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To my understanding, they all mean "to search for" but I'm unsure of the differences between the two and in what contexts I should be using one over the other. (Edit) