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I'm learning kanji through WaniKani, and stumbled upon three pieces of vocabulary that have similar meanings, but no clear guidance on which should be used in which occasion:

  • 女{おんな}の子{こ}: defined as girl, young girl, young lady, young woman
  • 女子{じょし}: defined as girl, woman
  • 女{おんな}の人{ひと}: defined as woman

The first one is clearly the one that stands out as clearly referring to young women, and this answer corroborates that and clarifies the difference between the first two. That same question also states that the 子{し} in 女子{じょし} doesn't refer to child, but is instead a kind of "counter."

In that case, it becomes unclear to me when 女子{じょし} and 女{おんな}の人{ひと} should be used. Or simply 女{おんな}, for that matter.

P.S.: haven't gotten to 男{おとこ} yet, but I assume the same principles will apply there too?

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2 Answers 2

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In most cases when you want to say woman in a sentence, you can use 女の人 or possibly 女性{じょせい} is safer because it is more polite, even if sometimes 女の人 may sound natural.

As suggested in the linked answer, 女子 is more used in contexts like "for female" or, in recent usage, to refer to a category of women who are engaged in a certain kind of activities. An example of the former is 女子トイレ. For the latter, ゴルフ女子 means women who paly golf and バイク女子 means women who ride motor bikes.

女 sounds usually vulgar if used to mean women. It can appear in the sense of for female as in 女湯{おんなゆ} (bath for women, in public bath).

So, in the sense of woman, the difference of 女の人/女子/女 is more a matter of collocation/usage.


Note that a student can call female classmates 女子. So they can say 女子と話した (I talked with a female classmate), which would sound odd if a 30 year old guy says it (He should say 女性と話した if it is an adult woman; 女の子と話した if a young woman/girl).


Similarly 男性{だんせい} would be the most common if you mean a male individual.

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女子 means female, often in an official capacity (as mentioned in your link), e.g. in sport or public bathrooms. That being said, you will also see 女性{じょせい} and 男性{だんせい}, or simply 女 and 男 as an abbreviation on public bathroom doors.

This blog shows bathroom doors with 女性 on the outside, and 女子トイレ on a sign inside.

Public bathroom doors with 女性 on the outside, and 女子トイレ on a sign inside

This blog shows bathroom doors with just 女 and 男 as essentially abbreviations.

Public bathroom door with just 女 and 男 as essentially abbreviations

A 2009 study by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute showed that, while the exact percentages vary from one age cohort to the next, roughly 50% of people felt that 女子 referred to women until they graduate from high school, 20% felt it applied until age 20 (the age of majority at the time in many cases), and 20% felt there was no age limit.

Age limit for the word 女子

In contrast to signs where 女 is simply used as a short form, or to book titles where it might be used for emphasis, saying 女 by itself in everyday conversation is considered rude, macho, or at the very least old-fashioned. The most common acceptable way to refer to women is 女の人, and in many technical or formal contexts 女性 is used.

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  • It only makes sense that 50% of people feels that 女子 referred to teenagers and 20 % up to youngsters, since it includes the kanji for children 子
    – jarmanso7
    Oct 25, 2022 at 22:49
  • Does the x axis here refer to the age of the correspondents?
    – JNat
    Oct 26, 2022 at 9:29
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    @jarmanso7 As JNat pointed out, while 子 does mean child in many cases, in the 子 in 女子 does not. 子 here is an old counter for people. Not many words today use it in that sense anymore, but 女子 is one of them. JNat The x axis refers to the age of the respondents to the survey. 10代 are respondents in their tens, 20代 in their twenties, etc.
    – serencog
    Oct 27, 2022 at 15:18
  • Thanks for the clarification, @serendroid! ^_^
    – JNat
    Oct 27, 2022 at 15:20

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