Why so many words for 'oneself' and 'life'? When to use each one?

Basically the title. I’m only level 7, and I’ve come across so many words meaning, for example, ‘oneself’ or ‘life’. How do I know when to use which one? Are they all actually used or is there a couple I can stick to?

By “words” do you mean actual words or kanji? There are often kanji with similar meanings, but they typically have different nuances and/or are used in different words. Sometimes it’s just an issue of English not making distinctions where Japanese does, or vice versa.

As for words up to level 7, the only one I can think of for “oneself” is 自分, which is used a lot. I think it also teaches 己(おのれ), which typically isn’t used in polite conversation. It’s a bit old fashioned, and in modern usage it can sound a bit rude depending on how you use it. (It can mean “you”, in which case it would be rude, but it also has other uses).

For life, Japanese has lots of different words to talk about different meanings of what we call “life” in English. 命 means a life force, or someone’s physical state of being alive, 人生 means “life” as in human life in general. 生きる means to live or be alive as a verb. 住む means to live in a specific place. (e.g. “I live in Tokyo” would use 住む).

Do you have any specific examples of words you’re confused by?


“Life” has many meanings in English. For instance “the state of organisms preceding their death” and “the period of time during which something has existence” are both “life” in English, but if you think about it, those are two different concepts. And there are more definitions as well. It would be strange if every language just happened to group all of these concepts into the same word the same way that English does. Some of them are bound to be expressed in different ways.


Aaaa I must apologise haha.

First of all, I don’t actually know where I got the idea there were a lot of words for ‘oneself’ from? I can clearly remember there being a few I got confused about, but there clearly isn’t - I checked again after your comment. I have no idea where that recollection came from and I am so sorry

Also, about ‘life’: in order to respond to your comment I looked for the words I was talking about, and I think I actually understand more now that I’ve had a proper look at them. Maybe I was just rushing a bit too much. I’m really sorry!

Thank you so much for your response and explanation though! It really helped. Hope you have a good day


That’s true - I guess I didn’t properly think about it. I think synonyms are kinda complicated to learn in other languages, at least for me haha

Thank you!


Looking at the example sentences for vocab items is always a good way to get an idea of the nuances of their meaning! Jisho.org also has example sentences available. If you find yourself confused how the different words meaning life are used, I’d highly recommend looking up some example sentences. Another quick and easy method to figure out nuances is do an image search for the vocab items. Just make sure your results are in Japanese, not Chinese.


Oh, that’s a really good idea! Thank you so much! I’ll definitely try that


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