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The dictionaries translate these three words roughly as preparation/preparedness or ready/readiness.

I don't think I undersand the subtleties of their usage. Not to mention できる also has another meaning as "to be ready" as in 「ご飯できてるよ!」to mean that "The meal is ready."

Please enlighten me. Also ware their any other words commonly used to mean prepare/ready?

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4 Answers

As far as I understand them, 準備 seems like doing something concrete as preparation to do something, or preparing for something to happen.

覚悟 is more of a mental readiness for something (心に用意のあること). The best way I remember this is that in the Street Fighter games, Chun Li often says this in her pre-fight intro (覚悟はいい? -- Are you ready?).

用意 seems to overlap the two, but more with 準備 than 覚悟.

Another word to consider is 支【し】度【たく】(したく). I've never heard of it before now, but apparently it is mainly used only in speech, and often just relating to food/clothing.

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  • Between 準備 and 用意, they're both used for preparing in advance, but 用意 puts emphasis on preparing things in advance so they can be used when the time comes, so is used more when e.g. baking a cake in advance, and 準備 is used in a more general way, like preparations for an athletics carnival or something.

    準備 is also used in the expression 心の準備はできている, which is used for mental preparedness in a similar way that 覚悟ができている is.

  • 覚悟 is used when bracing oneself for something which is going to be unpleasant, or preparing for something that will be dangerous/difficult etc.

  • 支度 is particularly used in reference to meals e.g. preparing dinner (夕飯の支度をする), and preparing for the execution of something that's planned/done as a matter of course e.g. preparing for a trip (旅行の支度をする) or preparing for school (学校へ行く支度をする).

    I believe 夕飯の用意をする is also used, so I think there's a bit of overlap.

  • 備える is used for preparing for a disaster etc, or for preparing furniture or electrical appliances and whatnot so they can be used whenever they need to be.

  • できている can often mean something is in a prepared state ("ready", "completed" or "done" etc), and Xでできている means that something is made of X.

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I want to address some real examples of usage here:

準備 in actual use has more of a meaning of getting ready for something, and is used in ways that the others are not. For example, you would say 運動会の準備をしています or ランチの準備をしてる, but not 用意 in these cases, at least not with the same meaning.

用意 means something a lot closer to preparing something, and I see it used very often with food or other situations of hospitality, as in 部屋にベッドは用意しています (the bed is ready for you in your room) or ケーキを用意する, to prepare a cake. In this case you wouldn't really say ケーキを準備する, for example. Its English equivalent would be something like "ready the cakes!" You COULD say it but it lacks the idea of preparedness for special use and emphasizes the general availability for use, if that makes sense.

覚悟 has been addressed well already, and it just means to be personally ready for something.

支度 isn't really used much as far as I can tell, but it has a meaning of "getting ready." For example, there is the word 支度部屋 (dressing room) or 身支度 (getting dressed). You can say 学校の支度をする or 夕食の支度をする or others of that vein. It feels closest in meaning to 準備 but with a little bit of 用意 thrown in.

The difference isn't really that profound in meaning between them, however, as in the 大辞林 dictionary they are basically defined in terms of each other. See 支度, 準備, 用意

It literally defines 支度 as 準備すること。用意すること, and it has other nuances attached that correspond to my explanation above.

準備 is similar, defined as 用意すること。支度すること。 but without the extra nuances.

用意 also lists both 準備 and したく as definitions but emphasizes the beforehand-ness of preparation for a specific act.

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From here:

[用法]準備・用意――「食事の準備(用意)が整った」「外出の準備(用意)をする」「研究発表の準備(用意)をする」など、前もって整える意では、相通じて用いられる。◇「準備」は、「大会の準備をする」といえば、必要な物をそろえるだけでなく、そのための組織を運営することをも含み、総合的であるといえる。◇「用意」は「大地震にそなえて十分な用意をする」「当日は上履を御用意ください」のように、必要なものを前もってそろえておくことに意味の重点がある。◇類似の語「支度」は、必要な物をそろえる具体的な行動をする意に用い、「支度金」は必要品を買いととのえる金銭であり、「食事の支度をする」は、材料をそろえて調理することである。

Translation (I broke it up so it would be easier to read)

[Usage] 準備・用意 - In the examples meaning to prepare in advance,「食事の準備(用意)が整った]、「外出の準備(用意)をする」、「研究発表の準備(用意)をする」, etc. both can be used.

◇「準備」in sentences like 「大会の準備をする」 does not mean just to prepare necessary materials (things), but includes the idea that you are managing an organization (event), and can be considered more general (encompassing).

◇「用意」as seen in 「大地震にそなえて十分な用意をする」 and 「当日は上履を御用意ください」puts the focus on collecting (preparing) the necessary goods (materials) in advance.

◇Also the very similar 「支度」is used for the specific action you are doing in order to prepare the necessary materials (things). 「支度金」 is the money used to buy the necessary goods (materials) > and 「食事の支度をする」means to collect the necessary goods and prepare food.

So, 準備, 用意 and 支度 are similar. 覚悟 can be considered different from the above, as it means "mental preparation for a dangerous, difficult or disadvantageous situation".

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