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According to jisho.org, they all have the same meanings, to climb, to rise, to ascend. Is that true? And do they have differences in usage?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

They do have differences in usage. I've gathered a few examples that, I hope, differentiate the meanings. First, I'll try to put them in English:

  • 上る Go up
  • 登る Climb
  • 昇る Ascend / rise

But I don't know how helpful that is. Certainly there isn't a one-to-one mapping between those English words and those ways of writing のぼる. I think you'll get a better sense of what each one means if you look at how they're used:

上る Go up

  • 川{かわ}を[上]{のぼ}る go up the river
  • 階段{かいだん}を[上]{のぼ}る go up the stairs

登る Climb

  • 山{やま}に[登]{のぼ}る climb a mountain
  • ロープで[登]{のぼ}る climb a rope
  • 木{き}に[登]{のぼ}る climb a tree

昇る Ascend, rise

  • 日{ひ}が[昇]{のぼ}る the sun rises
  • 天{てん}に[昇]{のぼ}る rise into heaven

For more examples, see the following links:

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Shouldn't it be 気温が 上った{あがった}? – Jeemusu Oct 3 '12 at 8:37
Crud. I edited it to take out that example. Everything else look okay? – snailplane Oct 3 '12 at 8:48
上がる is probably more common for 階段 . Although 上る can be used too. I think the nuance is slightly different depending on which you use. – Jeemusu Oct 3 '12 at 8:49
@Jeemusu, 上がる focuses slightly more on the endpoint, 上る slightly more on the path. But 階段を上る isn't uncommon at all, so it's fine to have it in the examples. – dainichi Oct 3 '12 at 23:18

There are several words with a series of kanji like this. There is usually a common kanji used for the basic verb, in this case のぼる which is usually 登る.

The others becomes more clear in kanji compounds. When using jisho.org, search for kanji details, then click on "words containing" and look for what sorts of compounds the particular kanji is used in.

Some examples:

  • 昇進 {しょうしん} = promotion. Common word, Noun, Suru-verb, No-adjective

  • 昇格 {しょうかく} = raising of status. Common word, Noun, Suru-verb, No-adjective

  • 登山 {とざん} = mountain climbing. Common word, Noun, Suru-verb

  • 登校 {とうこう} = attendance (at school); going to school. Common word, Noun, Suru-verb

  • 上り {のぼり} = 1: ascent; climbing; ascending (path); climb; 2: up-train (e.g. going to Tokyo); 3: northward (towards Tokyo)

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