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I sometimes have difficulty differentiating friend levels when explaining something to a Japanese person. For example, when I am telling a story about a friend, I want to specify the level of friendship we have based on the context of the story.

So there are 4 commonly known levels of friendship (click here for those who are not familiar):

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Casual friend
  3. Close friend
  4. Intimate friend

Others:

  1. Best friend (a little bit different from intimate friend)

There are several terms I do hear when Japanese refer to friends like 友達, 友人, 親友, and 仲間{なかま} (translates as 'comrade' but commonly used to mean 'friend' in anime). How do I differentiate them in Japanese? Or do Japanese not differentiate between them?

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When it comes to personal/social relations, Japanese is more delicate than most other languages in the world. English is on the other extreme. It does not even have a simplex word to distinguish "younger brother" and "older brother" or "younger sister" and "older sister", and people call even teachers by their first name without polite prefix in English, and shop clerks say "hey guys" even to the customer.--Pretty much unbelievable to a Japanese learning English for the first time.

Following are roughly listed from less intimate to more intimate.

  • 知人, 知り合い 'acquaintance'
  • 同窓生 'schoolmates', 'people who graduated the same school (often in the same fiscal year)'
  • 同期 'people who entered the same school/company/institution etc. in the same fiscal year'
  • 同級生 'classmates'
  • 同僚 'colleague'
  • 友達 'friend'
  • ダチ slangish way of saying 'friend'
  • 友人 formal way of saying 'friend'
  • 仲間 'buddy'
  • 旧知 'long acquaintance'
  • 親友 'close friend'
  • マブダチ slangish way of saying 'close friend'
  • 連れ 'partner'
  • 相棒 'partner (of a duo)'
  • 友達以上恋人未満 'friend or more but less than a lover'
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    友達以上恋人未満 is fantastic. – jogloran Mar 12 '12 at 1:31
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    @sawa how about best friend? – Nap Mar 12 '12 at 1:54
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    @Nap 親友 'close friend' is close, but does best friend mean it is unique? If it is so, I cannot think of a Japanese word for it. – user458 Mar 12 '12 at 1:56
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    @Matt ...以上...未満 is commonly used in elementary school when dealing with statistics, particularly when mentioning a semi-opened interval corresponding to an item of a bar-graph. 友達以上恋人未満 is sort of a parody of that. To Japanese people, it reminds of those things learned at elementary school, and the fact that it refers to a semi-opened interval is vital. – user458 Mar 12 '12 at 5:10
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    友達以上恋人未満 suspiciously sounds like the "friendzone" – Flaw Mar 12 '12 at 13:48

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