Similar meaning kanji

So I’ve encountered this a few times before, but this time it’s in the same lesson so it’s really bothering me and I have some questions.

Kanji with basically the same meaning.

I just learned the kanji for “inspect” (査) and “examine” (検). Obviously, to English speakers there are going to be slight connotational differences between the two words, but they’re so close in meaning that two people could eaily have those connotations swapped over. So, practically, they mean the same thing.

My impression is that the meaning of specific kanji isn’t super important, it’s how they’re used to form vocab where the specific connotations of meaning are important. Is that right? Is there any meaning or benefit to my thinking of the English “meaning” of those kanji as “inspect” and “examine” respectively, beyond learning the specific words needed to pass WK reviews?

Furthermore, are there connotational differences in the minds of native Japanese when it comes to kanji with very similar meanings. Or would they also say that mean practically the same thing?


The kanji meanings just make it easier to understand vocab but it isn’t really that important, vocab although can have some really similar meanings but are used in different contexts, in that case I recommend using HiNative and ask a native about the nuances.

In the vocab meaning mnemonics for words that use either of those, they’ll use the respective kanji meanings to illustrate the meaning. So maybe for that it is best to keep these meanings separate. (I’ve been conflating these and others in my mind for so long, that I am still reviewing 捜査 at guru level though. Not sure if I ever got it past master).

The main meaning of both kanji is しらべる.

査 has the extra nuances of 考える and あきらかにする
検 has the extra meanings of とりしまる and ただす

So, they do end up getting used in subtly different ways. But Japanese people would agree that they are very similar.

Interestingly, probably the most common word they appear in is 検査, which uses both.


Kanjidamage has a list of nuances for various duplicate kanji that you might find useful:

it’s not absolutely complete, and only covers specifically kanji (e.g. things with the same reading that can be used as a drop-in replacement, like 暑い vs 熱い), but it’s very useful.


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