I've often seen 真理,真相 and 真実 in contexts that to me seem interchangeable.

Could some one give examples of where each word is most appropriate? When is one more appropriate than the other?

For instance, which is best suited to saying:

The truth is above all else

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    I think he just wants to know what situations you would use each one in generally, aka what the difference is between the words. – ssb Jan 31 '14 at 12:18

Interesting question. I would say that there is little interchangeability between any two of those three words (even though a dictionary would probably tell you that they all mean "truth"). I am answering without using a dictionary.

From a native speaker's prospective, [真理]{しんり} is by far the "biggest" word of the three. It is mostly used in a religious or philosophical discussion to refer to the "ultimate" kind of Truth with an uppercase T. It is far from being an "everyday" kind of word for most people. (However, when 真理 is read まり, it suddenly becomes an everyday kind of a girl's name.)

[真実]{しんじつ} is the often-used word to refer to "truth" or "fact" for general purposes. It is in everyone's active vocabulary. Literally, anything that is true or is a fact can be called 真実. (I will not mention my ex-colleague [真実]{まみ}.)

[真相]{しんそう} refers to a collection of little [真実]{しんじつ}'s. It is the bigger (and deeper) picture of an incident which it takes time and effort to arrive at. It is the whole "story" rather than a piece of information that has been proved to be true.

So, to say "The truth is above all else.", the usual word choice would be 真実, but as I said above, one could use 真理 if it is said in the context of a highly religious or philosophical discussion. Using 真相 there is out of the question.

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    そのため、ヨハネの福音書でイエスはこのように言われている。「しかし真理を行う者は、光のほうに来る。その行いが神にあってなされたことが明らかにされるためである。」(3節21章)。(先週だけ読んだので、なぜ真理を使っているに気になりました) – virmaior Feb 1 '14 at 1:32
  • @TN-san: your humour will help me remember this. Thanks. – Tim Feb 1 '14 at 2:29

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