Words with almost the exact same meaning

Hi everyone, I was wondering if in the case that there are two words with very similar meanings such as 地中 and 地下, which in their example sentences seem interchangeable, are we just allowed to use either in all situations or is one of them just used more in japan? In that case would there be a way for a self studying foreigner (such as myself) to determine which one is the more appropriate or common of the two words in japan? Sorry if I worded this bad, it’s my first topic :smiley:

And just wanted to add that I thought of this while using KaniWani, getting a wrong answer even though both of the words mean “underground”. Sucks to get an item wrong like that but it sure helps to learn the synonyms!

No, you can’t just assume that. It would be best to look them up in a dictionary like Jisho to find out their usages. For example, in the case of the words you mention 地下 can be used as a prefix while 地中 cannot.


Thats pretty interesting! I haven’t actually used jisho yet (mostly use google translate) but I guess in these cases it makes a big difference! Thank you :slight_smile:

You might find this thread useful:

But as mentioned already, when you’re in doubt it’s best to look up the word on Jisho or Weblio


Thanks for the thread, it looks like there are a LOT of words like this…

Yeah, it will help give you more info about the usage of the words. Other examples are things like 少し and 少ない. One is an adverb and the other is an い-adjective so they can’t just be drop in replacements for the other.

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Oh so not only from a meaning perspective, I also have to see it from the grammar side! Good point!!

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If you google around for stuff with 違い, you’ll often find blog posts or questions addressing this stuff.

If the word is actually confusing to Japanese people too, a thesaurus site might have an entry for it.

As for these two words, generally speaking 地下 is used when something is underground by the work of humans.

地中 literally just means something is in the ground and surrounded by dirt. It is a broader word.


Yeah the difference can usually be chalked up to nuance. One thing you can do once you advance a bit more in your reading level is to google “<*word> vs <*word> difference”. Usually a couple hinative links will pop up and usually the responses will be in fairly easy to read Japanese often with example Japanese sentences. This is where the reading comes into play as the responses are often by natives in Japanese.


I will definitely be using the 違い from now on, it would surely help reading some of these blog discussions! Thank you.


Yes, even if they technically have no difference in nuance, if one word is a な adjective and the other is an い adjective that will effect how they can be used in a sentence.

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I will use this, thanks. I think the problem with my searches was the way I was putting it… Something along the lines of " 地中 or 地下" which wouldn’t give me good results.

Oh, and one more thing… 地下 can be used to refer to some more abstract “underground” meanings, like when politicians or business people do things in secret. 地中 cannot be used that way. It you just keep the “by human work” thing in mind, it should be fine though.


So like underground drug deals and shady stuff like that. Interesting!


Or something like a basement which would be 地下室.

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If that is the case then I suppose 地中室 wouldn’t mean basement? Checking on jisho, seems like it doesn’t

I recommend learning to read the dictionary in Japanese because usually the definitions written in Japanese for Japanese people clear up these questions pretty well. For example, with 地中 and 地下, we get the following definitions:

In the soil. Under the ground. Example: “To bury in the ground.” 地中に埋める"


  1. Below the ground. Under the soil. Antonym: Above ground (地上). Example: “An underground storehouse.” (地下の貯蔵庫)
  2. The world after death. The “other world.” The Underworld. Example: “To sleep in the underworld.” (地下に眠る)
  3. A realm of activity in which political or social movements are carried out in secret. Often used to refer to illegal activity. Example: “Underground activities” (地下活動)

The takeaway from the definitions:

  1. 地中 is used only in a very literal since to mean, as the kanji implies, in the ground. I assume you could probably use it to refer even to something that is partially buried, though I’m not 100% sure about that.
  2. 地下, as the kanji implies, means underground, as in something completely below the surface of the earth.
  3. 地下 has figurative meanings, religious (the underworld) and socio-political (underground political activity).

In the end, I think it’s most useful to think of the former as meaning “in the ground” and the latter as meaning “underground.”


I’ve found that as my Japanese has improved, it’s often more fruitful to look up Japanese-language explanations for word differences, as @Leebo mentioned. You can really dig into the minute differences of words more easily when you’re relying on detailed explanations written by native speakers. I’ve been trying to rely more and more on fully-Japanese definitions as time has gone on.


I would love to read a jpn-jpn dictionary, however my vocabulary is probably <3000 words and I am only about N4 grammar. So I think it is a bit too soon for me :sweat_smile: However I am sure that this will be one of the first things I work on when I feel my fluency is enough. Thanks for your post!