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    Japanese Homophones and How To Use Them Learn the meanings to all the Japanese sounds that have been confusing you

    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."

    • 渋谷でぱったりと友達に会った
    • I bumped into my friend in Shibuya.
    • 二人はどこで出会ったの?
    • 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.

    • このソファ、リビングに合うかなあ
    • I wonder if this couch matches our living room.
    • あの子とは前から知り合いだけど、あんまり気が合わないんです
    • I've known her for a while, but we've never really clicked.
    • 一生に一度の大チャンスに巡り合った
    • We came across a once in a life-time opportunity.

    遭う means "to meet with misfortune."

    • 帰りに、にわか雨に遭いました
    • I got caught in a sudden downpour on the way back.
    • とんだ災難に遭いました
    • 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."

    • 空はゆっくりと明らんでいった
    • The sky was slowly getting brighter.
    • 日の光りが差して、部屋の中が明らんだ
    • The room brightened as the sun shined in.

    赤らむ means "to turn pink or red."

    • 恥ずかしさで彼女の顔が赤らんだ
    • Shame flushed her face.
    • 夕焼けで西の空が赤らんだ
    • 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."

    • この靴は私の足に合いません
    • These shoes don't fit my feet.
    • 右足を蚊に刺された
    • 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.

    • あのモデルの脚はとても長い
    • That model has such long legs.
    • 机の脚が一本折れています
    • 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."

    • それは称賛に値する
    • That is worthy of praise.
    • Xの値を求めなさい
    • Solve for X in the equation.

    価 means "price" or "cost."

    • 手間に合った価を付けた方がいいよ
    • 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."

    • 子供には毎日温かい料理を食べさせたいんです
    • I want my child eat a hot meal every day.
    • とても心温まる話でした
    • It was such a heart-warming story.

    暖かい means "warm weather or ambient temperature."

    • 今日は暖かいですね
    • Today is warm, isn't it.
    • 日ごとに暖かくなっています
    • It's getting warmer day by day.
    • 暖かい毛布があればなあ
    • 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."

    • この珈琲は熱すぎて飲めない
    • This coffee is too hot to drink.
    • コウイチはクリスティンのセーラームーンへの熱い思いに心を動かされた
    • 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.

    • 今年の夏はやばいぐらい暑い
    • This summer is insanely hot.
    • 車の中、かなり暑いね
    • 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."

    • こんなところに足跡がある
    • There are footprints here.
    • 縄文時代の住居の跡を見に行きたいですか?
    • Do you want to go see remnants of inhabitants from the Jomon era?
    • I'm thinking of succeeding my father in our company.
    • うちの会社で父の跡を継ごうと思っています

    痕 means "scar" or "sign of damage."

    • Is that a bullet hole on the wall?
    • 壁にあるのって、弾丸の痕ですか?
    • お腹には手術の痕があるんです
    • 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."

    • スーパーでごま油を買ってきてくれない?
    • Could you get a bottle of sesame oil from the grocery store?
    • あいつらは水と油のような関係だからな
    • Because their relationship is like oil and water.
    • 事故で油が大量に流出した
    • A lot of oil spilled in the accident.

    脂 means "biological fat that is solid at room temperature" or "fatty oils secreted through skin."

    • 肉の脂身は苦手です
    • I don't like the fat on meat.
    • 私の上司の顔はとても脂ぎっている
    • My boss's face is very greasy.
    • 妻を見ると、脂汗が出てきた
    • 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" .

    • 家の前で怪しい男を見ました
    • I saw a suspicious man in front of my house.

    妖しい means "enchanting or mysterious."

    • 彼女の指輪のダイヤモンドが妖しく光った
    • 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."

    • あの女、ようやく本性を現したよ
    • She finally showed her true character.
    • 太陽が現れたぞ!
    • The sun just came out!

    表す means "to express a thought" or "to make a chart or a graph."

    • 彼は悲しみを顔に表した
    • He showed sadness on his face.
    • 気持ちを言葉に表すのは難しいよ
    • 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."

