DUPES aka synonyms/homonyms
You may have noticed when using your "electronic dictionary" that sometimes you'll enter a word and 2 or even 3 kanji pop up. And you wonder, "Which am I supposed to use?" You have run smack-dab into one of these Only In Nihongo boondoggles: SYNONYMS WHICH ARE ALSO HOMONYMS! As far as I know, there is nowhere - no book, no website - that has listed and dealt with this category of words. So. Which do you use?
Here, I try to answer this question in two ways. First, I'm putting a big "$$$" next to the most useful one, the one with the broadest meaning, so you know which one to use when writing. Second, I'll explain the different nuances of each, so if you're reading Japanese, you'll be able to extract the precise meaning.
Keep in mind that t hese nuances and "how often is it used" percentages only apply to this particular kunyomi of the kanji - not to its other kunyomi or jukugo.
あげる - raise up
上 -$$$ ： to literally raise (your hands, and wave them from side to side; the roof)
挙： To metaphorically bring up something (an objection, a point) to give an example of , to cite or mention something.
揚： hoist a flag/ deep fat fry
が あらわれる to appear or manifest
が現れる -$$$ : to appear - symptoms, your soul-mate, attackers, rappers that bite my style crop up all over the place since I blew up.
が表れる： not used (see "to indicate").
を あらわす to indicate
を表す-$$$： to indicate something intentionally, but through symbols rather than words (He expressed his displeasure by flinging feces at the prison correction officer) (the shadow of the sundial indicates the time)
を現わす ー a person or thing shows up on the scene. (due to sudden fame or maybe they came out of hiding; the moon comes out over the horizon). Second meaning: something becomes clear.
あ＊る： to exist (almost always hiragana, but anyway)
有 $$$ - exist
在 - this is never used.
価： $$$ - value - but not an actual dollar amount (that'd be 値段(ねだん)） . 価 is value as in, ('The value of the antique goes up with time' or 'I'll estimate the value, using my jewler's loupe and tweezers.')
値： value in a math or science sense. Numerical value.
暑 - 50% - hot weather, a place with a hot climate
熱 - 50% - a hot thing. Also can be used figuratively for hot emotions or passions.
暖 -50% - warm place or weather - use this one when you come in from the cold.
温 - 50% - warm thing (puppy, or puddle under your bed )
あう- to meet
会う -$$$ - a big meeting
遭 --chance meeting、 usually with sudden and random disasters, such as a car accident, a mugging, etc.
合わせる -$$$ - to unify. To bring different things together and make them fit.
Like a band tuning up is called 音合わせ (making the notes fit).
会わせる − to make two people meet each other. Not used.
併わせる - a formal word for unite. You don't need this, either.
謝 -$$$ - apologize
誤 - to make a mistake (noun form 誤り）. Basically this is a more formal version
of 間違える! Used by older folks instead of 間違える, but you can use it if you're talking
about a miscalculation or if you took the wrong course of action/ a failed policy.
える - obtain
得る -$$$ -obtain (the right to do something, sentitive information, a patron, a prize or promotion )
獲る-20% - obtain an animal you hunted. IT MEANS HUNT, DUMMY. (also used when crops are harvested)
船 -＄＄＄− ship
舟 - the dictionary is wrong. This is almost never used by itself, only as a jukugo.
ふやすー to increase
増 -$$$ - increase
殖 -multiply - Never use this.
はじめる - begin
始 - begin - $$$：I begin to do something.
初めて - to do something for the first time ever.
始まる - this is the only kanji!
はかる ： scheme or plot
図る:$$$ - to scheme or plan (can be something relatively benign like 'Plan to raise interest rates' but is usually like 'Plan to stab your co-worker in the back and take his job.')
謀る : to plot a murder!Only used about Murder most faoouuullll!!! Almost never used.
はかる - measure
計る - 50% $$$ - temprature, height, depth. If you're measuring a chair or your mom's stretch marks, use this one.
