Throughout the course of your Japanese studies, have you ever come across an unfamiliar kanji, only to look it up and realize it was a word you thought you already knew? "But I thought 'はやい' was written '早い'!" you might have said. "What's this '速い' business?"
Well, as it turns out, there are quite a few Japanese homophones—words that sound the same—that have very similar meanings, with 早い and 速い being examples. These types of homophones exist in English, too, like "insure" and "ensure" or "affect" and "effect," but they probably don't cause you much confusion in your day-to-day life. When learning Japanese from scratch, however, each new homophone you encounter creates a little linguistic speed bump on the road toward fluency and comprehension.
If you've struggled with this in the past, I can't blame you. I bet that even some Japanese people wouldn't be able to come up with the exact differences between all of the examples we'll cover today. Instead of letting that discourage you, though, think of it as a fun challenge!
In this guide, we'll cover a large selection of Japanese homophones, explain the differences between them, and give you examples of how each are used. Are you ready, Tofugu students? Why do Tofugu teachers wear sunglasses? It's because Tofugu students are so bright!
あう (会う VS 合う VS 遭う)
"あう" can be written as 会う, 合う, or 遭う.
会う means "to meet someone in person or to be be present at an event."
- I bumped into my friend in Shibuya.
- Where did you two meet?
合う means "to match or suit," "to do together," or "to encounter or come across something" when used in the phrase 巡り合う.
- I wonder if this couch matches our living room.
- I've known her for a while, but we've never really clicked.
- We came across a once in a life-time opportunity.
遭う means "to meet with misfortune."
- I got caught in a sudden downpour on the way back.
- An unexpected calamity has befallen us.
あか (赤 VS 紅 VS 朱 VS 緋)
"あか" can be written as 赤, 紅, 朱, or 緋.
赤 is used generically to refer to every variation of the color red, while the three other kanji are meant for specific variations of the color red.
- 紅 is used for deep reds, like crimson and garnet.
- 朱 is reserved for orange-ish reds, like vermillion.
- 緋 is used for vivid reds, like scarlet, cardinal, or the reds seen in fire.
あからむ (明らむ VS 赤らむ)
"あからむ" can be written as 明らむ or 赤らむ.
The "あか" part of あからむ was originally used to describe light. Eventually the meaning shifted to include the concept of the color red, and you'll see examples of both usages below.
明らむ means "to brighten."
- The sky was slowly getting brighter.
- The room brightened as the sun shined in.
赤らむ means "to turn pink or red."
- Shame flushed her face.
- The sunset turned the western sky red.
あし (足 VS 脚)
"あし" can be written as 足 or 脚.
足 refers to "a foot or feet from the ankle outwards."
- These shoes don't fit my feet.
- I got a mosquito bite on my right foot.
脚 means "legs from the waist down" or something that serves a similar purpose, such as the legs of chair in the case of 椅子の足.
- That model has such long legs.
- One leg of the desk is broken.
Many beginner students of Japanese don't realize that this distinction exists. This may be because, despite there being an official difference between the two, there are still many cases where 足 is used instead of 脚 to represent the entire leg. Why? Because the kanji is simply easier to write!
あたい (値 VS 価)
"あたい" can be written as 値 or 価.
値 means "worth" or "mathematical value."
- That is worthy of praise.
- Solve for X in the equation.
価 means "price" or "cost."
- You should assign a price equal to the labor involved.
あたたかい (温かい VS 暖かい)
"あたたかい" can be written as 温かい or 暖かい.
温かい means "warm to the touch" or "having emotion and empathy."
- I want my child eat a hot meal every day.
- It was such a heart-warming story.
暖かい means "warm weather or ambient temperature."
- Today is warm, isn't it.
- It's getting warmer day by day.
- I wish I had a warm1 blanket.
あつい (暑い VS 熱い)
"あつい" can be written as 熱い or暑い.
熱い means "hot to the touch" or "full of passion or enthusiasm."
- This coffee is too hot to drink.
- Koichi was moved by Kristen's enthusiasm towards Sailor Moon.
暑い means "hot weather or ambient temperature" and is used when surroundings are uncomfortably hot.
- This summer is insanely hot.
- It's so hot in the car, isn't it?
あと (跡 VS 痕)
"あと" can be written as 跡 or 痕.
跡 means "remnant of another's travels," "sign that something happened or existed," or "inheritance."
- There are footprints here.
