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I understand that both 呟く and 囁く mean "whisper", but are there any subtle differences?

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This seems like the kind of question that should be answerable with simple dictionary lookups in English, but it doesn't actually seem to be. Jisho in particular does very little to disambiguate here.

Fortunately, monolingual dictionaries are much more helpful.

「呟く」は、小さな声でひとりごとを言う意。聞き手は必要としない。一方、「囁く」は、周囲に聞こえぬよう、相手だけに小さな声で話す意。

「呟く」refers to talking to oneself in a quiet voice. No listener is necessary. On the other hand, 「囁く」refers to speaking to a someone in a quiet voice such that it cannot be heard by people nearby.

Basically, you want 囁く when you are talking about whispering something to someone. 呟く on the other hand is also often translated as mumble or mutter, English words which better express the idea that the thing being said is not intended to be heard by anyone but the speaker. 呟くalso happens to be the verb used for tweeting on twitter, which makes some sense if you think about tweets not being aimed at a particular person.

This question also addresses some of these differences, though it's entirely in Japanese.

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  • It's unusual for 「呟く」 when speaking with other? I'm reading a short stories book, and I noticed in a couple of them sentences like 「『あの、家まで送ってくれない?こんな遅くまで働いたことはなかったから』と小さな声でつぶやくいた」. Does this have any implications about the speaker not wanting to be heard, or 「つぶやく」 can just be used to speak to others? – Mauro May 9 at 19:06
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    This is sufficiently nuanced that you may want to raise it as a new question. However, I would read this つぶやく as "mumble" in the sense that even if this should have been directed at someone else, it was said quietly enough that the message didn't get across very well. Context about how the other person responded would help too disambiguate, though. – Mindful May 9 at 21:03
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    I did and I added more context, thanks! japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/77176/… – Mauro May 10 at 0:09

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