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I was looking for the pronunciation of 離す by searching 'let go' on Jdic. I came across 放す, but not 離す. Is there a difference between the 2?

The example I was looking at was:

He is such karaoke fan that if only he gets his hands on the mike he wouldn’t drop it all night.

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You'd probably ask an even better question, if you looked up 放す and 離す in a dictionary first. (The two JP-EN dictionaries I checked have different entries for the two verbs.) –  Earthliŋ Apr 9 at 12:08
I'm afraid many people just write 離す regardless of the meaning. –  Yang Muye Apr 9 at 12:33
The Agency for Cultural Affairs has made available a downloadable PDF titled 「異字同訓」の漢字の使い分け例(報告) which briefly illustrates the difference with examples, which may be helpful in answering questions like this one. Many dictionaries also have 使い分け entries for verbs that can be written more than one way. –  snailboat Apr 9 at 13:15
Older versions of OS X (e.g. Leopard) actually have a reverse thesauraus published by Shougakukan built in as an option for its standard Dictionary application. It collects a number of perceived similar words (up to 4 in the headword, after which it just lists other similar ones) and explains in great detail when each is and is not appropriate for use, including edge cases. –  Kaji Apr 9 at 13:22
@snailboat: Just had a chance to check that file you linked now that I've got a break. That's a pretty awesome list! –  Kaji Apr 9 at 19:10

2 Answers 2

At the simplest of levels both mean relatively the same thing. However, the nuance - and thus times you may choose one over the other - is slightly different. 離す means more to separate from something, where 放す means to release something (the clearest image is "out into the wild" or "on its own").

For reference, from the Microsoft IME:

  • 離す → 分離,距離 「二人の仲を離す,つないでいた手を離す」
  • 放す → 開放,自由 「鳥を放す,ハンドルから手を放す」

As a side note, as a literary technique you can also purposely mis(?)-use kanji in these cases to convey a slightly different meaning or nuance in written text. That is, one might write 彼女の手を放した to convey the feeling that he permanently let her go, with an added feeling that the woman as an entire person left, the hand simply being the device of expression.

Furthermore, songs and poems may even use non-standard or unusual kanji entirely to convey ideas, generally accompanied by furigana - one simplest example being 時間【とき】. In this example (which would normally be read じかん), the idea of "a long time" or "time passing" is clearly conveyed, as opposed to a single moment in time.

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I'm not sure if you refer to my example in the comment to the other answer but that "手を放した" didn't mean anything permanent. It was just a description of the action. The second woman took the first woman's hands and later released them. –  Szymon May 19 at 11:38
I was only vaguely referring to your example, giving one possible case or "deeper meaning" of choice of kanji. I do not know your example in detail though, but there doesn't necessarily have to be any deeper meaning. The use of 放す could simply be more accurate - in the sense that she released the other woman's hands back into their own control (i.e. their own natural state). In other words, "let go of" rather than "separated from". –  lc. May 20 at 1:34

離す means to separate or let go of something (c.f. 分離).

放す means to send out or to emit (c.f. 放送).

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I'm not so sure. A sentence in a Murakami story I can cite ends with: 「...さつきの手を放した。」 The meaning is clearly: "...released Satsuki's hand". –  Szymon Apr 9 at 20:16

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