The verb あく for example can be written as 開く 空く 明く with all of them being read the same way. In the dictionary they are all listed under the same item but looking at the translation you can see that each kanji variation seems to have it's own meaning. In the dictionary it's written like:

(especially 開く) to open (e.g. doors)

As far as I have understood, 開く is used when something opens, 空く when something is empty and 明く when something is open / has been opened. What confuses me however is the word in brackets "especially", which seems to imply that it isn't always used like described. So can 開く for example also be used to mean "to be empty" or 明く to mean "to open"? And if so, how common is it to not stick with the meanings as described in the dictionary? Does doing so make the sentence look a bit strange but is still correct? Also this isn't just the case for あく, there are many more words in the dictionary like

早い 速い

一人 独り

飛ぶ 跳ぶ

撮る 録る

治る 直る

元 本 素 基

玉 球 弾

値 価


Is it for every word with multiple variations a different story whether it's possible or not? (I mean, does answering the questions for あく also answer the questions for every other word or does it always depend and I should just always stick to the recommended kanji before doing anything wrong?)

The only thing I know so far is that words like あく already existed before writing in Japan and that they also had these different meanings which couldn't all be covered with just one kanji.

  • 1
    Keep in mind that not using kanji at all, just writing in hiragana, is also always an option. So "not using 開" does not automatically imply that you have to use 空 or 明. That is another perspective to consider the "especially" by.
    – Leebo
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 23:39
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    Don't forget 飽く! 😂 Can you clarify what you're asking? Are you asking if the different kanji and meanings can be mixed-and-matched freely?
    – istrasci
    Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 1:12
  • @istrasci Na I just meant to ask for the very common あく verb, the other one doesn't seem to be so common except for expressions like 飽くまで and it's listed under a different item. And yes I wanted to know if the kanji are completely interchangeable or if there are some restrictions (for one word/item listed in the dictionary with multiple variations and meanings).
    – Orbit
    Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 10:08

1 Answer 1


Generally speaking, you have to know which Kanji to use in which context. It is just like memorizing words, you have to learn the difference for each word with kanji variations.

At the same time, note the following:

  • In most cases (including the ones you listed), sentences will be understood if a wrong variation is used.
  • In some cases even native speakers are prone to mistakes. So, as a learner, you shouldn't worry too much.
  • As commented, you can use Hiragana always.

If you use standard input method on Windows, it suggests the difference (when applicable).


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