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Is there any semantic difference between the three? Which is used more often? Is there any nuance to picking one over another (formality, sounding more literary etc.)?

  • One thing for いぶる, I think "燻す(いぶす)" is often used, but いぶる is less common [citation needed]. – Yosh May 10 '15 at 15:10
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Main Source: コトバンク

https://kotobank.jp/word/%E7%87%BB%E3%82%8B-435662#E5.A4.A7.E8.BE.9E.E6.9E.97.20.E7.AC.AC.E4.B8.89.E7.89.88

The example sentences are my own.

「いぶる」

This would be the simplest of the three in the sense that it only has one meaning. It means "to smolder without burning properly".

「[暖炉]{だんろ}がいぶってしまって、うまく[燃]{も}えていない。」= "The fire place is just smoldering and not burning right."

This is one of the meanings of 「くすぶる」 as well.

「くゆる」

Main meaning: "(for smoke) to rise gently". Once again, 「くすぶる」 can mean this as well.

「[線香]{せんこう}が[静]{しず}かにくゆる。」= "The incense burns silently."

Secondary meaning: "to brood on (often in regret)" A highly literary usage. You would not only sound weird if you used the word for this meaning in a casual conversation, but you will also not be even understood by regular folk as myself.

「くすぶる」

By far the most versatile and often-used of the three.

Besides the two meanings it has that I mentioned above, it also has the following meanings.

"To become sooty"

「[焼肉]{やきにく}で[天井]{てんじょう}がくすぶってしまった。」= "The (table-top) BBQ has made the ceiling sooty!"

"To smolder" (metaphorical)

「[農民]{のうみん}の[間]{あいだ}で[不満]{ふまん}がくすぶっている。」= "There exists smoldering discontent among the farmers."

"To rot away (in one's home or in a remote, non-urban place)"

「スミスはもう8[年]{ねん}も[家]{いえ}でくすぶっている。」- "Smith has been staying inside his home for 8 years already (answering language questions on internet!)."

"To remain in a lowly position"

「[田中]{たなか}はもう20年も[係長]{かかりちょう}でくすぶっている。」= "Tanaka has been living the humdrum life of a lowly section chief for 20 years."

  • I actually forgot to click the "bounty" button (more precisely, I thought it would be awarded automatically)... – user9771 May 12 '15 at 15:58
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  • いぶる means to process something with smoke.
  • くすぶる means source of heat remains.
  • くゆる means smoke runs.
  • As for the first one, aren't you mixing up いぶる and いぶす? (Or maybe some larger paper dictionary has such a definition?) – naruto May 5 '15 at 13:14
  • You're right, I do mix them. – user4092 May 6 '15 at 1:23

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