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Apparently there are many ways to say "girl / young woman" in Japanese.

I've learned the differences between 女の子, 少女 and 乙女 from other question in this SE, where 女の子 seems to be the most common way to say "girl", but recently I noticed that yet another two words exist for "girl": 女子{じょし} (joshi) and 娘子{じょうし} (joushi).

So, my question is, what's the difference between 女子, 娘子 and 女の子?

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    [娘子]{じょうし} is a new word for me. (「じょうし」って打っても「娘子」って変換されない~) – Chocolate Apr 2 '18 at 0:58
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    @Chocolate 「娘子」とは、古い中国語で嫁という意味だそうです…。 – Aeon Akechi Apr 2 '18 at 3:26
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    In BCCWJ, there are only 22 results for 娘子, but more than half are in the phrase 娘子軍. – snailcar Apr 2 '18 at 20:25
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娘子 seems to have been used in the past, but it's almost never used in modern Japanese. You can forget this word. If you used it in speech, listeners would take it as 上司.

女子 is difficult to explain because it's typically used in three different ways:

  1. At school, kids and teenagers always use 女子 and 男子 to refer to female/male students. You can always safely use 女子中学生, 男子高校生, etc.

  2. After graduation, 女子/男子 is still sometimes used as a neutral and formal word for "woman('s)" or "female". For example 女子トイレ and 女子大学 are very common words, but they are obviously not only for young girls. Basically this definition is regarded as dated (more or less similar to 婦人), so you should avoid using 女子 in this sense except in fixed compounds listed here. 女性(用) is the neutral equivalent in modern Japanese. (EDIT: 女子 meaning "women's" is also commonly used in sport contexts, e.g., 女子サッカー, 女子400m.)

  3. Confusingly, recently some people started to use 女子 also in casual situations, referring to woman in general. Words like 女子力 and 女子会 were suddenly coined and became popular 10 years ago or so. 女子会 was nominated as buzzword of the year 2010. This type of 女子/男子 is particularly popular in contexts related to fashion/romance. I think many fashion magazines for adult women commonly use 女子 instead of 女性 these days. This is probably because 女子 looked good as a more vivid, cute or cool equivalent of 女性. There are many people who dislike this trend, though.

If you want to plainly say "girl" outside these situations, 女の子 (casual/colloquial) or 少女 (stiff/literary) is the normal choice.

  • 公園で女の子が本を読んでいる。 OK (casual)
  • 公園で少女が本を読んでいる。 OK (literary)
  • 公園で女子が本を読んでいる。 Very unnatural (maybe OK in old novels)
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    I see a lot of Korean students make the mistake of using 「女子」 in the way that naruto explicitly says is very unnatural, because it's perfectly natural in Korean. It's easy to forget that just because some countries use the same kanji doesn't mean it's used in exactly the same way. – Halfway Dillitante Apr 3 '18 at 5:58

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