Is 亡くなる is a polite form of しぬ?

What is the difference in nuance between these two sentences:

  1. ディックは10歳のとき亡くなった。

  2. ディックは10歳のとき死んだ。


3 Answers 3


亡くなる is a euphemism for 死ぬ. 死ぬ means “to die” directly, and it is often appropriate to replace it with the less direct 亡くなる when one is talking about the death of a person. As Dave wrote in his answer, euphemisms for death exist in other languages, too.

死ぬ can be used for a person or an animal, but 亡くなる is usually used only for a person.

逝去する, mentioned in Derek’s comment on Dave’s answer, is a 尊敬語 (respectful form) of 死ぬ/亡くなる and raises the status of the person who is mentioned. 亡くなる is not a 尊敬語. For example, it is correct to use 亡くなる when talking about the death of a family member to the outside, but it is incorrect to use 逝去する in this case.



死ぬ = too direct, rough and generally rude when talking about a person.

亡くなる = polite way of saying it.

Same exact nuance exists in most languages, English included:

死ぬ → to die

亡くなる → to pass away / to pass on / to be deceased (when using past form)

While you could say "I heard that your grandpa died", saying "I heard that your grandpa passed away" would be consider much better form.

  • 1
    @Pacerier: You may also hear 逝去する (せいきょする, "pass away") in the news and on formal occasions. Jun 30, 2011 at 12:33

Being the rudeness level, I think it's also a matter of shock level. Characters in anime and movies are likely to use '死ぬ' because it's very shocking to say it like that, where in real life people are a little more likely to have some restraint.

Let's face it, "お前はもう死んでいる" has more impact than "お前はもう亡くなっている". (Both mean "You are already dead", but the first is a direct quote from the anime Fist of the North Star's Ken.)

  • thanks for the precision. But I think it might be important for people to keep in mind that real-life Japanese do not speak like anime characters (or any other highly fictional characters)... Therefore there really is little reason (and only potential for very embarrassing situations) to use words in such a way yourself. -- BTW, I am assuming your example makes sense in a very specific context, but you may want to add the translation ("You are already dead"?) for those who do not have that reference.
    – Dave
    Jun 30, 2011 at 23:39
  • @Dave Yeah, I've heard a lot that anime characters speak differently, but sometimes it's a really subtle thing like this. It's rather hard to catch sometimes. Thanks for the advice. I've added the translation and explanation.
    – William
    Jul 1, 2011 at 11:24
  • 1
    I agree with Dave that we should not confuse the way fictional characters speak and the way real people speak. However, the point of the example in your answer is that 死ぬ must have been chosen over 亡くなる in the well-known quote お前はもう死んでいる because 死ぬ is more shocking than 亡くなる, and I think that the point is valid. This also explains why 亡くなる is usually preferred (because it is less shocking). Jul 2, 2011 at 5:01

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