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As far as I'm aware, both words translate into English as "woman". What's the difference in meaning between 女性 and 女の人?

58

There is no difference in meaning when the two words refer to "woman/women". There are, however, differences in how native speakers perceive the two words and the nuance they carry.

To discuss the exception first, 「[女性]{じょせい}」, has an extra meaning "feminine" or "female gender" when used in grammar terms for certain languages such as Romance languages. For instance, "la maison = 'the house'" is a 「[女性名詞]{じょせいめいし}」 = "feminine noun" in French. We never call it an 「女の人名詞」 or 「女名詞」.

As with nearly all other pairs of Japanese-origin words and their Chinese-origin counterparts with the same or similar meanings, the main difference between the two groups is the formality of the words. On-reading, Sino-loanwords like 「女性」 are almost always used in more formal or technical situations than their kun-reading, Japanese-origin counterparts like 「女の人」.

Japanese children learn to use the word 「女の人」 years before they learn to actively use 「女性」. You would rarely meet a kid under 12 or so who uses 「女性」 on a regular basis. Even teenagers would rarely use 「女性」 in their daily conversations, but they would in compositions and presentations in schools.

Some adults use 「女性」 even in the most informal conversations, but using 「女の人」 would be far more common on those occasions. Only 「女性」 is used in newspapers, magazines, academic papers, etc., and using 「女の人」 in those is utterly out of the question. 

  • 2
    Could you explain also the meaning and usage of 女子? – Ernestas Gruodis Jun 27 '15 at 8:49
  • @ErnestasGruodis 女子 is really "girl", until something like 25 years of age. You could say it's a contraction of 女の人, although it seems to me the latter is better suited for younger girls. Besides, the origin of the two words is pretty different, because 女子 is a Chinese word, and 女の人, a Japanese one. This explains the totally different readings (じしょ/おんなのひと). – Right leg Feb 14 '17 at 7:56
  • @Rightleg The reading should be "じょし", not "じしょ" – Paweł Batko Nov 20 '17 at 12:00
  • @PawełBatko Yes, and it's not 女の人 but rather 女の子. Besides, 女子 does exist in Chinese, but 女儿 is way more frequent. I was much mistaken... – Right leg Nov 20 '17 at 12:27
  • @PawełBatko hehe dictionary 辞書 – Otsukisama May 8 '18 at 13:02
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女性 means female (*for humans). (lit. the female kind; Cf. 男性 male / 中性 neuter)

女の人 means woman.

女の子 means girl.

女性 is a 漢語 (Chinese-origin word) which is often more formal. 女の人 is 和語(Japanese original word).

3

The meaning stays the same, but the connotation is that 女性 is the more scientific of the two. 女の人 is simple, everyday language. And while 女性 is used a fairly high amount of times also, it’s more used as a comparison to 男性.

So if you’re using 女の人 it’s just a description of what you perceive.

女の人は歌を歌うのが上手です。
(that) Girl is good at singing.

女性 is for comparison between the sexes.

女性は歌を歌うのが上手です。
Girls (compared to boys) are good (/better) at singing.

Note that I’m using ‘girls’ as a translation for simplicity’s sake. I could have translated it to women or females also. It’s just to keep my examples neat and concise.

  • 1
    But if I search for "女の人は" on Google, I mostly find general statements, not specific ones like in your example. – snailcar May 8 '18 at 14:04
  • Of course you can use both 女の人 and 女性 in a variety of situations. But I gave a clear example here to make sure the difference in connotation got through. – Otsukisama May 8 '18 at 19:02

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