- Do you want to go see remnants of inhabitants from the Jomon era?
- I'm thinking of succeeding my father in our company.
痕 means "scar" or "sign of damage."
- Is that a bullet hole on the wall?
- I have a scar from the operation on my stomach.
あぶら (油 VS 脂)
"あぶら" can be written as 油 or 脂.
油 means "biological or mineral oil that is liquid at room temperature."
- Could you get a bottle of sesame oil from the grocery store?
- Because their relationship is like oil and water.
- A lot of oil spilled in the accident.
脂 means "biological fat that is solid at room temperature" or "fatty oils secreted through skin."
- I don't like the fat on meat.
- My boss's face is very greasy.
- When he saw his wife, he broke out in a clammy sweat.
あやしい (怪しい VS 妖しい)
"あやしい" can be written as 怪しい or 妖しい.
怪しい means "suspicious, irregular, or unclear" .
- I saw a suspicious man in front of my house.
妖しい means "enchanting or mysterious."
- The diamond on her ring shined tantalizingly.
あらわす (表す VS 現す)
"あらわす" can be written as 現す or 表す.
現す means to "reveal or come out."
- She finally showed her true character.
- The sun just came out!
表す means "to express a thought" or "to make a chart or a graph."
- He showed sadness on his face.
- It's difficult to express my feelings in words.
いたむ (痛む VS 傷む)
"いたむ" can be written as 痛む or 傷む.
痛む means "to feel physical or emotional pain."
- I hurt my back while helping my brother move.
- This debt gives me headache.
傷む means "to receive damage that leaves a wound, breaks something, or reduces value."
- This onion is bad.
- My hair was damaged by the pool water.
うた (歌 VS 唄)
"うた" can be written as 歌 or 唄.
歌 means "song" or "words set to music."
- I really like this song.
唄 means "traditional Japanese music."
- I'm taking lessons to learn an epic song.
うつ (打つ VS 討つ VS 撃つ)
"うつ" can be written as 打つ, 討つ, or 撃つ.
打つ means "to strike or hit."
- I saw her slap him.
- I'm not good at hammering nails.
討つ means "to attack and destroy an opponent."
- I have avenged my parents.
撃つ means "to discharge a firearm."
- Is this your first time firing a gun?
うむ (生む VS 産む)
"うむ" can be written as 生む or 産む.
生む means "to give birth" or "to create something new."
- My daughter was born last night.
- Haruki Murakami always creates a great story.
産む means "to physically birth a child from a mother's body."
- It took 42 hours for me to give a birth.
- She is my birth mother.
If you still find the nuance hard to grasp, just remember that 生 expresses a more general concept of birth, as in "date of birth," while 産 invokes the physical act of a mother delivering her baby.
おかす (犯す VS 侵す VS 冒す)
"おかす" can be written as 犯す, 侵す, or 冒す.
犯す means "to break the law or to do something unethical."
- She confessed that she had committed a crime.
侵す means "to violate a border" or "to infringe upon rights."
- Do you think that this infringes on their rights?
冒す means "to brave a challenge" or "to dishonor a god."
- He braved danger and saved me.
おさまる (収まる VS 納まる VS 治まる VS 修まる)
"おさまる" can be written as 収まる, 納まる, 治まる, or 修まる.
収まる means "to put inside," "to bind together," or "to get a good result."
- The incident has reached a settlement.
納まる means "to settle something into its proper place," "to put an end to something," or "to finish."
- You have a duty to settle your taxes.
治まる means "to become problem-free" or "to govern."
- My throat pain finally went away.
修まるmeans "to be of good character or perform a splendid action" or "to acquire knowledge or skill."
- She learned French in university.
おす (押す VS 推す)
"おす" can be written as 押す or 推す.
押す means "to push."
- I pushed the door, but it won't open.
推す means "to recommend," "to guess," or "to push forward."
- I am going to recommend you to the company president.
I find it interesting to note that 推す is used in idol otaku slang in the form of "推し" (おし). 推し is used to refer to one's favorite idol because they are "recommended" or "supported" by that person.
おりる (降りる VS 下りる)
"おりる" can be written as 降りる or 下りる.
降りる means "to disembark from a vehicle" or "to force to quit."
- I will call you back when I get off the train. 電車を降りたらかけなおします
下りる means "to move from above to below," "to cut off or pull down," or "to start anew."
- I fell while climbing down a ladder.
