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What are the differences between 死ぬ{しぬ}, 他界する{たかいする} and 亡くなる{なくなる}?

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Kicked the bucket, bought the farm, pushing up daisies, bit the dust, etc. – syockit Aug 22 '14 at 13:24

From my personal experience,

「亡くなる」 is the most neutral word.

「先生のお父さんはがんで亡くなられたよ」 - "Our teacher's father died from cancer"

「死ぬ」 is a strong word that is usually avoided by polite people, but is used to express emphasis or to deliberately offend. It can also be used to talk about animals.

「勝手に死ね!」 - Literally, "Die on your own!", but is very strong and rude.
「あのセミが死んでいるよ」 - "That cicada is dead"

「他界する」 is a polite word (often used on television) to express the idea that someone has "left this world".

「美紀ちゃんは13才という若さで他界した」 - "Miki-chan passed away at the tender age of 13"
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死ぬ is the general, neutral term for "to die". 他界する assumes particular belief, namely that the person/animal goes to the afterworld. 亡くなる is euphemism.

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死亡する is also used in place of 死ぬ because the latter is too strong a word. It's used in news articles, announcements, and I think has a slightly official and impersonal feel to it.

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