    • 兄貴の引っ越しを手伝ってる時に腰を痛めたんだよ
    • I hurt my back while helping my brother move.
    • 借金で頭が痛いよ
    • This debt gives me headache.

    傷む means "to receive damage that leaves a wound, breaks something, or reduces value."

    • この玉葱、傷んでるよ
    • This onion is bad.
    • プールの水のせいで髪が傷んでるんだよね
    • 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."

    • この歌、すごく好きなんだよね
    • I really like this song.

    唄 means "traditional Japanese music."

    • 長唄を習っているんです
    • 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."

    • あの子が彼に平手打ちをしたのを見たよ
    • I saw her slap him.
    • 釘を打つのはあまり上手じゃありません
    • I'm not good at hammering nails.

    討つ means "to attack and destroy an opponent."

    • 親の仇を討った
    • I have avenged my parents.

    撃つ means "to discharge a firearm."

    • 拳銃を撃つのはこれが初めてですか?
    • 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."

    • 昨夜娘が生まれました
    • My daughter was born last night.
    • 村上春樹はいつも素晴らしい話を生み出す
    • Haruki Murakami always creates a great story.

    産む means "to physically birth a child from a mother's body."

    • 産まれるまでに四十二時間かかりました
    • It took 42 hours for me to give a birth.
    • 彼女は私の産みの親です
    • 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."

    • 彼女は自分が罪を犯したと白状した
    • She confessed that she had committed a crime.

    侵す means "to violate a border" or "to infringe upon rights."

    • それは権利を犯していることになると思いますか?
    • Do you think that this infringes on their rights?

    冒す means "to brave a challenge" or "to dishonor a god."

    • 彼は危険を冒して私を助けてくれた
    • 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."

    • 事件はもう収まった
    • 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."

    • あなたには税金を納める義務があります
    • You have a duty to settle your taxes.

    治まる means "to become problem-free" or "to govern."

    • ようやく喉の痛みが治まりました
    • 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."

    • 彼女は大学でフランス語を修めました
    • 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."

    • ドアを押しましたが開かないんです
    • I pushed the door, but it won't open.

    推す means "to recommend," "to guess," or "to push forward."

    • あなたを社長に推すつもりです
    • 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."

    • 電車を降りたらかけなおします
    • 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."

    • 梯子を下りている時に、落ちたんです
    • 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."

    • お金を返してもらえませんか?
    • 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."

    • 地元に帰ろうと思ってるんです
    • 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."

    • 壁の色を変えてみたの
    • I changed the color of the wall.
    • 彼、気が変わったんだってさ
    • He told me that he changed his mind.

    換わ means "to swap or exchange."

    • 名義の書き換えをするにはどうすればいいですか?
    • How can we register for a transfer of ownership?

    替わる means "to change to something new."

    • 替え歌を作ってみました
    • I made a parody song.
    • 赤ちゃんのおむつを替えなきゃ
    • I have to change my baby's diaper.

    代わる means "to replace in a role" or "to act as a proxy."

    • どうして投手を代えないんだ?
    • Why haven't they relieved the pitcher?
    • 彼女の代わりにここへ来ました
    • 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.

    • 梅の香りがあたりに漂っていた
    • The scent of plum blossoms was wafting through the air.
    • このドリンクは仄かバニラの香りがする
    • This drink has a light vanilla scent.

    薫り also means "fragrance," but in an abstract sense, or "atmosphere."

    • スウェーデンは文化の薫りに満ちた国です
    • 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."

    • 今夜お客さんに手紙を書かなくてはなりません
    • I have to write a letter to my customer tonight.

    描く means, "to draft a chart" or "to draw a picture."

    • 漫画を描くのが上手になりたいです
    • 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."

    • あの木陰で休みましょう
    • Let's rest in the shade of that tree.
    • 彼女が私達を陰で支えてくれているのです
    • She is the one who has been supporting us from behind the scenes.

    影 means "shadow or silhouette."

