These four words all seem to mean "group," but what are the nuanced differences? When can a group be identified with one/some of these but not the others? How much overlap is there between them?

  • 組{くみ} as in 赤組 vs. 白組 (at an 運動会, for example , "white team" vs. "red team")
  • 団{だん} as in 劇団, 楽団, 応援団, 代表団
  • 班{はん} as in everything here since it seems to be used more as a single word than as part of a compound (example being 班にもっと頑張ってもらう)
  • 群{ぐん} (occasionally むれ when kun-yomi (but usually with okurigana?)) as in here, for the same reasons as above (example [群]{むれ}を作って~の回りに集まる)
  • I went ahead and approved the suggested edit but would it definitely be むれ in that case? I'm thinking of the phrase 群を成す which is ぐん, or 群を抜く
    – ssb
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 11:50
  • 1
    [群]{ぐん}を成す is a mathematical term. When a set satisfies the axioms of group (e.g. existance of inverse element, associativity rules etc.) , then we say that the set becomes a group [群]{ぐん}を成す. If one want to explain that many (usually living) things group together, one say [群]{むれ}を成す instead.
    – jovanni
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 12:11
  • Ok got it, those math meanings can be tricky.
    – ssb
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 12:24
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    Looking at this, though, it doesn't seem exclusively mathematical kotobank.jp/word/%E7%BE%A4%E3%82%92%E6%8A%9C%E3%81%8F
    – ssb
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 12:27
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    I think that it is more logical to treat むれ and ぐん as two different words (although they are written in the same way in kanji). One of the meanings of ぐん is the mathematical term ‘group,’ but it is not the only meaning. Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


If I may apply the native speakers' standards, [群]{ぐん} or [群]{む}れ looks really out of place with the other three words; It just does not belong in that particular group of words.

There is a sense of "officialness" associated with the words 組, 団 and 班 with membership, common purpose of existing, pecking order, etc. 群れ, however, refers to a group of people that just happen to be someplace at the same time. These people rarely form a social group.

Now the difficult part --- the differences among 組, 団 and 班. I am just giving real-life examples. There is a ton of exceptions, though, I warn you.

In schools (elementary thru high school), all students of each grade is divided into several 組(and those are called 一年三組、二年B組, etc.). If a teacher decides to divide his 組 into a number of small groups for a group project or something, those small groups are most often called 班.

A 班 is always a sub-group within a larger group. In some companies, a department may be divided into 班's.

団 is a group of people with the same or similar skills. It gives off a feeling of professionalism and often strong unity. Examples are circuses, orchestras, fire fighters, theatrical or ballet groups, etc.

Finally, for the curious, the generic name for an organized crime group is [暴力団]{ぼうりょくだん} but the actual individual groups are most often named ~~[組]{ぐみ} (not くみ). Some call themselves ~~会.

  • 1) You're fairly new around here, so you may not know about this site's feature for furigana support (since you wrote ぼうりょくだん the way you did). Just FYI. 2) There is also 暴走族【ぼう・そう・ぞく】, so would be a good fifth candidate to the original post, or is it not as frequent and 暴走族 is one of the few, if not only usage?
    – istrasci
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 20:31

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