hoping for some clarification here. This is my example:


The reason I used 食べるのは難しい rather than 食べにくい is because my understanding is that にくい・やすい is used for psychological difficulty (You don't want to buy something because it's embarrassing) versus physical/mechanical difficulty (having trouble chewing something because it's sticky). I made a post on HelloTalk but that natives simply told me にくい is more casual. Is that really the only difference then?

  • I don't feel qualified enough to post a proper answer, but I think that にくい is not restricted to a particular type of difficulty. – jarmanso7 May 21 '20 at 16:30
  • Genki 2 states that にくい is used for mental difficulties, whilst のは難しい is used for physical difficulty, however Japanese natives on HelloTalk make no such distinction. This is why I'm confused :| – Luke McAloon May 22 '20 at 5:31
  • Even if "にくい is used for mental difficulties" is correct, that doesn't mean that you can't use it for physical difficulty, because you have only to feel sense of difficulty besides physical difficulty. – user4092 May 22 '20 at 10:28

Basically, "食べにくい" is very common. And "食べるのが難しい" is certainly not casual but it never sounds formal too.

having trouble chewing something because it's sticky

In your example above, since this situation leads psychological difficulty after all, actually this is exact case of "食べにくい".

Please note these first of all.

Then, let me show my sense of the difference between "-にくい" and "-のが難しい".
"-にくい" sounds quite intuitive/illogical while "-のが難しい" is rational/logical. "食べるのが難しい" sounds more like "When eating it makes me thinking."

For example, when you eat boiled crab for the first time in Japan(Japanese people really like it!), you'll find it's really technical! You have to take one, break it off and pick meat from shell by using a special fork. You could say "食べるのが難しいね" in such a situation.

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