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These two words both appear to have the meaning "to give birth" or "to produce". However, what is the difference between the two kanji used?

I originally assumed that 生む meant "to give birth" and 産む meant "to produce", but looking at some example sentences, they seem to be used interchangeably. What is going on there?

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    There are also the nouns 出生 & 出産, which both mean "birth" in some sense.
    – Earthliŋ
    Nov 2, 2013 at 15:04

1 Answer 1

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Check out this site for some kanji etymology. I've posted the results there.

: 生 (Type 2 Phonetic) birth; life + an abbreviated form of 彦 (handsome/well-formed) → (well-formed), locally grown, life-sustaining product → produce; production; local product/material (that sustains life) → one's birthplace → childbirth.

: SIS shows an abbreviated form (Type 8 Phonetic) of 艸 grass/plant + 土 earth → fresh, slender grass shoots → birth; life → new; fresh; sprout; raw; alive; by nature; youth; unripe; pure; bear fruit; spare a life; bring back to life; make use of; make a living; be/remain valid; arrange flowers/plants; grow; undiluted.

Funny enough I just saw these two kanji used in a short story by Kenzaburo Oe this evening while studying. In the story なぜ子供は学校に行かねばならないのか, the narrator uses the 産む when referring to his mother's speech, where 生む is used in the passive form (生まれる). Both are talking about giving birth, but its interesting to think about how the usage of 産 in this case does refer more explicitly to the production of a child.

Although that alone, even combined with the kanji etymology, isn't conclusive, but it seems to me like you're on the right path when viewing 産 as more related to production whereas 生 is inherently more related to life, as a general concept, e.g. 生物、[生]{い}きる、生活

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  • Thanks for mentioning the 艸+土-etymology. I once saw a 山 on top of 土 and have been wondering since. Nov 6, 2013 at 16:23
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    @JensJensen Take a look at the older forms of 生.
    – user1478
    Nov 7, 2013 at 0:28
  • So 産む is usually used when referring to giving birth to a child?
    – 小太郎
    Nov 10, 2013 at 10:04
  • Is this really correct? 産む refers exclusively to when a baby or egg is delivered from a mother's womb, whereas 生む is a general word that means roughly "to produce something new". Both can be used for giving birth (i.e. you "produce a new life" or you "deliver a baby", in practice the same thing), but only 生む can be used for non-living things like いい結果を生み出す. On the other hand, there are combined words such as 産業 where 産 is used for strictly material things.
    – a20
    Feb 15 at 16:02

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