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I work as an engineer, and inside the heap of documents that I have been going through.

As an example, there's a lot of sentences that describing how the machine operates, or operation behaviour.

In there, I found a kanji that when it is translated into English. It has a similar meaning, which is kind of confusing.

So between this 操作、動作、作動、運転、作用

What's the difference and when I should use it.

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For to operate, the following are possible translations.

  • Someone(X) operates a machine(Y) XがYを操作する/動作させる/作動させる/運転する
  • A machine(Y) operates Yが動作する/作動する/{動作中,作動中,運転中}である

In terms of difference:

  • 操作する means more to manipulate, so the subject is animate.
  • 動作する means to move. Talking about machines, it is close to working or being functional.
  • 作動する means close to 動作する, but it sounds more to start working. For general usage, 作動 is mostly used for machines while 動作's subject can be animate or inanimate.
  • In contexts of operating a machine, 運転する should be mostly synonymous to 操作する. (It may depend on the type of machine.) In general, it means more to drive (a vehicle) while 操作する sounds doing something with your fingers.
  • 作用する is to affect. I can't really imagine it is used as to operate. Xの動作がYに作用する would mean the movement of some part (X) affects the movement of another part (Y)
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    ありがとうございました!While it will take me quite some time to remember the difference. This simple explanation is useful and easy to remember Apr 12 at 7:04

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