かえす (返す VS 帰す)
"かえす" can be written as 返す or 帰す.
返す means "to return something to where it came from."
- Could you give me my money back?
帰す means "to return home," "to return to an original place or form," or "to settle down."
- I'm thinking of returning to my hometown.
かわる (変わる VS 換わる VS 替わる VS 代わる)
"かわる" can be written as 変わる, 換わ, 替わる, or 代わる.
変わる means "to change in status or condition."
- I changed the color of the wall.
- He told me that he changed his mind.
換わ means "to swap or exchange."
- How can we register for a transfer of ownership?
替わる means "to change to something new."
- I made a parody song.
- I have to change my baby's diaper.
代わる means "to replace in a role" or "to act as a proxy."
- Why haven't they relieved the pitcher?
- I came here in place of my girlfriend.
All of the variations listed above are similar, but 換 and 替 are especially close in meaning. The former is used when trading one thing for another while the latter is used when changing to something original or fresh.
かおり (香り VS 薫り)
"かおり" can be written as 香り or 薫り.
香り means "fragrance" in a physical sense.
- The scent of plum blossoms was wafting through the air.
- This drink has a light vanilla scent.
薫り also means "fragrance," but in an abstract sense, or "atmosphere."
- Sweden has a rich cultural atmosphere.
かく (書く VS 描く)
"かく" can be written as 書く or 描く.
書く means "to write characters, words, or sentences."
- I have to write a letter to my customer tonight.
描く means, "to draft a chart" or "to draw a picture."
- I want to be good at drawing manga.
かげ (陰 VS 影)
"かげ" can be written as 陰 or 影.
陰 means "a place where light doesn't reach" or "a place which you can't see."
- Let's rest in the shade of that tree.
- She is the one who has been supporting us from behind the scenes.
影 means "shadow or silhouette."
- I saw the reflection of somebody on the window.
- The post cast its shadow on the lawn.
かた (形 VS 型)
"かた" can be written as 形 or 型.
形 means "visible shape" or "form."
- How did you bake a pyramid-shaped cake?
- You should learn proper karate form.
型 means "set pattern or type."
- What is your blood type?
- I have a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
かたい (堅い VS 固い VS 硬い)
"かたい" can be written as 堅い, 固い, or 硬い.
堅い means "reliable," "tough," or "solid" in reference to internal composition.
- This is such a solid business.
- What's the name of this solid lumber.
固い means "strong or unwavering" in reference to a connection or commitment.
- My dad is very stubborn.
- They seemed to be connected with strong ties.
硬い is the literal opposite of "soft" and means "highly resistant against external forces" or "stiff."
- The comedian is nervous and can't loosen up.
- This is the tool to split a hard shell.
かなしい (悲しい VS 哀しい)
"かなしい" can be written as 悲しい or 哀しい.
Both variations have basically the same meaning of "sad, unhappy, or sorrowful" or "touching".
- I'm so sad.
- I'm so sad.
- What a sad story it is.
- What a sad story it is.
- It's with great sorrow that we announce the death of Mr.Godzilla this morning.
- It's with great sorrow that we announce the death of Mr.Godzilla this morning.
It should be noted that, while 哀しい is less common, being reserved mainly for literary use, 悲しい and 哀しい can be used interchangeably in most contexts. There is a slight connotative difference between the two words, however:
If you look at the kanji "悲", you will see the radical for heart (心) underneath the radical 非, which invokes the idea of wings. Thus, 悲 refers to a pain that could rip your heart out.
If you look at the kanji "哀", you will see the radical for mouth (口) and clothes (衣). Together, they express the idea of a mouth being hidden. As such, 哀 connotes a sadness that you can't express verbally.
かわ (皮 VS 革)
"かわ" can be written as 皮 or 革.
皮 means "skin of an animal or plant" or "a layer that conceals a thing's true nature."
- Do you eat onion skins?
- I don't like the fish skin.
革 means "processed animal hide" or "leather."
- I bought a leather bag for his birthday present.
かわく (乾く VS 渇く)
"かわく" can be written as 乾く or 渇く.
乾く means "to lack moisture."
- Has the laundry not dried, yet?
渇く means "to be thirsty or parched" or "to strongly desire."
- I'm thirsty.
きく (聞く VS 聴く VS 訊く)
"きく" can be written as 聞く, 聴く, or 訊く.
聞く means "to hear a sound," "to take into consideration," or "to ask."
- I could hear someone talking.
