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Can somebody describe the difference between these words(physical distance and maybe politeness of these words, or any aspects that you think are important to understand these).

Can all these words be used with any objects like buildings, pens, people, dogs etc.? Or is it more common to use some words more then others when talking about some of these?

付近、近辺、辺り、近所、周辺, 辺(thank you user1205935)

I've found this link, but it's about expressing the idea of being in the surrounding of a town so it's not exactly what I need.

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There is also [辺]{へん}. –  Earthliŋ Dec 4 '12 at 10:09
    
Thank you, added 辺 to the list. –  Michal Dec 4 '12 at 10:19
    
Note that can be either へん or ほとり, though the latter usually means "edge", used in context of water (bank of a river, beside a lake, etc.) –  istrasci Dec 4 '12 at 19:04
    
a somewhat related question which might also be worth looking at: What's the difference between 「この辺{へん}」 and 「この辺{あた}り」 –  cypher Dec 6 '12 at 3:54

2 Answers 2

I'll take a stab at this with my personal experience and some dictionary entries:

付近 - This just means a place nearby. The dictionary examples, 駅の付近をうろつく and 付近の図書館, just show an idea of general "nearbyness." In English you might liken it to "around" or "in the vicinity of" or even just "area"

近辺 - The dictionary's definition is 近いあたり。近所。近傍。付近。「学校の―」「新宿―」 so I think it's safe just to call this one a synonym of the others. If you look at the kanji it's just a simple combination of near and area, so it's a nearby area. It's worth noting that 近辺 only has 43 entries on alc, so it would appear not to be widely in use.

辺り - This is another one that is defined basically in terms of the others, however this one has a much more general meaning of nearby. For example, you can say ビルの辺り to refer to an area near a building, or 目の辺り or 首の辺り to refer to someone's eyes or around one's neck.

近所 - This is the most basic word that you learn for "neighborhood," as in your neighborhood where you live. In its various uses it retains the meaning of being around where you live.

周辺 - This refers to the outer edges of something, like the outskirts or periphery. It has this literal meaning but can also be used in a more metaphorical way, like to describe the people around you.

辺 by itself is one that I hear just used to point out a general location, like そこら辺 or この辺.

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I think ssb's answer is spot on, but I'll add a bit more info on the formality.

The rough ordering of formality:

More formal ...  近辺 > 周辺 > 付近 >> 近所 > 辺り >> 辺  ...  Less formal

IMO the above is the approximate ordering of formality. Note the the two ">>" in the middle. The words in the left most partition sound a bit odd if you use it in daily, frank conversations. Words in the next partition are frank, but can also be used in formal conversations (and writings). The right most word (辺) would be weird to be used in formal context if used to mean proximity (if it's used as a different meaning ("edge") then it can be used in a formal situation).

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