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I was brushing up on some basic vocabulary. Asked what the Japanese equivalent of "the means (of doing something)", I would use 方法. However, they've used 手段. As far as I can tell, these are (fairly) synonymous. Is there a difference? Are there places/phrases where you would use one but not the other?

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手段 is a strategic type of 方法. Those are NOT synonymous while there is an overlap. Among native speakers, only kids use them interchangeably. If an adult did the same, he would not look/sound too good. – l'électeur Feb 18 '14 at 6:17
@TokyoNagoya Ok, thanks for the information. I don't suppose you could expand on that a bit more though? – Yuushi Feb 18 '14 at 6:22
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I have always got by taking 方法 as method or "way of doing" and 手段 as "a means": As Tokyo Nagoya says, there is some overlap but if you know when to use method and means in English then try to do the same in Japanese.

(Hint: I think 方法 is the easiest to adopt. You could leave 手段 until after you have heard it used more.)

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