Differentiating 姿, 様子, and さま

would anyone mind telling the difference between these words used in the j>j dictionaries? the only one that i think i understand is 姿 which i think means someone’s physical appearance. here are some examples:

正体 - 仮面をかぶって人前に現われているものの、本来の姿
残虐 - ひどい殺し方や傷つけ方をする様子
ワイワイ - 大勢が口々に物を言うさま

thanks for the help!

They all correspond to different definitions of “appearance” in English.
Starting with the English (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary):

Definition of appearance
1a: external show : SEMBLANCE
Although hostile, he preserved an appearance of neutrality.
b: outward aspect : LOOK
had a fierce appearance
cappearances plural : outward indication
trying to keep up appearances
2a: a sense impression or aspect of a thing
The blue of distant hills is only an appearance.
b: the world of sensible phenomena
3a: the act, action, or process of appearing
the first appearance of that word in English
blaw : the presentation of oneself in court as a party to an action often through the representation of an attorney
4a: something that appears : PHENOMENON
b: an instance of appearing : OCCURRENCE
her first public appearance since winning the award

Then, the Japanese (also a mess of definitions):


1 人のからだの格好。衣服をつけた外見のようす。「顔もいいし姿もいい」「鏡に姿を映す」「後ろ姿」

2 身なり。風采。「姿をやつす」「うらぶれた姿」

3 目に見える、人の形。存在するものとしての人。「姿をくらます」「あれっきり彼は姿を見せない」

4 物の、それ自体の形。「山が雲間から姿を現す」

5 物事のありさまや状態。事の内容を示す様相。「移り行く世の姿」「主人公の成長する姿を描く」

6 和歌や俳句の、1首・1句に表れる趣や格調などの全体的な風体。特に、歌体。

7 美しい顔形の人。美人。

So, in the context of a dictionary definition, mostly corresponds to the 1a of appearance.


1 外から見てわかる物事のありさま。状況。状態。「当時の―を知る人」「室内の―をうかがう」

2 身なり。なりふり。「―のいい人」

3 態度。そぶり。「悲しそうな―をする」「手持ち無沙汰な―でいる」

4 物事の起きそうなけはい。兆候。「帰る―もない」

5 しさい。わけ。事情。「何か―がありそうだ」「―ありげな顔つき」

6 もったいぶること。思わせぶり。

Can be 1 or 2 in the English definition (so, yes, there’s overlap with 姿).


1 物事や人のありさま。ようす。状態。「雲のたなびく―が美しい」「物慣れた―に振る舞う」

2 姿かたち。かっこう。また、人の目に恥ずかしくない、それなりの形。→様になる

3 方法。手段。


4 理由。事情。いきさつ。


5 おもむき。趣向。体裁。


Can also be 1 or 2, but also “state”. Note that this definition uses both 様子 and 姿 :joy:
That being said, except when used with the meaning of state, 様子 and 様(さま)appears to be interchangeable.