I've often seen 「食べる」 used, when should we use 「食う」 ? Are these two interchangeable ? Can you provide examples ?

5 Answers 5


They both mean "eat", as you no doubt already know.

食{た}べるhowever, is "eat" in the sense of "sit down and have a meal". Not strictly that, but that's more the image. It also means eat as in "sustenance", the food you eat regularly to stay alive.

食{く}う is eat in the sense of "consume", as in one animal eating another. 食う can be used for people, of course, and it conveys a more raw sense of "I'm going to get this food in me!"

So, to get more specific to your question...

They are not entirely interchangeable because of the different implications described above.

An example of 食べる is


(I) work so that I can eat

Note in this example, there's the dual implication of working so that one can afford meals, and also to maintain oneself by having continued access to sustenance.

An example of 食う is:


In this world, it's eat or be eaten. "It's a dog eat dog world"

  • Is it true that it is uncouth to use 食う ?
    – Pacerier
    Sep 6, 2011 at 10:44
  • 5
    @Pacerier: It is not always uncouth as a rule. It can range from a somewhat neutral sense, as in the answer above, to a sort of raw and rough sense. For example, one time I was in a sushi place where a man in his fifties, and a little drunk, decided to educate me on the proper way to eat sushi - with your hands, and the fish side down so you taste the fish, not the rice. He used 食う instead of 食べる, because he was a gruff older guy showing this youngster the ropes. Not uncouth or rude, but it had, for lack of a better word, a "manly" aspect.
    – Questioner
    Sep 6, 2011 at 15:23
  • ok cool, thx for the info =)
    – Pacerier
    Sep 6, 2011 at 16:41

It's probably worth noting that 食う also gets used for things like time and money getting eaten up 「暇も金もパチンコ機器に食われちゃった。」 and being on the receiving end of bad stuff 「激しいパンチを食った。」 「お目玉(叱り)を食った。」. There's also a similar verb 食らう (くらう), with pretty much the same meaning.

  • I didn't know there was another verb with the same kanji, is there a difference worth mentioning between 「食らう」 and the others ?
    – Aki
    Sep 6, 2011 at 13:12
  • 1
    @Aki - It's used more or less the same as 食う, but you'll probably encounter it much less often.
    – rdb
    Sep 6, 2011 at 14:17
  • Actually I've just seen it used in a Japanese slang learning book: 「くそ食らえ」. This could be translated to "fuck off" or literally "eat shit!"
    – Aki
    Sep 6, 2011 at 14:23
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    食らう is more like "wolf/chow down"; has a more rough or "violent" feeling to it. Because wolves.
    – istrasci
    Feb 6, 2013 at 15:27

I'm not sure where you're from, Aki, but depending on your native language you might have already come across a pair of words that mean almost the same thing, but one of them has a slightly bad connotation where the other is more neutral.

In my native language, German, we have "essen" (to eat [humanly], 食べる) and "fressen" (to eat [animalistic], 食う).

  • 1
    French: manger/bouffer Sep 6, 2011 at 5:20
  • I can relate to French language a bit, "bouffer" seems very gross and vulgar. Is 「食う」 that vulgar ?
    – Aki
    Sep 6, 2011 at 13:07
  • 1
    @Aki: I think 食う is less vulgar, but as familiar.
    – Axioplase
    Sep 7, 2011 at 1:40
  • O-o-oh! Never thought about it like that. So it's like "есть" vs "жрать" in Russian. Thank you!
    – Slava
    Aug 15, 2018 at 17:54
  • Spanish: comer/engullir,jalar
    – jarmanso7
    Sep 29, 2019 at 18:52

食う is often used by teenage or young adults, especially males.

According to a discussion I had with thirty-something Japanese guy the other day, it's a verb that people start to stop using when they reach 25/35, at which stage they go back to the less vernacular 食べる.

However, 食う is pervasive in some dialects. For example, in Tôhoku, "食べてください" ("please eat") is often said "け", derived from "食え" ("eat!").


I just saw 食う being used in an anime which brought me here. The sentence was 「実は今日ー日何も食ってなくてさ」the person making the statement is in their 30s seems to align with Axioplase's answer. Had to add it separately as I don't have enough clout to comment.

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