    • 窓に人影が見えたんです
    • I saw the reflection of somebody on the window.
    • 郵便受けが芝生の上に影を投げかけていた
    • 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."

    • どうやってピラミット形のケーキを焼いたんですか?
    • How did you bake a pyramid-shaped cake?
    • 空手の形を習った方がいいですよ
    • You should learn proper karate form.

    型 means "set pattern or type."

    • 血液型は何ですか?
    • What is your blood type?
    • 私はハート形のクッキー型を持っています
    • 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.

    • これは本当に手堅い商売ですね
    • This is such a solid business.
    • この堅い材木の名前は何ですか?
    • What's the name of this solid lumber.

    固い means "strong or unwavering" in reference to a connection or commitment.

    • うちの親父は本当に頭が固いんだよ
    • My dad is very stubborn.
    • 彼らは固い絆で結ばれているようだった
    • 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."

    • 芸人が緊張で硬くなっている
    • The comedian is nervous and can't loosen up.
    • これが硬い殻を割るための道具です
    • 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".

    • 私はとても悲しいです
    • I'm so sad.


    • 私はとても哀しいです
    • I'm so sad.
    • なんて悲しい話なんでしょう
    • What a sad story it is.


    • なんて哀しい話なんでしょう
    • What a sad story it is.
    • 非常に悲しいお知らせですが、今朝ゴジラ氏が亡くなりました
    • It's with great sorrow that we announce the death of Mr.Godzilla this morning.
    • 非常に哀しいお知らせですが、今朝ゴジラ氏が亡くなりました
    • 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."

    • 玉葱の皮を食べるんですか?
    • Do you eat onion skins?
    • 魚の皮は好きではありません
    • I don't like the fish skin.

    革 means "processed animal hide" or "leather."

    • 彼の誕生日プレゼントに、革の鞄を買いました
    • 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."

    • 洗濯物まだ乾いてないの?
    • Has the laundry not dried, yet?

    渇く means "to be thirsty or parched" or "to strongly desire."

    • 喉が渇いています
    • 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."

    • 話し声が聞こえました
    • I could hear someone talking.
    • 私の言うことを聞いてください
    • Please hear me!

    聴く means "to actively listen to something."

    • どんな音楽を聴くんですか
    • What kind of music do you listen to?
    • 首相は国民の声を聴くべきだ
    • 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.

    • どうしてそんなことを訊くの?
    • Why do you ask me such a thing?
    • ペットボトルはどこに捨てればいいのか彼に訊いてみます
    • 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."

    • あいつは目が利くからなあ
    • He has sharp eyes.
    • 彼女は機転がよく利く
    • She is so clever.

    効く means "to have an effect."

    • 薬が効き始めました
    • 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."

    • 胡瓜は私が切ります
    • I'll cut the cucumbers.
    • これを切り傷と言いますか、それとも擦り傷と言いますか?
    • Do you call this a cut or a scratch?

    斬る means "to injure with a katana sword" or "to levy sharp criticism."

    • 侍が敵を斬り捨てた
    • The samurai cut down the enemy.
    • 彼は世相をぶった斬った
    • 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."

    • それは私の想像を超えていた
    • It was beyond my imagination.
    • 支払いが十万円を超えるとは思ってもみなかった
    • 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."

    • 県境を越えるまでに約三十分ドライブします
    • We'll drive for about 30 minutes before crossing prefectural lines.
    • あまり度を越すようなことは言わない方がいい
    • 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."

    • その場では、質問に答えることができなかった
    • I couldn't answer the question on the spot.

    応える means "to respond in kind" or "to remunerate."

    • 彼は両親の期待に応えようとして頑張りすぎたんだ
    • 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."

    • マイホームを探しています
    • We are searching for a house to buy.
    • 仕事を探しています
    • I'm looking for a job.

    捜す means "to seek a missing person or thing."

    • 妹を捜しています
    • We are searching for my sister.
    • 警察は犯人を捜しています
    • 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."

