I tried reading explanations in Japanese on hinative, but they tend to use one of these words to describe the other two.

Usually I only distinguish formal complaints (苦情) and verbal informal complaints, and apparently there are at least three types of informal complaints in Japanese.

2 Answers 2

  • 不満
    Dissatisfaction or discontent, as literal as it reads. This word doesn't necessarily mean complaint, because it stands for an emotion and doesn't need to be expressed.

  • 不平
    Complaint about bad, undue, or unfair treatment. In theory, it doesn't need to be expressed either, but modern usage seems mostly so. We also have a combined word 不平不満 when people grow really bitter and twisted.

  • 文句
    It's the easiest word among them that means something to say against. Yes, it widely covers from complaint to disapproval.

    Just those who don't want to acknowledge his ability are criticizing it.

  • 苦情
    Complaint for remedy of the situation. I don't think it's particularly "formal" but imaginably you say this more to officials (but also to companies for their products etc).


  • 不服
    The "formal complaints" reminded me of this term, which literally means "insubordination" and used when you file objections to administrative decisions: 不服[申立]{もうしたて} motion for complaint.

不満 also means "unsatisfactory" (as in "unsatisfactory score"), and 文句 also means "line; phrase" (as in "catchphrase").

When they mean "complaint", 不平 and 不満 are almost completely interchangeable. The focus of 不平/不満 is unhappy feeling rather than words. 不満 is relatively more common, and 不平 is often used along with 不満 (不平不満). 文句 focuses on verbal phrases of complaint you actually express. Therefore you can say 不平/不満を抱える, 不平/不満を漏らす or 不平/不満な顔, but not ×文句を抱える, ×文句を漏らす nor ×文句な顔.

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