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I've often seen 「食べる」 used, when should we use 「食う」 ? Are these two interchangeable ? Can you provide examples ?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

They both mean "eat", as you no doubt already know.

食{た}べるhowever, is "eat" in the sense of "sit down and have a meal". Not strictly that, but that's more the image. It also means eat as in "sustenance", the food you eat regularly to stay alive.

食{く}う is eat in the sense of "consume", as in one animal eating another. 食う can be used for people, of course, and it conveys a more raw sense of "I'm going to get this food in me!"

So, to get more specific to your question...

They are not entirely interchangeable because of the different implications described above.

An example of 食べる is

食{た}べるために働{はたら}いている。

(I) work so that I can eat

Note in this example, there's the dual implication of working so that one can afford meals, and also to maintain oneself by having continued access to sustenance.

An example of 食う is:

食{く}うか食{く}われるかの世{よ}の中{なか}

In this world, it's eat or be eaten. "It's a dog eat dog world"

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Is it true that it is uncouth to use 食う ? –  Pacerier Sep 6 '11 at 10:44
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@Pacerier: It is not always uncouth as a rule. It can range from a somewhat neutral sense, as in the answer above, to a sort of raw and rough sense. For example, one time I was in a sushi place where a man in his fifties, and a little drunk, decided to educate me on the proper way to eat sushi - with your hands, and the fish side down so you taste the fish, not the rice. He used 食う instead of 食べる, because he was a gruff older guy showing this youngster the ropes. Not uncouth or rude, but it had, for lack of a better word, a "manly" aspect. –  Dave M G Sep 6 '11 at 15:23
    
ok cool, thx for the info =) –  Pacerier Sep 6 '11 at 16:41

It's probably worth noting that 食う also gets used for things like time and money getting eaten up 「暇も金もパチンコ機器に食われちゃった。」 and being on the receiving end of bad stuff 「激しいパンチを食った。」 「お目玉(叱り)を食った。」. There's also a similar verb 食らう (くらう), with pretty much the same meaning.

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I didn't know there was another verb with the same kanji, is there a difference worth mentioning between 「食らう」 and the others ? –  Aki Sep 6 '11 at 13:12
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@Aki - It's used more or less the same as 食う, but you'll probably encounter it much less often. –  rdb Sep 6 '11 at 14:17
    
Okay, good to know, thank you. –  Aki Sep 6 '11 at 14:19
    
Actually I've just seen it used in a Japanese slang learning book: 「くそ食らえ」. This could be translated to "fuck off" or literally "eat shit!" –  Aki Sep 6 '11 at 14:23
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食らう is more like "wolf/chow down"; has a more rough or "violent" feeling to it. Because wolves. –  istrasci Feb 6 '13 at 15:27

I'm not sure where you're from, Aki, but depending on your native language you might have already come across a pair of words that mean almost the same thing, but one of them has a slightly bad connotation where the other is more neutral.

In my native language, German, we have "essen" (to eat [humanly], 食べる) and "fressen" (to eat [animalistic], 食う).

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French: manger/bouffer –  Nicolas Raoul Sep 6 '11 at 5:20
    
I can relate to French language a bit, "bouffer" seems very gross and vulgar. Is 「食う」 that vulgar ? –  Aki Sep 6 '11 at 13:07
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@Aki: I think 食う is less vulgar, but as familiar. –  Axioplase Sep 7 '11 at 1:40

食う is often used by teenage or young adults, especially males.

According to a discussion I had with thirty-something Japanese guy the other day, it's a verb that people start to stop using when they reach 25/35, at which stage they go back to the less vernacular 食べる.

However, 食う is pervasive in some dialects. For example, in Tôhoku, "食べてください" ("please eat") is often said "け", derived from "食え" ("eat!").

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Interesting, thanks! –  Aki Sep 6 '11 at 13:05

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