    • 誰が私のカンバスを切り裂いたのですか?
    • Who slashed my canvas?
    • マッシュルームを縦に裂いてください
    • Split the mushroom from end to end.

    裂く means "to remove a portion."

    • これ以上割ける時間はありません
    • I don't have any more time to spare.
    • 我々も人出を割かなくてはならない
    • 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."

    • 嵐が静まった
    • The storm calmed.
    • 教師は騒がしい生徒達を静めることができなかった
    • The teacher couldn't quiet down the students.

    鎮まる means "to suppress," "to die down," or "to cease."

    • 暴動がようやく鎮まった
    • The riot has finally been suppressed.
    • この内乱を鎮めることができるのは恐らく彼だけだろう
    • 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."

    • タオルを絞ってもらえますか?
    • Can you wring out the towel?
    • コンサートでは声を振り絞ります
    • I strain my voice at concerts.

    搾る means "to squeeze to extract liquid" or "to force out of someone."

    • レモンを搾ってもいいですか?
    • Can I squeeze this lemon?
    • 牛の乳を搾ったことはありません
    • 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."

    • シートベルトを締めてね
    • Wear your seatbelt, please!

    絞まる means "to tighten around the neck."

    • 彼はヘビに首を絞められた
    • He was strangled by a snake

    閉まる means "to close something that was open."

    • カーテンを閉めてもいいですか?
    • 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."

    • 手続きを進めてもよろしいですか?
    • Can I carry out the procedures?
    • 私は時計を五分進めています
    • I set my watch ahead by 5 minutes.

    勧める means "to influence someone to do something."

    • 彼に同じジムに入会することを勧められたんです
    • He recommended that I join the gym where he goes.
    • あの営業はどの株を勧めてきたんだい?
    • What stock did the salesman recommend?

    薦める means "to recommend or endorse something as being exceptional."

    • 友人がいいフランス料理のレストランを薦めてくれたんだ
    • My friend recommended an excellent French restaurant to me.
    • あなたの一番お薦めの観光スポットはどこですか?
    • 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."

    • あの椅子に座りたいです
    • I want to sit in that chair.

    据わる means "to stabilize or settle in place."

    • 赤ちゃんの首はもう据わりましたか?
    • 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."

    • 彼は日本のアニメ制作者です
    • He is a Japanese anime producer.

    製作 means "product or production."

    • 私の会社はコイルを製作しています
    • 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."

    • 今夜やつらの城を攻めるぞ
    • We are going to attack their castle tonight.

    責める means "to criticize" or "to cause suffering."

    • あなたを責めている訳じゃないのよ
    • 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."

    • 小川に沿って歩きました
    • We walked along the stream.
    • 恐れ入りますが、ご要望に沿うことができません
    • I'm afraid we cannot accept your request.

    添う means "to be attached to" or "to get married."

    • 彼女はお婆さんに寄り添って歩きました
    • She walked beside her grandmother.
    • 彼女に付き添っている男性は誰ですか?
    • 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."

    • この建物は左右対称じゃない
    • This building is lacking symmetry.

    対照 means "contrast."

    • 赤は青と美しい対照をなすと思いませんか
    • 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."

    • このプレッシャーにこれ以上耐えられそうにない
    • 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."

    • この映画は見るに堪えない作品だったよ
    • 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."

    • 誰かに道を尋ねた方がいいよ
    • We should ask someone for directions.

    訪ねる means "to visit."

    • 父の故郷を訪ねる旅行を計画しているんです
    • 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."

    • 彼らは血まみれになって戦った
    • They fought bloodily.

    闘う means "to fight to overcome an obstacle or barrier."

    • 彼は癌と闘っています
    • 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."

    • 元彼との連絡を断つことはできたの?
    • Were you able to sever the connection with your ex boyfriend?

    絶つ means "to end midway" or "to interrupt."

    • 彼は自ら命を絶った
    • He killed himself.

    裁つ means "to cut cloth according to measurements."

    • 最初に、型紙を裁ちます
    • 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."

