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Skimming through the options my IME presents for とる, I'm seeing a whole lot of choices, including the following:

  • 取る
  • 撮る
  • 録る
  • 執る
  • 摂る
  • 捕る
  • 獲る
  • 穫る
  • 採る
  • 盗る

While I've seen 取る ("to take") and 撮る ("to record") relatively frequently, the rest appear rather foreign to me. What do they mean, and how are they used?

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    From most to least frequent on BCCWJ: 取る (85.95%), 撮る (7.02%), 採る (2.06%), 捕る (1.51%), 奪る (0.94%), 摂る (0.86%), 執る (0.62%), 獲る (0.56%), 盗る (0.28%), 録る (0.14%), 穫る (0.06%). – snailcar Jun 14 '14 at 17:13
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You already know the dictionary meanings.

  • All of these とる variants listed here are understood by most Japanese adults.
  • In general, using certain uncommon 同訓異字 verbs, such as 啼く (vs 鳴く), 護る (vs 守る), 淹れる (vs 入れる), can sometimes do more harm than good in daily practice. It's unnecessarily difficult and too poetic. You probably know this risk.
  • However, NHK does use many of these とる variants according to the situation, except for 穫る, 録る. Unfortunately, you can't just stick to 取る.
  • 撮る is definitely worth memorizing because it's used very frequently and 「写真を取る」「映画を取る」 is 100% incorrect. However 「撮る is safe for anything involving recording」 is also not accurate because 撮る can be used only for recording with cameras.
    • テレビで放送されていた映画をDVDに撮る => weird
    • 野鳥の鳴き声をスマホで撮る => weird
  • Besides 取る and 撮る, the safest strategy is not to stick to 取る, but to stick to hiragana とる. Or you can avoid ambiguous とる altogether and use equivalents such as 盗む, 採用する, 採取する, 録画する/録音する, 捕まえる and 収穫する. These are actually what I do in daily practice. I sometimes dare write 「栄養をとる」「山菜をとる」「筆をとる」 instead of 「栄養を摂る」「山菜を採る」「筆を執る」 to make my text look milder.
  • 「映画を録る (at home) 」 is not listed in 常用漢字表 but I really see this often.
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Information primarily sourced from 大辞林's entry on とる.

とる

General meaning: to take, to manipulate; to record

取る

取る means “to have in hand”, “to take in hand”, “to collect”, “to demand time or labor”, “to undertake”.

Unlike 持つ【もつ】, 取る involves manipulation of the object in hand for a purpose; not just simply holding it.

撮る

撮る means “to shoot pictures or movies”.

録る

録る means “to record sound/video to a medium”. It differs from 撮る in that it focuses on the medium moreso than the recording of what is taking place.

執る

執る means “to take into hand and use”, “to carry out”.

とる is often written as 取る, however it can also be written as 執る in cases such as the following:

  • 筆を執る [to pick up a writing brush/to take up the pen]
  • 事務を執る [to attend to business]

摂る

摂る means “to take into the body” (e.g. nutrition), “to eat”.

捕る

捕る means “to arrest”, “to catch”. (cf. 捕まる【つかまる】)

獲る

獲る means “to catch game” (e.g. hunting or fishing). It can also be written as 捕る【とる】.

穫る

穫る means “to harvest crops”.

採る

採る means “to gather”, “to go hunting for”, “to collect”, “to select”.

盗る

盗る means “to take someone else’s things”, “to steal”. It can also be written as 取る.

I just want to play it safe, which ones are generic?

取る is a safe bet for most things that involve picking up or taking objects, while 撮る is safe for anything involving recording.

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