Vocabulary with the same meaning?

Please don’t hate me if this is a question that’s already been answered, but I searched all I could through the other threads/archive and couldn’t find anything, I swear!

So I just encountered my first vocabulary meaning obstacle… 女 and 女の人… which both apparently mean “woman”. So naturally, my question is “What the heck?” lol Is there some sort of resource I can reference that will explain this and other inevitable future vocabulary twins?

Short answer 女の人 is generally politer.

And yes, a Japanese- Japanese dictionary. However, failing that usually just googling the two words and the word “difference” is good enough.


The short (whoops I mean long, now that I see Syphus’s) answer is that most languages have multiple similar but slightly different words for the same thing. For example, lady, woman, female, chick, etc. in English all have a similar meaning of women over a certain age, but the nuance is very different for each term. Part of figuring out the nuance is just seeing the usages in sentences a lot. So my answer is primarily that…when you start reading and talking and listening a lot, you will probably get a better sense of when each word is typically used for words that are similar. Another thing though, if you want to check more directly, is to post online on websites where you can ask natives if your use of a word in a sentence sounds natural.


By the way, you’re going to come across a lot of words that have the same meaning, especially through Wanikani. A lot of the time, the difference will just be in how common it is, since WK teaches quite a lot of less common vocab. The best way to figure out which one is more common (aside from looking up each word individually) is just to read lots.

Obviously a lot of the time it will be down to subtle differences in meaning and tone (seen above).

Yeah, I figured as much. But usually those nuances are explicable - like “chick” is more of a slang term and “lady” is usually reserved for woman who have more decorum, etc. But you’re right in that this forum is most likely not the ideal place to ask a question like that due to everyone else also being learners. Just figured I would see if anyone had a go-to place they reference for this kind of thing. Other than a real human. lol

Haha, yeah I agree with Syphus in terms of practical solutions, especially if you want to avoid humans. You can usually find your answer by googling how is x different than y or something…

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If I am not mistaken, I believe I’ve seen this elsewhere. But 女の人 is specifically a human female. Where 女 may be included in other vocabulary when describing other forms as female.

The nuance only seems explicable to you because you already know English. Each word has its own particular nuance and usage in Japanese, but explaining exactly when to use each one is not exactly a trivial pursuit. It’s the same way if you tried to explain to a Japanese speaker exactly when they should use “girl” versus “woman” or “lady.” There’s a lot of synonyms in Japanese just the same way that there are a lot of synonyms in English. I think the best way to learn the differences between them is observe how native speakers use them. This isn’t exhaustive or an exact science, but generally for the words for “woman” that I’ve learned so far:

女 or 女の人 is roughly equivalent to "woman"
少女, 女の子, and 女子 refer to younger women, and are all similar to “girl” in English.
女性 is similar to “female” or "woman."
婦人 is somewhat like “lady.”

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That’s definitely not wrong, but I’d say probably not going to come up much. Animals and some other things get 雌 instead

Such as when you take a visit to the good ol 婦人科医

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It definitely strikes me as the kind of word I probably wouldn’t want to use out of nowhere.

It’s one of those words you learn because Japanese people never know it in English and can’t pronounce it.


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