Synonymy in Japanese

Synonymy in Japanese refers to two or more words or expressions in Japanese that may have the same meaning. There are many synonyms in Japanese because the Japanese language draws from several different languages for loanwords, such as Chinese and English, as well as its own native words.[1] In Japanese, synonyms are called dōgigo (kanji: 同義語) or ruigigo (kanji: 類義語).[2]

Full synonymy, however, is rare. In general, native Japanese words may have broader meanings than those that are borrowed, Sino-Japanese words tend to suggest a more formal tone, while Western borrowed words more modern.[1]

Yamato kotoba vs. kango vs. gairaigo

The table below compares native Japanese words, inherited from Old Japaneseyamato kotoba – with words borrowed from Chinesekango – and loanwords from other languages – gairaigo.

Yamato kotoba Kango Gairaigo Meaning
大きさ / おおきさ / ōkisa 大小 / だいしょう / daishō サイズ / saizu size
長さ / ながさ / nagasa 長短 / ちょうたん / chōtan レングス / rengusu length
速さ / はやさ / hayasa 速度 / そくど / sokudo スピード / supīdo speed
殺し屋 / ころしや / koroshiya 殺人者 / さつじんしゃ / satsujinsha キラー / kirā killer

Native synonyms

As Japan is a very mountainous country, significant differences between the dialects of Japanese exist even in their native vocabulary.[citation needed]

Word #1 (kanji+hiragana / hiragana only / rōmaji) Word #2 Meaning
食べる / たべる / taberu 食う / くう / kuu to eat
走る / はしる / hashiru 駆ける / かける / kakeru to run
話す / はなす / hanasu 喋る / しゃべる / shaberu to talk


  1. ^ a b Yoko Hasegawa. "2.1.3 Synonymy". The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation. Routledge. ISBN 9781136640872.
  2. ^ "Learning Synonyms in Japanese". Retrieved 2018-01-19.

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