"Exist": the difference between 存 and 在?

Hello! There are two kanji for “exist,” namely 存 and 在。

Is there a subtle difference in meaning between them, to tell them apart? If you know it, could you share?



Using Jisho: 存: exist, suppose, be aware of, believe, feel;
在: exist, outskirts, suburbs, located in.

Notice that although there is a word that coincides with the kanji 在 – at least to the best of my knowledge – there is no word that coincides with the kanji 存.

Perhaps, one should not think of a kanji as a word with one set meaning? I like to think of a kanji meaning as conveyed by the meanings of the words that use the kanji…


在 is the kanji for the “to exist” version of ある.
存 is also used in combination with 在 to form 存在 “existence”, it’s also the kanji for (ぞん)じる, the keigo version of (おも)う and ()る, or ご(ぞん)じ as well. So you can say that 在 is more about the concrete physical existence in a particular place, and 存 is more about abstract existence, but that’s just the impression I’m getting. It doesn’t matter much to be honest, individual kanji meanings depend on the word they’re in, like in 存在 the meaning of “exist” is the same, but for ご存じ, the meaning is “to know” and has nothing to do with “exist”. Kanji meanings can help you understand the vocab meaning a bit better but it’s not guaranteed.


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