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I am sometimes having difficulty differentiating friends level when explaining it to a Japanese. For example, when I am telling a story about a friend, I want to specify the level of friendship we have based to the context of the story.

So there are commonly known 4 levels of friendships ( click here for those who are not familiar)

  1. Acquaintance friend
  2. Casual friend
  3. Close friend
  4. Intimate friend


  1. Best friend (a little bit different from intimate friend)

There are several term I do hear when they refer to friends like 友達,友人, 親友, 仲間{なかま} (translate as comrade but commonly used to mean friend in anime). How do I differentiate them in Japanese? Or do Japanese don't differentiate between them.

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

When it comes to personal/social relations, Japanese is more delicate than most other languages in the world. English is on the other extreme. It does not even have a simplex word to distinguish "younger brother" and "older brother" or "younger sister" and "older sister", and people call even teachers by their first name without polite prefix in English, and shop clerks say "hey guys" even to the customer.--Pretty much unbelievable to a Japanese learning English for the first time.

Following are roughly listed from less intimate to more intimate.

  • 知人, 知り合い 'acquaintance'
  • 同窓生 'schoolmates', 'people who graduated the same school (often in the same fiscal year)'
  • 同期 'people who entered the same school/company/institution etc. in the same fiscal year'
  • 同級生 'classmates'
  • 同僚 'colleague'
  • 友達 'friend'
  • ダチ slangish way of saying 'friend'
  • 友人 formal way of saying 'friend'
  • 仲間 'buddy'
  • 旧知 'long acquaintance'
  • 親友 'close friend'
  • マブダチ slangish way of saying 'close friend'
  • 連れ 'partner'
  • 相棒 'partner (of a duo)'
  • 友達以上恋人未満 'friend or more but less than a lover'
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友達以上恋人未満 is fantastic. – jogloran Mar 12 '12 at 1:31
+1 for not only the list but for prefacing the list with some information. (Sometimes pure list answers seem so dry...) – atlantiza Mar 12 '12 at 2:31
@Dave, Flaw That is a phrase rather than a word. Once you start saying that kind of things, it is endless... But then, I realized that also applies to my last example. – user458 Mar 12 '12 at 4:00
@Matt ...以上...未満 is commonly used in elementary school when dealing with statistics, particularly when mentioning a semi-opened interval corresponding to an item of a bar-graph. 友達以上恋人未満 is sort of a parody of that. To Japanese people, it reminds of those things learned at elementary school, and the fact that it refers to a semi-opened interval is vital. – user458 Mar 12 '12 at 5:10
友達以上恋人未満 suspiciously sounds like the "friendzone" – Flaw Mar 12 '12 at 13:48

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