    • 計画を立てましょう
    • Let's make a plan.
    • 彼女は何も言わずに席を立った
    • She left her seat without saying anything.

    建つ means "to construct a building" or "to build a country."

    • 私達は家を建てています
    • We are building a house.
    • 東京タワーの横にコウイチの銅像を建てませんか?
    • 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."

    • 私は日本の学校の運動会で玉入れを楽しみました
    • I enjoyed playing catch on Sports Day in Japanese
    • それはシャボン玉です
    • It's soap bubbles.

    球 means "ball used in sports" or "light bulb."

    • 家にピンポン球ってあったっけ?
    • Do we have ping-pong balls at home?
    • 電球を買いに行かなきゃ
    • I've gotta go to buy a light bulb.

    弾 means "bullet."

    • 拳銃の弾はどこで買えますか?
    • Where can I buy handgun bullets?
    • 私の兄は、流れ弾に当たって大怪我をしました
    • 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."

    • 私の叔父が、産みたての卵を持ってきてくれました
    • My uncle brought us fresh eggs.

    玉子 refers only to "cooked eggs."

    • 風邪をひいている時に、卵酒を飲みます
    • 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."

    • いくらお金を使ったの?
    • How much money did you spend?

    遣う means "to utilize something well."

    • 正しい仮名遣いを覚えた方がいいよ
    • 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."

    • あいつは自分の会社を作ったって聞いたよ
    • I heard that he made his own company.

    造る means "to manufacture" or "to mass produce."

    • 船を造る工程を勉強しています
    • I'm learning the process of building a ship.

    創る means "to create something original."

    • これは彼が自分で創った問題だ
    • 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."

    • どちらの会社にお勤めですか?
    • Which company are you working at?

    務める means "to fulfill a role or responsibility."

    • 私は彼女が社長としてちゃんと務まるのか不安です
    • 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."

    • 私は健康維持に努めています
    • 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."

    • このワインの特徴をご説明して頂けませんか
    • Could you explain the characteristics of this wine?

    特長 means "strong point or forte" or "a merit."

    • スウィングスピードが私の特長です
    • 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."

    • 彼は、髪を整えるのに三十分かかります
    • It takes him thirty minutes to set his hair.

    調う means "to get together what's necessary" or "to create a pleasant situation."

    • 仕上げに塩と胡椒で味を調えます
    • 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."

    • 飛行機が空を飛んでいます
    • An airplane is flying in the sky.
    • デマが飛んでいるようですね
    • It seems that false rumors are spreading.

    跳ぶ means "to leap."

    • 彼は跳び上がって喜んだ
    • He jumped for joy.
    • 子犬は溝を跳び越えた
    • 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."

    • どのくらい息を止めていられますか?
    • How long can you hold your breath?
    • 私は車を止めた
    • I stopped my car.

    留まる means "to become fixed in place," "to remain in your senses," or "to stay somewhere."

    • 念のため書き留めておきました
    • I wrote it down just in case.
    • これをその留め金で留めてください
    • Please fasten these with the latch.

    泊まる means "to stay overnight."

    • 今夜泊まらせてもらってもいい?
    • 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."

    • メモを取った方がいいんじゃない?
    • Shouldn't you write a memo?
    • シャツのシミ、取れるかなあ
    • I wonder if I can remove the stain from the shirt.

    採る means "to collect," "to harvest," "to use," or "to take over."

    • 砂糖楓の木から樹液を採ります
    • We tap maple trees.
    • 決を採りましょう
    • Let's vote to decide.

    執る means "to take in your hand and use" or "to perform a role."

    • 彼がオーケストラの指揮を執ります
    • He will conduct our orchestra.
    • あなたは後方で指揮を執ってもらえますか?
    • Can you lead from the rear?

    捕る means "to capture."

    • どうやって鮪を捕ったんですか
    • How did you catch the tuna?

    撮る means "to take photos or a video."

    • 私達の写真を撮ってもらえませんか
    • 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."

    • 彼女は髪が長い
    • She has long hair.