測る --measure, but usually used in a medical or scientific context. (blood pressure, air pressure). Also used for area, distance, sound decibels, angle, capacity.
量る -- used mostly about weight, but also quantity or volume.
花 -$$$ - flower
華 - never used as 'hana.' (although, as 華々しい、(hanabanashii) or 華やかな (hanayakana), it means gorgeous or flamboyant).
はやい - fast -psyche! turns out these are not even the same nuance.
速 − $$$ - fast speed
早 - 10% of the time means fast, but usually it means 'early'
ひとり - one person
一人： $$$: one person.
独り： Alone. Unlike 一人、 独り has a sort of lonlely value judgement on it. Like, 'He lives by himself' or 'She had to do the whole thing herself (since no one would help her).'
誉める ： - means the same as 褒める ,except that no one uses it.
かえりみる： to look back on, to regret.
省みる： pretty much only used in the sense of soul-searching or thinking about past misdeeds.
顧みる： can be used literally OR figuratively, both with a good meaning (nostalgia, reminisince) and bad (guilty, reflecting on past misdeeds)
Also, to consider the consequences of something you're about to do (in which case, it's used in the negative：he acted without thinking!).
をかえる - exchange
を替える - $$$ - switch from one thing to another thing - usually of a different type: (switch channels / modes / clothes / sides)
を換える - exchange (yen for euros) change (diapers / a broken heel on your pumps). Unlike the other かえる (替える）、 換える means you are exchanging something for a similar or identical thing.
代 - not used
かわる - to switch
が代わる - $$$ - take turns, or one person succeeds another. A robot replaces a human, (who is made into Soylent Green).
が替わる - something automatically switches (modes/channels/places)
が換わる - not used?
かける - hang
掛ける : $$$ to hang something on a hook.
懸ける ： to gamble or stake something. One's life, one's heart, one's money, etc.
影ー literal shadow
陰 - shady - both literally , and more likely, metaphorically. If someone is operating shady deals from the shadows, you use this kanji. Also used for the hidden organs - medical terms for naughty bits.
かく - write
書くー$$$ - write some text
描 - depict - either by drawing a picture (usual) , or by making a story/movie
that paints a mental picture for the viewer.
かた (they even have the same ON as well!)(KEI)
型 -50% - 2 meanings: model and type. Model, as in clay/plaster mold, or cookie-cutter stamp, or (figuratively) as in a social convention or conformity. ('This book is too cliche, it just follows all the rules of the style!'). Type as in blood type, or "new type" (i.e. this year's model of crime-fighting robot).
形 -50% - form. Literally the shape of something (regardless of if that thing is unique or very conventional).
.かたい - hard
固 - $$$ - hard like firm, unyeilding, you tap it and it goes TON TON. Also, hard like a stiff, formal, tight-ass person.
硬 - almost the same as 固 - but the nuance is, hard like hard to break.
堅 - FIGURATIVE : hard as in a steadfast, Sam Gamgee-ass pal.
かたよる - lean
偏る $$$ -- be biased, place too much weight on something. Literally: to slant.
片寄る ー lean to one side, be partial to one side. Don't use this one
かわく - dry
乾 - dried （said about things that are normally dry - such as paint, clay, dirt, sponge, beef jerky, etc.)
渇 - dry (said of things that are normally wet (80% of the time 渇く is used in the context of "I'm thirsty!')
かわ - skin
皮 - $$$ - skin, (human or animal, but not to be confused with fur!). Also refers to the skin of an apple, or even the crust of bread!
革 - leather.
川ー $$$ - river
河 - this is only used in proper names of people, or proper names of rivers.
聴 - delibarately listen to for minutes at a time (a preacher's sermon, a college lecture, a shitty techno song)
聞くー to passively hear a sound (whether intentionally or not). Also, to ask someone a question, ( "Where's the vd clinic?" "Ask your moms "(お母さんに聴け）”)
きく：to be effective
効く ： $$$- (usually of medicine) to be effective.
