This question already explores the difference between [贖う]{あがなう} and [償う]{つぐなう}, but I wanted to throw [補う]{おぎなう} into the mix as well.

goo辞書 doesn't list them as synonyms, so what is the difference?

  • 3
    First, could you please add Furigana to your post to make clear that you know that 償{つぐな}う and 補{おぎな}う are read differently (usually these kinds of questions stem from the fact that words are homophones). Second, as they are not listed as synonymous it would be valuable information if you could add what triggered you to believe these terms are synonymous and only differ in nuances much as 償う and 贖う do. Personally to me, they are not exactly synonymous so that example would help in understanding where you came from with this question. – Yannick Jan 10 '18 at 21:00

補う is more about compensating for a lack of something else. Some of it's other definitions include "complementing" and "supplementing". Some 熟語 might give you a better idea.

  • [補助]{ほ・じょ} → assistance; support; aid; help
    • 補助的 → ancillary; auxillary
    • 補助輪 → training wheels
    • 補助いす → booster seat
    • 補助[犬]{けん} → helper/service dog
  • [補佐]{ほ・さ} → aid; assistance; counselor; advisor
    • 補佐的 → supportive (role); assistant; assisting
  • [補足]{ほ・そく} → supplement; complement
    • 補足情報 → supplementary information
    • 補足説明 → supplementary explanation
  • [補欠]{ほ・けつ} → filling a vacancy; alternate; spare
    • 補欠選挙 → special election; by-election
    • 補欠選手 → substitute player; benchwarmer

However, there is a bit of overlap:

  • [補償]{ほ・しょう} → compensation; reparation
    • 補償金 → compensation payment; reparation

When I worked in Japan, I received a travel stipend. I would turn in my train cards (回数券) and ask the secretary 「補償金お願いします」 (we were on very familiar terms, so this is probably not the most polite way to ask for it in "real world").

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