    永い means "eternal" or "forever" in a metaphorical sense.

    • 彼女は永い眠りに就いた
    • 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."

    • メープルシロップの匂いが好きです
    • I like the smell of maple syrup.

    臭い means "unpleasant odor."

    • ガスの臭いがする
    • 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."

    • 今電車に乗っています
    • I'm on a train now.
    • 図に乗ってんじゃねーぞ
    • Don't press your luck.

    載る means "to load," "to place on top," or "to put up."

    • 私の記事がこのウェブサイトに載っています
    • My articles are put on this website.
    • 車に荷物を載せるのを手伝ってもらえませんか?
    • 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."

    • 時々手足を伸ばす方がいいよ
    • You should stretch out your arms and legs from time to time.
    • 雑草が伸びている
    • 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."

    • 会議の開始時間が、予定より十分延びた
    • The start of the meeting was 10 minutes later than planned.
    • 出発を延ばすことはできません
    • 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

    • 階段を上りたくありません
    • I don't want to climb the stairs.
    • 誰が梯子を上りますか?
    • 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.

    • 今週末、山に登りませんか?
    • Do you want to climb a mountain this weekend?
    • 彼は木に登るのが上手です
    • He is good at climbing trees.

    昇る means "to rise upwards all at once or in a single action."

    • エレベーターで昇りましょう
    • Let's ride an elevator.
    • 日が昇っている間、涙が止まらなかった
    • 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."

    • あの会社はイメージアップを図っています
    • The company is working on improving their image.

    計る means "to count time or numbers" or "to think over."

    • 俺の分度器で角度を計ればいいよ
    • You can measure the angle with my protractor.

    測る means "to measure length, height, depth, width, or level" or "to estimate."

    • しばらく身長を測っていない
    • 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.)

    • みんなの前で体重を量るのは嫌です
    • I don't want to weigh myself in front of people.

    謀る means "to craft a sinister plot."

    • 誰があの暗殺を謀ったのか暴き出さなくてはいけない
    • We have to find out who plotted the assassination.

    諮る means "to ask for an opinion."

    • 我々はこの件について委員会に諮る必要がある
    • 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."

    • お寿司を食べるのはこれが初めてです
    • This is my first time eating sushi.

    始め means "the act of starting," "the very first stage," or "key player."

    • 夕食を食べ始めたところです
    • 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."

    • 桜の花が咲いている
    • 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."

    • 彼女はその夜、とても華やかに着飾っていた
    • 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."

    • 鶴は羽を羽ばたかせた
    • The crane fluttered its wings.

    羽根 means "loose bird feathers."

    • 彼は誕生日に羽根ペンを買ってくれました
    • He got me a quill for my birthday.

    翅 means "insect wings."

    • 私は昆虫の翅を集めています
    • 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.

    • 私の両親は朝が早いんです
    • My parents wake up early.
    • あんたってほんと気が早いわねえ
    • You are so hasty.

    速い means "speedy" or "accelerating."

    • もう少し速く喋れますか?
    • 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."

    • 私は体重が十キロ増えました
    • My weight increased by 10 kilograms.

    殖える means "to increase wealth or assets" or "to increase an animal or plant population."

    • ゴキブリが殖えている
    • 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."

    • 僕の妻は口笛が下手です
    • My wife is bad at whistling.

    噴く means "to discharge air or liquid in copious amounts."

    • エンジンが火を噴いて、俺の車は止まったんだ
    • 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."

    • 船を買いました
    • I bought a ship.

    船 means "small or simple boat."

    • 私は笹舟を作りました
    • 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).

    • 線路と並行の道路を作っているんだよ
    • They are making a road parallel to the railroad.

    並行 means "adjacency" or "synchronicity."

    • 二台の車は並行して走った
    • Two cars drove side by side.

    平衡 means "equilibrium" or "balance."

    • 突然、平衡を失ったんです
    • 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.

    • 思いの外事がうまく進んだ
    • Things went better than I expected.

