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体{からだ} and 身体{からだ} seem to be used interchangeably, is there a nuance difference between them?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

In short:

  • 体【からだ】: normal way to say "body".
  • 身体【しんたい】: sounds more technical/academic/physical, and only mean the bodies of humans and large animals. Bodies of machines and robots are technically referred to as 筐体【きょうたい】.
  • 身体【からだ】: another generally accepted way of writing "からだ" in kanji, and it's a 熟字訓. It's not taught at school, but virtually all Japanese people recognize this readings.

The difficult part is the difference between 体【からだ】 and 身体【からだ】. For example, which one of the following is the better way to say "Take care of yourself?"


It seems that there is no single answer here. Yahoo! Chiebukuro has at least three questions about this (link A, link B, link C), and different answers were accepted as the best answer.

And the number of Google results:

  • お体を大事に: 794,000
  • お身体を大事に: 346,000
  • お体を大切に: 160,000
  • お身体を大切に: 1,210,000
  • 体を休める: 4,700,000 (may include the results of 身体を休める)
  • 身体を休める: 2,180,000

My personal choice was 体【からだ】, because I felt 身体【からだ】 is used mainly in novels and lyrics. But now I'm aware that there are many people who prefer 身体【からだ】 in such cases. After all, I seems to me that both of 体【からだ】 and 身体【からだ】 are equally OK as long as you're using this to human body, and as long as you're not writing something for dictionaries or news media.

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Regarding "身体... only mean the bodies of humans and large animals", is there a word for the body of small animals? – 3 to 5 business days Jul 31 '14 at 7:49
Scientists use 虫体 for insects, 菌体 for bacterium, etc. Ordinary people just use 体, I think. ハエの身体 is slightly unnatural to me, but others may say it's completely OK. – naruto Aug 1 '14 at 2:04

Great question! I love this answer from 知恵袋. I'll provide a minimal translation.

Difference in Writing

  • 体 is the standard way of writing it. 身体 is not.

Difference in Meaning

  • 体 actually has quite a few meanings. It can refer to the physical body itself, but it can also carry a meaning more akin to "health". On top of this, it can refer to pretty much any kind of body, be it human, animal, or otherwise (例:[車体]{しゃたい} ["body of a car"]). A few other things as well, but those are the most important definitions. (Full 三省堂 definition.)
  • 身体, which can be read either からだ or しんたい, is much narrower: it can only refer to the physical (flesh) body, either human or animal (from what I understand, this is regardless of which of the two readings you use). Furthermore, it can come across as being more academic -- you'd quickly come across this word in, say, medical literature.

Generally speaking you're gonna want to use 体, since it's the more standard way of writing it. Newspapers and other general-audience writing will most likely use it. That being said, there might be situations in which you'd prefer 身体; if you were wanting to emphasize the actual physical body, for instance.

Summary: They mean basically the same thing, but 身体 emphasizes the physical nature of the body and sounds a bit more academic.

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身体 pops up in novels quite frequently; perhaps it also has a literary flavor? – Brandon Jul 29 '14 at 16:27
In the first bullet under "meaning", you say that 体 can mean "health", but that only applies to the word からだ; and you say that 体 can refer to any kind of body, but that only applies to the kanji. – Zhen Lin Jul 29 '14 at 23:17
「体 is the standard way of writing it. 身体 is not.」? Perhaps so, according to the Edu. Ministry. In real life, however, many good writers actually avoid using 「体」 because it has a connotation of "flesh". – l'électeur Jul 29 '14 at 23:47
To clarify: 身体【しんたい】 is standard and sounds academic. 身体【からだ】 is nonstandard and sounds literary. 身体【からだ】 may be OK in a love song, but should definitely be avoided in formal documents. – naruto Jul 30 '14 at 2:11
@Aujury Editing your answer if you can make it more correct is the best option. I would avoid deleting unless an answer cannot be edited to a good one. – Szymon Jul 30 '14 at 4:12

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