I was wondering if the kanji for both sister-in-law and step sister is 義妹 (younger sister) or 義姉 (older sister) and there's no way of differentiating them other than context?


If your question is how to tell meaning of 義姉, you need to guess from contexts in the present-day colloquial language.

Strictly speaking, [義]{ぎ}[姉]{し} or [義]{ぎ}[妹]{まい} only means (or meant) sister-in-law or sworn sister. Here are definitions in デジタル大辞泉.


1 義理の姉。妻または夫の姉、兄の妻など。

2 血縁関係はないが、姉妹の約束を交わして姉としている人。


1 義理の妹。夫または妻の妹、弟の妻など。

2 血縁関係はないが、姉妹の約束を交わして妹としている人。妹分。

In colloquial language, [義]{ぎ}[姉]{し} and [義]{ぎ}[妹]{まい} have taken in the place of [継]{まま}[姉]{あね} and [継]{まま}[妹]{いも} which mean elder/younger stepsister.

If your question is how to distinguish step sister from sister-in-law, you can use [異]{い}[母]{ぼ}[姉]{し} (elder sister from a different mother), [異]{い}[父]{ふ}[姉]{し} (elder sister from a different father) and so on, which sound very formal.

  • Does that mean colloquially 継姉 and 継妹 are just less used compared to 義姉 and 義妹?
    – user3992
    Mar 5 at 16:31
  • 1
    Yes. I have never heard 継姉 and 継妹 in daily conversation and I found many people use 義姉 and 義妹 instead, although I think people can understand 継姉 and 継妹 when they hear them by analogy with 継母, which is sometimes used in fairy tales. Mar 5 at 22:16
  • I think it's because using 継 (2 syllable) is longer than using 義 (1 syllable). Anyway thanks for the explanation!
    – user3992
    Mar 15 at 3:49

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