Every time I come upon these words, I get confused, because the meanings of them are either very similar with each other or have more than one meaning. For example, on goo辞書, the first meaning of 本書, shows to me 主, and this kanji has various meanings! Besides, it shows 文書, too (主となる文書). Apparently, 主 means しゅ, but I didn't understand very well the meaning of this expression 主となる (it becomes the main thing?). As you can see, when you try to understand 本書, you have to know if it's exactly the 主(しゅ)reading, the meaning of that expression and possibly of 主 by itself, and 文書. Very confusing for someone who doesn't have a deep Japanese knowledge. Besides, 本書 has more 3 possible meanings!

If I use an English-Japanese dictionary, like Jisho.org, I get only similar meanings without further explanation (everything looks like to mean "writing"; argh). On the other hand, if I choose a Japanese dictionary, like goo辞書, either I get more confused because hard new words are exposed to me, or one of these words from the title appears again.

Please, could you provide in detail the main meanings of these words? For example, in English, the word "writing" can mean more than 10 things! So, if you're going to use a word that repeats between the translations a lot, or that it has a translation of other word that can mean more than one thing, prefer to say, for example, "writing, as in...", or its contextually specific use (for example, apparently, 表記 seems to mean "to write on a surface", but is it the action, the result of it, or both? Is it writing on a surface like a table, or a paper on a table? Also, 文書 seems to mean something related with "paper", which I didn't find on goo辞書; I guess so). Furthermore, it would be appreciated if you explain the various meanings of a specific word, but that are in fact used. As I said before, for example, 本書 has 4 meanings, but are these 4 meanings really used?

I know that I'm asking too much, so if you say just the single and main meaning of these words, it helps me and the community a lot; I didn't find a post showing the difference between all of these words. I tried to do by myself, but I feel like walking in circles with the meanings (English is not my first language, maybe the word "writing" is straightforward to you, but I'm confused).

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    主となる【しゅとなる】 means "main/principal". Explaining ~となる is difficult, but its translation should probably not be "become" (as in "become X at some point in the future"), maybe more like "regarded as".
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 6, 2018 at 7:08
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    Thank you for the link @Earthliŋ♦, it is really helpful to me. I'm doing my own research about these words. If I get everything, I'm going to answer my question :)
    – BIG-95
    Jun 6, 2018 at 23:17
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    本書 has more than one meaning because 本 has more than one meaning. 本 can mean either "main", "original", or "this", and all those definitions that you see on goo for 本書 is related to one of these three meanings.
    – dROOOze
    Jun 7, 2018 at 2:55
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    Perhaps it would help to distinguish these by considering other words that use these kanji. 文 is also used in words or “culture” and “literature”. 本 is used for “books” and “truth/reality”. In this way, you can see that the meanings of words written with the same kanji are distinct but related.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jun 8, 2018 at 5:27

1 Answer 1


I would say the meanings of these words are not really similar...

  • 文: sentence (delimited by periods)
  • 文書: document (e.g., report, letter, memorandum, Word document)
  • 文章: sentences; text; paragraphs
  • 本書: this book (as in "In this book, I will explain XYZ...")
  • 本文: main text (as opposed to footnotes, captions, etc)
  • 作文: composition; writing; essay (as homework/test)
  • 文字: character; letter (Latin alphabet, kanji, etc)
  • 表記: text/character representation, notation, orthography, how to write something using characters/symbols

本 is a tricky kanji which works like a prefix that means either "main (主)" or "this/our/present (当)" depending on the context. But 本書 almost always means "this book" in reality, and practically you can forget the other little-known definitions. I admit goo辞書 is confusing in this case because the most common meaning is listed as the last definition, but maybe the editors thought 本書 in such a sense was actually two words. This type of 本 can attach many words, e.g., 本章 ("this chapter"), 本節 ("this section"), 本記事 ("this article"), 本書類 ("this document"), 本病院 ("our hospital"), 本ウェブサイト ("this/our website") and so on. Well, maybe 本記事 might occasionally mean "main article", too, depending on the situation.

作成 is just "creating", "making". It's not directly related to language.

  • Thank you very much @naruto さん. After some hours on Jisho.org, goo辞書, and reading your answer, I finally got it! The only thing that apparently I wouldn't be able to know by myself was the 本 prefix. That was really handy!!! Just to one more thing, according to goo辞書 and weblio, 表記 can mean writing on a surface (表), or this text written there (その書かれたもの). The second definition is "文字や記号を用いて書き表すこと". Is this the "notation/orthography" definition? I don't see a word that means "how to (write)" so that we match the "orthography" definition. Is it the 書き表す verb?
    – BIG-95
    Jun 7, 2018 at 22:37
  • Just including some information in the 作成 definition: according to goo辞書, is the action of creating/making specifically documents/projects/plans, or 文章 (as far as I got).
    – BIG-95
    Jun 7, 2018 at 22:52
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    @BIG-95 表記 is typically used when there is more than one way to write a thing/idea, thus notation (e.g., Roman numbers vs Arabic numbers; romaji vs kanji vs hiragana). 表記 in the sense of "おもてに…" is not common, and it's often a typo for 標記.
    – naruto
    Jun 8, 2018 at 3:31
  • hmm. I got it. Thank you very much for helping me!!!
    – BIG-95
    Jun 8, 2018 at 12:08

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