    他 means "something different" or "something else."

    • 他の女を探すよ
    • 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."

    • トランプを交ぜたのは誰ですか?
    • Who shuffled the cards?
    • 漢字仮名交じりの文章はまだ読めません
    • 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."

    • わさびと醤油を混ぜてください
    • Please mix the wasabi and soy sauce.
    • 彼女はカフェラッテで珈琲をかき混ぜた
    • 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."

    • 私は町役場に勤めています
    • I work at the town hall.
    • 私達は同じ町で育ちました
    • We grew up in the same town.

    街 means "downtown area" or "bustling city streets."

    • あの街角に立っている美しい少女は誰だい?
    • Who is the beautiful girl standing on the street corner?
    • ここは学生の街として知られています
    • 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."

    • 古代の人々は地球が丸いことを知らなかった
    • Ancient people didn't know that the earth is round.

    円い means "circular," "complete," or "friendly."

    • 『ホビット』のような円いドアを作りたいんです
    • 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."

    • それを時計回りに回すんだ
    • Turn that clockwise.

    周り means "surroundings" or "perimeter or circumference."

    • 池の周りをジョギングしました
    • 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."

    • 私の車のエンジンの調子を見てもらえませんか?
    • Could you check the engine of my car?

    観る means "to actively watch a performance, sports, or a movie."

    • 今夜はサッカーの試合を観に行きます
    • I'm going to watch a soccer game tonight.

    診る means "to examine."

    • 一度医者に診てもらう方がいいよ
    • 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".

    • 今日は十時に目覚めた
    • I woke up at 10am today.
    • 悪い夢から目覚めた
    • 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.

    • 国民が覚醒める時が来た
    • The time has come for the people to awaken.
    • 彼女は自分の超能力にまだ覚醒めていない
    • 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."

    • 全ての人は法の下に平等である
    • All are equal under the law.

    元 means "source," "former or ex-," "nearby area," or "funds."

    • 俺の元妻です
    • She is my ex-wife.

    本 means "root or foundation."

    • 全て本を正さなくてはいけません
    • Everything must be corrected from the ground up.

    基 means "platform or basis."

    • より詳細なデータを基に判断しましょう
    • 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."

    • お花屋さんでバイトをしています
    • I'm working part-time at a flower shop.

    家 means "dwelling."

    • 家賃のことで、家主と話さなくてはいけないんです
    • I need to talk to the homeowner about the rent.
    • あの空き家で会いましょう
    • 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."

    • 彼は誰にでも優しいんです
    • He is nice to everyone.

    易しい means "easy."

    • これは誰でもできる易しい仕事です
    • 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."

    • パンストが破れた
    • My pantyhose are torn.

    敗れる means "to lose."

    • 彼は選挙で敗れた
    • 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.

    • この毛布、とっても柔らかい
    • This blanket is so soft.

    軟らかい means "offering little resistance to touch, penetration, or compression."

    • 地盤が軟らかくなってきている
    • 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."

    • あなたの英語の発音はとても良いですね
    • Your English pronunciation is so good.

    善い means "virtuous."

    • 私は何か世の中のために善いことをしたいんです
    • 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."

    • 父は新聞を読んでいます
    • My dad is reading a newspaper.
    • 私の心を読もうとしないでください
    • Don't try to read my emotions.

    詠む means "to compose a song or poem."

    • 俳句を詠みましょう
    • 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."

    • どうして敵と味方に分かれなくてはいけないんですか?
    • Why do we have to separate into enemies and allies?

    別れる means "to separate from another person."

    • 幼い時に父親と別れました
    • I was separated from my father when I was child.
    • 喧嘩別れになってしまったんです
    • 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."

    • 良い家が見つからないんじゃないかと思い煩っています
    • I'm worried we won't find a good house.

    患う means "to suffer from illness."

    • 彼女は大病を患いましたが、今は完全に回復しました
    • 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 hello@tofugu.com!

    1. In this example "warm" refers to the warmth inside the blanket—the blanket itself isn't warm