利く：to use (usually a body part) - 口を利く： have a smart mouth. 良く利く鼻: have a great nose, have wonderful smelling-ability. 目が利く: to have a discerning eye (for art/ antiques / etc.)
きる - cut
切 -$$$ - cut
斬 - cut, but only with a samurai sword!
伐る − cut, but only used to mean 'cut down a tree.'
を きわめる： master
を究める： to achieve mastery of something, to penetrate the mystery of something.
を極める： extremely (good OR bad). Usually used like: ｘｘｘ極める; extremely good at XXX. Or, the tyrant was extremely cruel....
が きわまる： extremes
が極まる：$$$: extremely bad : bloody, utterly (fucked), downright (sadistic), deadly (dull), outright (scandalous). It's a verb, but it's used as an adjective. : BAD ADJECTIVE + 極める（intensifier)+ SUBJECT (NOUN)。
が窮まる：To be caught in a dillema, to have your back to the wall, to the point where there seems to be no hope. Almost never used、except in the phrase 感がきわまる： to be about to flip out from the stress.
きよい - pure
清い $$$ - pure, clean
浄い literary word for purity - also used as in ‘spiritual purification.’
くら - warehouse
倉 -$$$ - warehouse (never used by itself, but used in the word 倉庫(そうこ) meaning, a modern warehouse.
蔵 -：an obsolete word for place to store food on an old-school farm - a silo or barn.
こえる - go over
超 - $$$ - to exceed or go over a certain numerical limit (the cook heated the oven to over 100 degrees, the dude passed 100 years old, the man bet over 40,000 dollars, etc.)
越 - go beyond (a physical thing); to pass or cross
丸 - $$$ - circular or round
円 - don't use this one except for money.
交 - $$$ - general word for mixing. Also used figuratively, as in joining or associating with a group.
混 - this is used for technical stuff- science or cooking.
周り- $$$ ：all around the circumference or perimeter of someone or something.
回り： one rotation, or one round trip
みる - see
見る :$$$: to passively see something
観る : to watch something, deliberately and for a long time; In other words, to be a spectator at something (only used in the phrase 観にいく)(and you only used 観に行く about concerts, broadway plays, and art exhibitions). Basically this is 聴く for your eyes.
もえる - burn
燃える -$$$ :- to burn up, intentionally
萌える : -this is the 'otaku' one. Slang meaning, to burn with passion with someone. (adjective form is, ' 萌え！’ meaning 'cute enough to make me burn` . .. supposedly the nuance is, the speaker is made to burn, and doesn't really want to, but is swept away by rapture. Why this is an important distinction for oaku I have no fucking idea.)
もと - former
元： original (lineup of a band) former or ex (boyfriend or wife).
基 ： foundation or basis (the manga is based on the anime which was based on the videogame which was based on a true story)
なおす - cure
直す - fix / reform / correct a problem ( a broken chair, an inneficient beuraracrarcy, a poorly spelled word). Doesn't mean the thing is totally fucked up. Sometimes 直す just means do some minor alterations or revisions to make some shit perfect. Also means redo, as in かけ直して (phone me back).
治す: cure a disease or health problem.
におい - smell
匂い :$$$ - odor. Sometimes bad, sometimes, good. Usually not so good. (good smells are 香り、(かおり）)
臭い : stinky. (this is almost never used as におい, and 99% of the time only used as くさい!)
が のびるー get longer
伸 - $$$ - something automatically lengthens or grows - like hair or grass. Something extends further- a forest that extends all the way to the ocean, or days of summer that get longer.
延 - prolong : almost never used
を のばす - to stretch or extend intentionally
を延ばす - $$$ to lengthen or extend (the life of a sick person)(the deadline) (your stay in a hotel) also, to procrastinate. More used with time.
を伸ばす - more used with things: stretch your back, extend a collapsible umbrella/telescope/ admantium claw.
