I saw a tweet that said


And my dictionary translated 呑む as 'to drink', with 飲む as the default spelling and 呑む as an alternate form.

What is the difference between 飲む and 呑む?

  • 2
    Your dictionary also says: 呑む is often used metaphorically
    – oals
    Nov 14, 2015 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


Maybe you know that to say "to take a pill" in Japanese you would say 丸薬をのむ. (I did not put the kanji of のむ intentionally).

飲む is used to say to drink. I mean, to absorb a liquid through your mouth like "to drink water, syrup, beer, ..."

On the other side 呑む is used more to mean to swallow. It can be figurative or not. 涙{なみだ}を呑{の}む (to refrain one's anger), 固唾{かたず}を呑む(to hold one's breath because of anxiety/fear), 息を呑む (to gasp). 町は闇に呑まれた (the village was in the dark).

Thus, the "right" spelling of 丸薬をのむ is with 呑む but today everyone uses 飲む (because 呑 is not part of the 常用漢字).

  • 3
    I find it interesting that wonton in Chinese is spelled 雲呑: "cloud swallowing". Wonderfully poetic. Nov 14, 2015 at 1:40
  • ...and contrary to explanations like this, 呑む is widely used for sake drinking like here in 呑みきり and 立ち呑み all around towns
    – macraf
    Nov 14, 2015 at 1:48
  • ...and it's hard to claim it is recent change, because for example of 黒田節
    – macraf
    Nov 14, 2015 at 1:51
  • @macraf that is true that 呑む is also used for drinking sake but that is the only beverage I know for which 呑む is used and I preferred to omit it. Nov 14, 2015 at 1:55
  • 1
    A couple more examples: 鵜{う}呑{の}み and 丸{まる}呑{の}み
    – user1478
    Nov 14, 2015 at 4:02

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