I know the word upperclassman but it means a junior or senior student in an American high school, college, or university. If I was a freshman I cannot call a sophomore an upperclassman. What the word should mean: to not only be a junior or senior student but a student with any higher grade. What's worse, there is no a word like upperclasswoman for a female student (this is an additional reason why upperclassman wouldn't work for me).


In China there are two words: 学长 and 学姐 referring to any students with a higher grade; the former is for male students and the latter for female ones. All of the following sayings are very normal:

Hello 学长, she's one of my 学姐.
Hey, 学长/学姐, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?
I'm her/his 学长.

These two words can refer to any students with a higher grade, no matter student in middle school, or university. Sometimes we just don't want/need to know his/her grade. For instance, as a freshman in the new students enrolling day I would address the majority male students on campus as 学长 in situations like this: Hey, 学长, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?

I wonder if there exists such an equivalent one/two words in English, barring upperclassman.

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    1. Upperclassman can refer to a female student. 2. If upperclassman doesn't fit, what's wrong with sophomore? 3. We don't generally call an upperclassman "upperclassman," but we might refer to them as an "upperclassman." (In other words, I might say, "He's an upperclassman, she's a sophomore," but I would not say, "Hey, upperclassman, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?") – J.R. Jul 2 '15 at 13:22
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    English doesn't really have a corresponding form of address, I'm afraid. – snailplane Jul 2 '15 at 13:42
  • @J.R. Maybe I had not made myself clear enough. I've edited the question. – Lerner Zhang Jul 2 '15 at 13:46
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    When you do find an adjective or noun that describes a person or their relationship to you, be careful of using it to address them—it might sound weird, or in some situations, rude. – Dan Getz Jul 3 '15 at 6:49
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    Hey dude, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria? – Federico Poloni Jul 3 '15 at 14:38

We don't use honorifics like this in English. They're common in Chinese and Japanese and (I think) Korean but we don't use them in English.

You'd be more likely to find an upperclassman harassing or hazing a freshman and calling them "freshman" as an epithet.

Generally in the US, the years of compulsory education are referred to by grade number up to grade eight and by the terms freshman, sophomore, junior and senior for grades 9-12, respectively (though some school systems limit high school to grades 10-12).

Regardless, if one wishes to say that another person is in a year other than their own, they would say:

He's a [freshman/sophomore/junior/senior].
She's in 4th grade (etc).
He's [in] a grade above me.
She's an upperclassman.
He's older than me.

So, for something like:

Hey, 学长/学姐, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?

One would simply say:

Hey, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?
Where's the cafeteria?

Honestly, at a public school, I don't think I could usually tell what year someone was just by looking at them, so I'm not sure how one could always know they were correctly addressing a senpai (the Japanese version of 学长/学姐), particularly in a school of 3000+ teens. I tried to find some info about the average school size in China but nothing obvious turned up for me.

Also remember that the system of schooling in the US is vastly different. It's not uncommon to be in a single course with every grade. For example, when I took a painting class in high school, there were members from all four levels in the same class, and no one really cared what grade you were in.

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    This is even more so at university level, where people of any age can take classes. – jamesqf Jul 3 '15 at 5:52
  • You obviously can't tell with 100% accuracy, but I feel like in general it's not too hard to guess with reasonable accuracy. (It's hard to mistake a senior for a sophomore...) – user541686 Jul 3 '15 at 10:52
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    I don't know if any of the asian languages have an exact equivalent, but beginning with "excuse me" is considered polite when beginning a formal conversation. So instead of "Hello, [honorific], can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?" one might say "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the cafeteria?" This is not reserved for those of higher rank, but it is used to show respect for the addressee's time and attention. – Jesse Jul 3 '15 at 22:31

In the "West", the native English speaking countries in general, we don't have this concept, so there is no such term. We would say Hello [name] or just hello.

If you need to describe how such a person is related to you (and to be understood by most native English speakers), you will need to describe it much as you did in your question: My schoolmate who is ahead of me, A woman who is in a more senior year than me, etc.

This is just like you have a specific term for younger sister in Chinese, but we must say younger sister. You have specific words for older and younger, and maternal and paternal, uncles and aunts, but we do not. We don't specify such relationships to such a precise degree unless we need to, and then we need to use multiple words.

If your listener is also East Asian (and so will understand), you could address him as big brother, or refer to him as my elder school brother, etc.

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There is technically a word that would apply to your situation, but you shouldn't use it in a school context. That word is "senior," under the definition "a person of higher rank or standing than another, especially by virtue of longer service."

Unfortunately, this would be very confusing in the situation you describe. If you are a freshman and your friend is a sophomore, it would would be accurate but misleading to say "This is Jane, my senior."

As Jim Reynolds hinted at in his answer, westerners don't actually care about seniority in social situations. The situations where it does matter are rare enough that using more words to explain it doesn't bother us.

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    I'd like to point out that the OP asked specifically about forms of address. I personally think it would be seriously weird to address someone as "my senior", even if you feel okay referring to them that way in the third person. – snailplane Jul 2 '15 at 20:57
  • @snailboat, 2 of the 3 examples the OP listed in the Chinese examples involved third person introductions or inquiries, so I felt this would be useful at least some of the time. – Jesse Jul 3 '15 at 22:25
  • Sure, I don't mean to imply that your answer isn't useful. I just wanted to make sure the OP realized they shouldn't address people as 'my senior', so I left a comment :-) – snailplane Jul 3 '15 at 23:17

If you want to force English to work the same way as the language in your OP, you can use the term "higherclassman." This will work for any class or grade that is higher than yours, including the sophomore class.

Feona is a freshman. Simon is a sophomore.

Simon tells you, Feona, that you should refer to him as a higherclassman, since a sophomore is above you and you can't call him an upperclassman. Okay, higherclassman, can I also carry your books for you?

You could also say a non-plebe or nonplebe. This does not reflect regular uage, but the point is that nothing really does. Since plebe only refers to a freshman, almost exclusively at a miltary school, anyone that is a student and is not a freshman is a nonplebe. It is your English, speak as you wish, since there seems to be no other way to force English to work the way the language of the OP does.

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  • Interesting suggestion. When I looked for this word on Google, most instances I ran across split this into two words, higher classman. For example, "In the good old days the seats were free and assigned. As you became a higher classman the seat assignment improved." – J.R. Jul 3 '15 at 22:51

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