can you help me in fixing this move?
  6. Did you meet the famous sensei in the recent tournament?
  7. Sensei Kiruna won’t be available for a few days.

Sensai

‘Sensai’ is not an actual word from Japanese-borrowed foreign words. It is either a misspelling of ‘sensei’ or a misspelling of ‘senpai,’ which means different–a term used in addressing an upperclassman usually in school. Both words are often heard in Anime shows and have been acquired as borrowed foreign words.

If you’re doubting, “Is ‘sensai’ a word?,” it is not a word, nor is it a Japanese-borrowed word. Searching ‘sensai’ would return results of a skincare brand, ‘sensei’ or ‘senpai’ as the two latter words are the closest valid and correct Japanese-borrowed foreign words to ‘sensai.’

‘Sensai’ may be a misspelling of ‘senpai.’ ‘Senpai’ in general means an upperclassman. It is a term that expresses seniority or a hierarchy in a given setting. It is most common in Anime shows, like when a junior in school addresses his upperclassman as ‘senpai.’ The same term is used to show hierarchy between co-workers and the like.

As ‘sensai’ is not a real and correct word, below are examples of using ‘senpai’ in a sentence instead.

  1. I met Gyuri Senpai along the halls a while ago.
  2. Senpai, may I ask for advice on this matter?
  3. Our senpai in the club left us after making a legacy.
  4. Senpai was with me throughout the whole time.
  5. I can’t believe you didn’t listen to your senpai’s advice.
  6. Having Arumi Senpai in my team is very comforting.
  7. Senpai, can you help me with this project?

Which Is Used the Most?

According to the Google Ngram Viewer, ‘sensei’ is used more often than ‘sensai.’ For clear reasons, it is probably because ‘sensai’ isn’t a word after all, and ‘sensai’ may simply be a misspelling of ‘sensei’ and ‘senpai.’ Knowing this, ‘sensei’ is used more often as it is the correct word.

sensei or sensai usage

Final Thoughts

Between ‘sensei’ and ‘sensai,’ ‘sensei’ is the correct Japanese-borrowed foreign word which means a master of a craft, while ‘sensai’ is not a real word at all. However, ‘sensai’ may be a misspelling or confusion between ‘sensei’ or ‘senpai’ which both mean different as well.