のぼる - go up
を・に 上 - 60% - Sometimes literal (climb a ladder, go up hill , but usually figuragive: To rise to stardom, a cost that runs as high as a billion annually, etc.)
登 ー climb 25% - only used with mountains, cliffs, ladders, etc.
昇 - 15% - ascend. (Planets, moons. People that go to heaven). Also people who take an elevator. Unlike 登る, 昇る implies that there is no effort on the part of the ascending person or thing.
のむ - drink
飲 - $$$ - - drink
呑 - - drink in one gulp, (emphasis on swallowing) (use this about medicine, chugging booze, or dudes reaching a desert oasis). Also, figuratively, to accept an onerous demand.
おちる - fall
落ちる： $$$ - to fall (fall off your chair, a plate falls and breaks)
墜ちる： fall to one's death.
堕ちる： fall into moral ruin (become a junkie, get all caught up in a cult or gambling debts, etc.)
おかす - perpetrate
犯 - commit a violent crime or rape
侵 −violate something, usually civil rights, copyright, right to privacy, right to free speech, etc. Also used in slander or defemation, for instance if I said the pope only had one nut.
おくる - send
送 - $$$ - send (letter) or transmit (radio or tv program)
贈 - give a present, or present someone with something rad (a scholarship, a knighthood). This is actually more similar to あげます, but I think it's a little more formal.
おさえる - restrain
抑える - Mentally refrain or restrain (an impulse). Also used about the Man oppressing or holding down The People in general.
押さえる - physically hold or restrain.
を おさめる − to get/ to pay
を 収める-$$$ - to get, obtain (a good grade, success, a victory)
を 納 - to pay taxes/school fees/bribes? ; or to place something in the place it's supposed to be: swords in scabbards, mummies in tombs.
が おさまる - assume a post
納まるー this has the incredibly specific meaning of "To assume one's post as the president of country, university or board of directors." WTF do they even need a word for that?
収まるー this one is also pretty useless: to calm down, to settle. To finish off.
さびしい - lonely
寂しい： $$$ - lonely
淋しい： a less-used, more literary form of 'lonely'
さがすー search for
探 -$$$ - search for something you want in the future (a good restaraunt, a store with bargains, sanity).
捜 - search for something you lost (carkeys, sanity); or cops searching for a criminal.
.さげる - lower
下げる $$$ - to lower
提げる dictionaries say this means ‘lower’ but really it’s only used if you’re hanging a sign around your neck! Seriously. Fuck this word.
さく - tear up
裂く tear up paper
割く - allocate resources or time (why the dictionary puts both of these words in the same entry is beyond me!)
.さす - point
指 -$$$ - literally point at. Figuratively, point to (i.e. these economic indicators point to a recession) Also means aim for (the title belt).
差 -A bunch of random meanings: Wear a sword. Light points to something. Set people against each other. WTF this kanji makes no sense.
刺 - poke. Like a mosquito stings you. Also, to stab with a knife.
挿す - insert.
がしまる - something shuts or closes
が絞まる -$$$ something gets tightened or fastned.
が閉まる − (the Man) cracks down on something, tightens controls on something.
をしめる - to close
閉める： $$$- to close (a door, a window)
締める : to tighten (a knob, guitar strings, a seat-belt)
絞める :to strangle (a throat)
すぐれる - to excel
優れる - 50% - outstanding, above the rest in general.
勝れる - 50% - to be better than another leading brand (in particular used when comparing two or more things)
する - rub
擦る：$$$ - to rub or chafe.
磨る： not used.
すすめる - recommend
勧める :$$$ - to recommend
奨める : but never used.
耐 - $$$ - withstand something physical - Fire resistant, or water-resistant. People, too: if you try to be a coal-miner and you can't take the physical labor then you 耐えらない。
堪 −tolerate, in a moral sense. Can't tolerate racism or "that kind of conduct." To endure disgrace.
