Please help me understand the differences in the following words meaning "dry up・out", "wither", "wilt", "shrivel":

  • [枯]{か}れる
  • [涸]{か}れる
  • [萎]{しお}れる
  • [萎]{しぼ}む
  • [萎]{しな}びる
  • [萎]{な}える

As far as I know, 涸れる can only be applied to bodies of water, like a dried-up river, pond, etc.

I'm most familiar with 枯れる, and often see/use the nouns 枯れ葉 and 枯れ草. The definition on Jisho.org includes "to wither (of a plant)"; however, the definitions of several of the others seem to imply that certain plants are only used with certain verbs (萎む: to wither (of flowers...); 萎びる: to shrivel (e.g., cut vegetables...)). So can 枯れる not be used with flowers or cut vegetables?

萎びる also says it can be used for skin. However, my Japanese Bible speaks in several stories about people with shriveled hands or legs using 萎える (ex. 手・足の萎えた人). Do these usages completely overlap, or are there some restrictions?

Several of them also have metaphorical usages for "becoming depressed", "losing interest", "become un-/demovitated", etc. Are those that have these meanings interchangeable in such contexts?


1 Answer 1


This is difficult partially due to the difficulty of differentiating dry up/wither/wilt/shrivel on my part, but here is a non-comprehensive answer.

  • 枯れる means something completely dead. 枯れた花 is actually possible. The difference with 萎れた花 is that 萎れた花 may be just lacking some water. You can water it for the 萎れた花 to revive. I'm not sure how 'dried up' the English 'dry up' means, but 枯れる means complete dry-up. Roughly 枯れた invokes the image of something brown, 萎れた something still with some color.
  • 枯れた野菜 is not impossible but sounds odd, probably because ordinary people no longer see them as grown in field. It could mean vegetables that remain uncropped in field or those that died out as a result of excessive heat. 萎れた野菜 sounds more normal, and means stale vegetables left in the fridge.
  • 枯れた/涸れた : as the hen of the kanjis suggests, the former should be applied to plants/tree, the latter to something to do with water. But I don't think people really care about the difference (the sounds are the same anyway...).
  • 萎む is the opposite of 膨らむ/膨れる (swell up). A typical thing that 萎む is a balloon. It means something that has tension on the outer surface from the inner content (water, air,..) loses the tension. (I'm not sure 'tension' is the right word here. The idea is, 張り as the result of swelling is lost).
  • 萎れる/萎む : 萎れた花/萎んだ花 are both possible, but they are slightly different. 萎れた花 sounds more like a flower as the collection of petals and stem drooping. 萎んだ花 sounds more like a flower with no stem shrinking (like, petals shrinking towards the center) - I hope you see what I mean and tell me how you describe these more properly in English... Possibly 萎んだ is closer to wither and 萎れた to wilt.
  • 萎びる invokes the image of wrinkled surface. My dictionary says it is wrinkled and irrecoverable. So, combined with 枯れる, things 萎れる → 萎びる → 枯れる. The distinction 萎びる/萎れる might not be so strict, but 萎びた in 萎びたキュウリ (wrinkled cucumber) cannot be really replaced with 萎れた. This can be a matter of collocations.
  • 萎れる figuratively means losing cheerfulness, like a kid who was scolded by his mom. A similar word in this sense is しょぼくれる. In this sense no others can replace 萎れる. This might be similar to wilt.
  • 萎える: this is used as 足の萎えた (disability about legs, or legs go very weak) like you mention, or 気持ちが萎えた (losing the motivation or やる気が衰えた). I'm not sure about the parallel with shrivel: according to dictionaries at hand, shrivel happens as something dries up. But 足の萎えた usually means (partially) disabled legs due to lying in bed for long or to old age.


As for the last phrase, a usual one in a case like this would be ご協力をお願いします (I ask you for the collaboration)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .