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From what I read, 厚い is used when something is thick or abundant and 篤い is used when describing a serious illness. But what confuses me is that in a dictionary (Tagaini Jisho) both of these are in the same entry, is it because the kanji can be interchangeable? Is 篤い commonly used? And which kanji would be used for the second definition hospitable?

The entry: 厚い Alternate writings: 篤い (あつい)

  1. Thick, deep, heavy. [ 厚い (あつい) ]
  2. Kind, cordial, hospitable, warm, faithful.
  3. Serious (of an illness). [ 篤い (あつい) ]
  4. Abundant. [ 厚い (あつい) ]
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Your dictionary app is using EDICT. In EDICT, the second definition is listed under both kanji, so (it seems) the authors of the interface decided to present that information by not labeling it with anything specific. –  snailboat Jul 7 '13 at 4:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I guess you are referring to a dictionary entry like this one. I think that 篤い is not a 常用 reading (only 篤 トク is 常用), so that 厚い covers the meaning "serious illness", but 篤い is used often for this meaning. (Compare 重篤, meaning "serious illness".) I can't find the key for 大辞泉, but I'd guess that the little triangle means "beware, not 常用".

Note also that 篤 also means "kind", e.g. as in 懇篤, so the meanings of 篤い and 厚い do overlap (but don't overlap with 熱い or 暑い) and the choice of 漢字 is partly a matter of personal taste. The dictionary provides an official guideline.

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dic.yahoo.co.jp/guide for the 凡例{はんれい}. ▽ means, as you said, non-常用 reading for a 常用 character. –  nkjt Jul 7 '13 at 9:54

It's sometimes useful to look at what the characters mean in Chinese. Here's what I found listed in the dictionary:

厚thick / deep or profound / kind / generous / rich or strong in flavor / to favor / to stress

篤serious (illness) / sincere / true.

So what I would conclude is that (historically) 厚 is used for physical thickness, 篤 is used to mean sickness, and both of them can mean a good personality. However, because one of them is a non 常用 reading, the other one is currently used for all meanings of the word, despite what the character meant historically.

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