- Please hear me!
聴く means "to actively listen to something."
- What kind of music do you listen to?
- The prime minister should listen to the voice of the people.
訊く means "to ask a clarifying question" or "to search for a clear answer" and is mostly used in writing.
- Why do you ask me such a thing?
- I'll ask him where we can dispose of these plastic bottles.
きく (利く VS 効く)
"きく" can be written as 利く or 効く.
利く means "to work or operate well" or "to be possible."
- He has sharp eyes.
- She is so clever.
効く means "to have an effect."
- The medicine started working.
きる (切る VS 斬る)
"きる" can be written as 切る or 斬る.
切る means "to split using a blade or scissors" or "to cut a connection."
- I'll cut the cucumbers.
- Do you call this a cut or a scratch?
斬る means "to injure with a katana sword" or "to levy sharp criticism."
- The samurai cut down the enemy.
- He made a social commentary.
It should be restated that 斬る is used specifically when talking about traditional bladed Japanese weapons. If someone is cut or slain with something more mundane, like a kitchen knife or a saw, 切る would be used to describe the action.
こえる (超える VS 越える)
"こえる" can be written as 超える or 越える.
超える means "to surpass a standard, scope, or level."
- It was beyond my imagination.
- I never expected the payment would be over 100,000 yen.
越える means "to pass through a place or point" or "to exceed a certain amount of time."
- We'll drive for about 30 minutes before crossing prefectural lines.
- You shouldn't say anything that would cross the line.
こたえる (答える VS 応える)
"こたえる" can be written as 答える or 応える.
答える means "to answer or reply."
- I couldn't answer the question on the spot.
応える means "to respond in kind" or "to remunerate."
- He tried too hard to meet his parents' expectations.
さがす (探す VS 捜す)
"さがす" can be written as 探す or 捜す.
探す means "to search for something you want" or "to look for."
- We are searching for a house to buy.
- I'm looking for a job.
捜す means "to seek a missing person or thing."
- We are searching for my sister.
- The police are searching for the criminal.
さく (裂く VS 割く)
"さく" can be written as 裂く or 裂く.
裂く means "to tear or pull apart destructively."
- Who slashed my canvas?
- Split the mushroom from end to end.
裂く means "to remove a portion."
- I don't have any more time to spare.
- We have to send our people to work, too.
しずまる (静まる VS 鎮まる)
"しずまる" can be written as 静まる or 鎮まる.
静まる means "to calm down or settle."
- The storm calmed.
- The teacher couldn't quiet down the students.
鎮まる means "to suppress," "to die down," or "to cease."
- The riot has finally been suppressed.
- He would probably be the only person who could put an end to this civil war.
しぼる (絞る VS 搾る)
"しぼる" can be written as 絞る or 搾る.
絞る means "to wring moisture out of," "to exert effort," or "to narrow down."
- Can you wring out the towel?
- I strain my voice at concerts.
搾る means "to squeeze to extract liquid" or "to force out of someone."
- Can I squeeze this lemon?
- I've never milked a cow.
Both versions of this word can be used to describe getting liquid out of something, but 絞る usually indicates using two hands whereas 搾る allows for extraction by weight or crushing force.
しまる (締まる VS 絞まる VS 閉まる)
"しまる" can be written as 締まる, 絞まる, or 閉まる.
締まる means "to tighten to remove any slack" or "to create a division."
- Wear your seatbelt, please!
絞まる means "to tighten around the neck."
- He was strangled by a snake
閉まる means "to close something that was open."
- Can I close the curtain?
すすめる (進める VS 勧める VS 薦める)
"すすめる" can be written as 進める, 勧める, or 薦める.
進める means "to move, put, or set something forward" or "to progress something."
- Can I carry out the procedures?
- I set my watch ahead by 5 minutes.
勧める means "to influence someone to do something."
- He recommended that I join the gym where he goes.
- What stock did the salesman recommend?
薦める means "to recommend or endorse something as being exceptional."
- My friend recommended an excellent French restaurant to me.
- Where do you recommend to be the best sightseeing spot?
すわる(座る VS 据わる）
"すわる" can be written as 座る or 据わる.
座る means "to sit down" or "to arrive at a location or social position."
- I want to sit in that chair.
据わる means "to stabilize or settle in place."
- Has your baby's head steadied yet?
せいさく (制作 VS 製作)
"せいさく" can be written as 制作 or 製作.
制作 means "artistic work."
- He is a Japanese anime producer.
製作 means "product or production."
- My company manufactures coils.
せめる (攻める VS 責める)
"せめる" can be written as 攻める or 責める.
攻める means "to launch a physical attack."
- We are going to attack their castle tonight.
責める means "to criticize" or "to cause suffering."
- I'm not blaming you.
そう (沿う VS 添う)
"そう" can be written as 沿う or 添う.
沿う means "to travel alongside" or "to keep in line with tradition or established rules."
- We walked along the stream.
- I'm afraid we cannot accept your request.
添う means "to be attached to" or "to get married."
- She walked beside her grandmother.
- Who is the man escorting her?
たいしょう (対称 VS 対照)
"たいしょう" can be written as 対称 or 対照.
対称 means "symmetry."
- This building is lacking symmetry.
対照 means "contrast."
- Don't you think that red contrasts well with blue?
たえる (耐える VS 堪える)
"たえる" can be written as 耐える or 堪える.
耐える means "to withstand hardship or external pressure."
- I won't be able to handle this pressure any more.
堪える means "to have ability or value" or "to suppress an emotion."
- This movie was unbearable to watch.
たずねる (尋ねる VS 訪ねる)
"たずねる " can be written as 尋ねる or 訪ねる.
尋ねる means "to inquire," "to seek," or "to investigate."
- We should ask someone for directions.
訪ねる means "to visit."
- We are planning a trip to visit my dad's hometown.
たたかう (戦う VS 闘う)
"たたかう" can be written as 戦う or 闘う.
戦う means "to wage battle using weapons or wits" or "to battle for supremacy."
- They fought bloodily.
闘う means "to fight to overcome an obstacle or barrier."
- He is combatting cancer.
たつ (断つ VS 絶つ VS 裁つ)
"たつ " can be written as 断つ, 絶つ or 裁つ.
断つ means "to sever a connection" or "to bring an end to."
- Were you able to sever the connection with your ex boyfriend?
絶つ means "to end midway" or "to interrupt."
- He killed himself.
裁つ means "to cut cloth according to measurements."
- We'll cut a pattern first.
It should be noted that 断つ is usually used to talk about "cutting ties," but if the speaker is emphasizing the abruptness of that situation, 絶つ is more appropriate.
たつ (立つ VS 建つ)
"たつ" can be written as 立つ or 建つ.
立つ means "to stand up straight," "to exist in a condition," "to occupy a position," "to leave a place," or "to establish."
- Let's make a plan.
- She left her seat without saying anything.
建つ means "to construct a building" or "to build a country."
- We are building a house.
- Why don't we erect a bronze statue of Koichi next to the Tokyo tower?
たま (玉 VS 球 VS 弾)
"たま" can be written as 玉, 球, or 弾.
玉 means "jewel" or "round object."
- I enjoyed playing catch on Sports Day in Japanese
- It's soap bubbles.
球 means "ball used in sports" or "light bulb."
- Do we have ping-pong balls at home?
- I've gotta go to buy a light bulb.
弾 means "bullet."
- Where can I buy handgun bullets?
- My older brother got seriously injured by a stray bullet.
たまご (卵 VS 玉子)
"たまご" can be written as 卵 or 玉子.
卵 refers to any type of "egg."
- My uncle brought us fresh eggs.
玉子 refers only to "cooked eggs."
- I drink eggnog when I have a cold.
It should be noted that, even though it's cooked, ゆでたまご (boiled egg) is most commonly written as 茹で卵, not 茹で玉子. This is likely due to the fact that a 茹で卵 retains its original eggy shape.
Also, while 卵 can be used for all kinds of eggs, products at grocery stores mostly use 玉子"because 卵 has more of a biological perception attached to it.
つかう (使う VS 遣う）
"つかう" can be written as 使う or 遣う.
使う means "to use a person or thing."
- How much money did you spend?
遣う means "to utilize something well."
- You should learn the proper Kana usage.
使 is most commonly used for the verb form of つかう, whereas the noun form—where つかう is used as a suffix, as in まほうつかい (magic-user)—utilizes the kanji 遣.
つくる (作る VS 造る VS 創る)
"つくる" can be written as 作る, 造る, or 創る.
作る means "to make."
- I heard that he made his own company.
造る means "to manufacture" or "to mass produce."
- I'm learning the process of building a ship.
創る means "to create something original."
- This is a problem of his own making.
つとめる (勤める VS 務める VS 努める)
"つとめる" can be written as 勤める, 務める, or 務める.
勤める means "to work for pay" or "to perform a buddhist ceremony."
- Which company are you working at?
務める means "to fulfill a role or responsibility."
- I'm worried if she can fulfill her role as the company president.
務める means "to put in effort" or "to exert oneself."
- I'm trying to maintain my health.
とくちょう (特徴 VS 特長)
"とくちょう" can be written as 特徴 or 特長.
特徴 means "distinguishing or distinctive feature."
- Could you explain the characteristics of this wine?
特長 means "strong point or forte" or "a merit."
- My swing speed is my strong point.
ととのう (整う VS 調う）
"ととのう" can be written as 整う or 調う.
整う means "to put in order" or "to straighten up."
- It takes him thirty minutes to set his hair.
調う means "to get together what's necessary" or "to create a pleasant situation."
- Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
とぶ (飛ぶ VS 跳ぶ)
"とぶ" can be written as 飛ぶ or 跳ぶ.
飛ぶ means "to move through the air," "to move far away," or "to be spread out."
- An airplane is flying in the sky.
- It seems that false rumors are spreading.
跳ぶ means "to leap."
- He jumped for joy.
- The puppy jumped over a ditch.
とまる (止まる VS 留まる VS 泊まる)
"とまる" can be written as 止まる, 留まる, or 泊まる.
止まる means "to halt movement."
- How long can you hold your breath?
- I stopped my car.
留まる means "to become fixed in place," "to remain in your senses," or "to stay somewhere."
- I wrote it down just in case.
- Please fasten these with the latch.
泊まる means "to stay overnight."
- Can I sleepover at your place tonight?
とる (取る VS 採る VS 執る VS 捕る VS 撮る)
"とる" can be written as 取る, 採る, 執る, 捕る, or 撮る.
取る means "to hold or acquire," "to write down," "to connect," "to remove," or "to omit."
- Shouldn't you write a memo?
- I wonder if I can remove the stain from the shirt.
採る means "to collect," "to harvest," "to use," or "to take over."
- We tap maple trees.
- Let's vote to decide.
執る means "to take in your hand and use" or "to perform a role."
- He will conduct our orchestra.
- Can you lead from the rear?
捕る means "to capture."
- How did you catch the tuna?
撮る means "to take photos or a video."
- Could you take a picture of us?
ながい (長い VS 永い)
"ながい" can be written as 長い or 永い.
長い means "long" or "lengthy in terms of distance or time."
- She has long hair.
永い means "eternal" or "forever" in a metaphorical sense.
- She fell into an eternal sleep.
As you can hopefully tell from the examples above, when speaking about time, 長い describes time that can be objectively set and measured, whereas 永い implies a more subjective view of time or the "feeling" of length.
におい (匂い VS 臭い)
"におい" can be written as 匂い or 臭い.
匂い means "pleasant odor."
- I like the smell of maple syrup.
臭い means "unpleasant odor."
- I can smell the gas.
のる (乗る VS 載る)
"のる" can be written as 乗る or 載る.
乗る means "to get into or ride vehicle," "to respond to," "to trick," or "to go with the flow."
- I'm on a train now.
- Don't press your luck.
載る means "to load," "to place on top," or "to put up."
- My articles are put on this website.
- Can you help me load luggage into the car?
のばす (伸ばす VS 延ばす)
"のばす" can be written as 伸ばす or 延ばす.
伸ばす means "to straighten or extend" or "to increase."
- You should stretch out your arms and legs from time to time.
- The weeds are growing.
延ばす means "to move to a later time," "to accumulate," "to widen or spread," or "to increase length by addition."
- The start of the meeting was 10 minutes later than planned.
- I can't push back my departure.
のぼる (上る VS 登る VS 昇る)
"のぼる" can be written as 上る, 登る, or 昇る.
上る means "to go upwards," "to reach," "to achieve," or "to be a topic of discussion." It is also the most general of the three variations used for expressing upward movement
- I don't want to climb the stairs.
- Who will climb the ladder?
登る means "to reach a high location through one's own effort" and it emphasizes the effort of surmounting a sharp incline.
- Do you want to climb a mountain this weekend?
- He is good at climbing trees.
昇る means "to rise upwards all at once or in a single action."
- Let's ride an elevator.
- I couldn't help but cry as the sun rose.
