I return with another nuance question!

Today, I learned the kanji 老. Two of the example words were [老]{お}いる and [老]{ふ}ける, which my book defined both as, "to grow old". I searched around for the differences between them with mixed results. I did find an answer on here that indicated that 老ける implies becoming an old man, but beyond that, what exactly are the differences between the two words?

3 Answers 3


"老いる" means "get old," in terms of age as well as physical and mental conditions.

老いること isn't a desirable matter. But you cannot evade it. It's a rule of nature. Sometimes you can get wiser as you progress in age.

In that sense, "老いる," sui generis doesn't have so much negative tone as our Minister of Finance, Taro Aso thinks - He said recently in his public speech, "I don't understand why people over 90 of age wish to live longer," meaning, "they are done."

"老ける" means you "look old, or older than your age," possibly because of a longtime disease, self-indulgent lifestyle, or hard life. It has a negative tone.

When you hear "彼も老けたね - He looks aged” from someone, you'd sympathize with the guy he mentioned. But when you're told "君も老けたね - you look aged” in your face, you'll get shocked, and kick the ass of the speaker in return.

You cannot stop 老い, but you can fend off ”老け" by getting proper exercise, and staying young at heart.


老いる is a little bookish way to say "to age". The most common phrase now to say growing old is 年を取る.

老ける isn't really "grow old", but describing people become "older" than they really are, that is, they've got weary, out of blood, or lost youthfulness, often suggesting that they had a hard time. In its participle-like forms 老けている or 老けた it means "look old".

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    There are also a few others like 老化, though I imagine 老化 isn't used much in everyday conversation.. Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 6:12
  • @WeirdlyCheezy You know a good word :) It's not very uncommon, but it usually indicates physical aspects of aging such as decreased metabolism or body function etc. Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 6:22

老ける strongly refers to one's appearance, like, say, after not seeing your friend for a few years you notice that he has visibly aged in appearance (perhaps more than he ought to have). On the other hand, 老いる refers more to the decline in physical ability / mental acuity with age.

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