玉：$$$- (broad meaning) any ball - a fire-ball, ball bearing, a mathematical sphere, a glass bead. Also it has the nuance of gem, or jewel.
球・： (narrow meaning) ball used in sports
たまご - egg
玉子 : $$$ - is more common.
卵 : a more specialized, farmer/agricultural word. Also has the nuance of "someone in the arts who has not formally debuted yet" (i.e. a really great painter who is about to have her first art opening)
楽しい - $$$ -to enjoy or look forward to something
愉しい - - The meaning is exactly the same but advanced or literary, i.e. pretentious.
たたかう - fight
戦 - $$$ - fight physically - either with fists or armies. (sometimes used figuratively - fight crime!) But in any case, 戦う usually refers to an ongoing struggle rather than a single barroom punch-up.
闘 - fight - (only used figuratively) - struggle against temptation, war on poverty etc., the war on drugs, struggle against prejudice, etc.
たつ； to sever something.
絶つ: more usually figurative. figuratively, to cut off all relations with (your ex) , or to totally quit doing (alcohol).
断つ： more literal - to sever a thing, to divide something in two.
止まる： $$$ - stop.
留まる : not used.
取 - $$$- take (pick up in your hand (ball, key, card). Also means to get (good marks on a test, a prize, etc,) also, to take a picture!
撮 - to take a picture (only used in the context of 撮影 (さつえい, meaning professional-style photoshoots)
採る − gather (mushrooms, cherries, honey (if you are a bee)). Also, sometimes, it means to adopt a certain policy or take a certain measure.
執る - to assume command of something, to take control of something, to spearhead some shit, and - randomly - to take up your pen and write some shit (which presumably the shit is a manifesto or expose or will start shit).
つかう - use
使 - $$$ -use
遣 ーthis is very specific. It means "to dispatch an envoy". Or, to be careful or give consideration to. Usually only used with the phrase 気を遣う、 but even then it's usually hiragana so who cares.Good luck ever using that.
つくる - make
作 -$$$ - usually handmade.
造 - made by a factory. Mass-produced (although one-of-a-kind things like a giant rocket ship are also 造る)
つとめる - work at something
努 $$$−ｍake an effort (at improving your French, at quitting smoking, to be nice to your friend's douche boyfriend, etc.) , more like 頑張る than the other つとめるs.
務 - perform a specific task or role which you have been assigned ( but not
necc. at a job)
勤 - work (used only about a job, and not in reference to a particular project at that job) (emphasis is on the physical work rather than the role).
つつしむ - refrain
慎む $$$ - to repress or refrain from doing something.
謹む - a very literary, formal, old-people word for refrain. Nowadays the only time you’re likely to see it is 謹んでxxx (a formal, written phrase meaning, “Please accept my sentiments”)
うむ - to give birth
生む - $$$ - to be born or produced. Usually figurative, as in, "These conditions breed terrorists," or "He gave birth to the film industry," or "Produce profits."
産む - give birth (human or animal) .This is more of a medical or agricultural word.
うれい - sorrowful
憂い - $$$ - sorrowful.
愁い - sorrowful - but more subtle than the OTHER うれい （憂い）。 Regular urei is like a homeless guy that is obviously suffering and you can see why. 愁い is like a elegant woman in a kimono going to a temple and carrying with her a subtle poetic aura of sadness. Older Japanese guys go for this.
うつ - pound (actually these don't mean the same thing at all!)
打つ - $$$ - pound with bat or fist.
撃 - fire a gun
討つ - an archaic term for a revenge-attack- the literal meaning is "get some motherfucking payback on". Almost never used
やさしい - nice
優しい： 50% - kindhearted
易しい： 50% - easy to do
やわらかい - soft
軟 - $$$ - soft
柔 -soft but EMPHASIS IS ON FLEXIBILE. Like it bends like a novelty straw, or if you tap it with your finger, the finger leaves a little dent (dead body).
豊か - $$$ - abundant
裕 - this is never used.