はかる (図る VS 計る VS 測る VS 量る VS 謀る VS 諮る）
"はかる" can be written as 図る, 計る, 測る, 量る, 謀る, or 諮る.
図る means "to plan in order to achieve a goal."
- The company is working on improving their image.
計る means "to count time or numbers" or "to think over."
- You can measure the angle with my protractor.
測る means "to measure length, height, depth, width, or level" or "to estimate."
- I haven't measured my height for a while.
量る means "to measure weight or volume" or "to make a guess." (Note: If body weight and height are taken together as a series of measurements, like at the doctor's, the more general 計る is used.)
- I don't want to weigh myself in front of people.
謀る means "to craft a sinister plot."
- We have to find out who plotted the assassination.
諮る means "to ask for an opinion."
- We have to refer this matter to the committee.
はじめ (初め VS 始め)
"はじめ" can be written as 初め or 始め.
初め means "early stages," "beginning," or "first."
- This is my first time eating sushi.
始め means "the act of starting," "the very first stage," or "key player."
- I just started eating supper.
はな (花 VS 華)
"はな" can be written as 花 or 華.
花 means "flower" or "something that grabs attention like a flower."
- The cherry blossoms are in bloom.
華 is used to compare things to flowers metaphorically. It can also refer to "the part best representative of the whole."
- She was dressed gorgeously that night.
はね (羽 VS 羽根 VS 翅)
"はね" can be written as 羽, 羽根 or 翅.
羽 means "bird wings or feathers."
- The crane fluttered its wings.
羽根 means "loose bird feathers."
- He got me a quill for my birthday.
翅 means "insect wings."
- I collect the wings of insects.
はやい (早い VS 速い)
"はやい" can be written as 早い or 速い.
早い means "early," "ahead of schedule," or "short" in relation to time.
- My parents wake up early.
- You are so hasty.
速い means "speedy" or "accelerating."
- Can you talk a little bit faster?
ふえる (増える VS 殖える)
"ふえる" can be written as 増える or 殖える.
増える means "to increase in number or amount."
- My weight increased by 10 kilograms.
殖える means "to increase wealth or assets" or "to increase an animal or plant population."
- The cockroach population is increasing.
ふく (吹く VS 噴く)
"ふく" can be written as 吹く or 噴く.
吹く means "to dispel air," "to breathe out," or "to show outwardly."
- My wife is bad at whistling.
噴く means "to discharge air or liquid in copious amounts."
- The engine belched fire and my car stopped.
ふね (舟 VS 船)
"ふね" can be written as 舟 or 船.
舟 means "large sea-faring vessel."
- I bought a ship.
船 means "small or simple boat."
- I made a bamboo boat.
へいこう (平行 VS 並行 VS 平衡)
"へいこう" can be written as 平行, 並行 or 平衡.
平行 means "parallelism." Therefore, when a debate never ends we say that "the argument is parallel," or 議論が平行する (ぎろんがへいこうする).
- They are making a road parallel to the railroad.
並行 means "adjacency" or "synchronicity."
- Two cars drove side by side.
平衡 means "equilibrium" or "balance."
- I suddenly lost my balance.
ほか (外 VS 他)
"ほか" can be written as 外 or 他.
外 means "outside" in reference to a scope or area.
- Things went better than I expected.
他 means "something different" or "something else."
- I'm going to look for another girl.
まざる (交ざる VS 混ざる)
"まざる" can be written as 交ざる or 混ざる.
交ざる means "to mix together such that the original elements are still discernible or discrete."
- Who shuffled the cards?
- I can't read sentences written in kana and kanji yet.
混ざる means "to mix together such that the original elements become indiscernible."
- Please mix the wasabi and soy sauce.
- She stirred her latte with a spoon.
To clarify further, if you mix multiple kinds of coffee beans together, you would use 交ざる, as the beans remain whole and (to a degree) separate. If you were to make coffee from that blend, however, you would use 混ざる to describe the state of the coffee types.
まち (町 VS 街)
"まち" can be written as 町 or 街.
町 means "district with boundaries determined by the government" or "neighborhood."
- I work at the town hall.
- We grew up in the same town.
街 means "downtown area" or "bustling city streets."
- Who is the beautiful girl standing on the street corner?
- This downtown is known for its bustling student life.
まるい (丸い VS 円い)
"まるい" can be written as 丸い or 円い.
丸い means "spherical" or "peacefully."
- Ancient people didn't know that the earth is round.
円い means "circular," "complete," or "friendly."
- I want to make a round door, like in The Hobbit.
The Japanese national flag is referred to as 日の丸 (ひのまる), even the symbol is a circle. The reasoning behind it is that the red circle is meant to represent the sun, which is spherical.
まわり (回り VS 周り)
"まわり" can be written as 回り or 周り.
回り means "rotation" or "the area around something."
- Turn that clockwise.
周り means "surroundings" or "perimeter or circumference."
- I jogged around the lake.
みる (見る VS 観る VS 診る)
"みる" can be written as 見る, 観る, or 診る.
見る means "to view or look at" or "to tend to."
- Could you check the engine of my car?
観る means "to actively watch a performance, sports, or a movie."
- I'm going to watch a soccer game tonight.
診る means "to examine."
- You should have a doctor look at you (at least) once.
めざめる（目覚める VS 覚醒める）
"めざめる" can be written as 目覚める or 覚醒める.
目覚める means "to wake up or be awake" or "to be rid of a mistaken idea".
- I woke up at 10am today.
- I woke up from a bad dream.
覚醒める also means "to wake up or be awake", but it is more-often used to mean "to lose one's illusions or come to one's senses". It can also refer to awakening someone's special powers or abilities.
- The time has come for the people to awaken.
- She hasn't realized her ESP yet.
もと (下 VS 元 VS 本 VS 基)
"もと" can be written as 下, 元, 本, or 基.
下 means "beneath, below, or down" or "subordinate or junior."
- All are equal under the law.
元 means "source," "former or ex-," "nearby area," or "funds."
- She is my ex-wife.
本 means "root or foundation."
- Everything must be corrected from the ground up.
基 means "platform or basis."
- We'll make a decision based on more detailed data.
や (屋 VS 家)
"や" can be written as 屋 or 家.
屋 means "building or place of business," "-store," or "character trait."
- I'm working part-time at a flower shop.
家 means "dwelling."
- I need to talk to the homeowner about the rent.
- Let's meet up at the empty house.
やさしい (優しい VS 易しい)
"やさしい" can be written as 優しい or 易しい.
優しい means "empathetic," "kind or gentle," or "dignified."
- He is nice to everyone.
易しい means "easy."
- This is an easy job that anyone could do.
やぶれる (破れる VS 敗れる)
"やぶれる" can be written as 破れる or 敗れる.
破れる means "to fall apart or be damaged."
- My pantyhose are torn.
敗れる means "to lose."
- He lost the election.
やわらかい (柔らかい VS 軟らかい)
"やわらかい" can be written as 柔らかい or 軟らかい.
柔らかい means "fluffy," "elastic," "gentle," or "soft" in relation to to surface texture.
- This blanket is so soft.
軟らかい means "offering little resistance to touch, penetration, or compression."
- The ground is getting soft.
よい (良い VS 善い)
"よい" can be written as 良い or 善い.
良い means "superior" or "favorable."
- Your English pronunciation is so good.
善い means "virtuous."
- I want to do something good in the world.
よむ (読む VS 詠む)
"よむ" can be written as 読む or 詠む.
読む means "to read," "to understand content," or "to predict or guess."
- My dad is reading a newspaper.
- Don't try to read my emotions.
詠む means "to compose a song or poem."
- Let's compose a haiku.
わかれる (分かれる VS 別れる)
"わかれる" can be written as 分かれる or 別れる.
分かれる means "to separate into parts" or "to differentiate."
- Why do we have to separate into enemies and allies?
別れる means "to separate from another person."
- I was separated from my father when I was child.
- We broke up over a fight.
わずらう (煩う VS 患う)
"わずらう " can be written as 煩う or 患う.
煩う means "to worry."
- I'm worried we won't find a good house.
患う means "to suffer from illness."
- She suffered from a serious illness, but she has completely recovered.
A Japanese Homophones Postlogue
Congratulations! You made it to the end of this pretty meaty list and are surely wiser for it.
One thing to keep in mind, though: While understanding these differences will certainly enrich your overall understanding (and help you with your WaniKani reviews), don't stress out too much about trying to keep them in your head during normal speech. For the most part, you'll be able to puzzle out which version of each word is being used based off of context clues.
Good luck, and if you have any questions for me about anything covered in this article, don't hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In this example "warm" refers to the warmth inside the blanket—the blanket itself isn't warm ↩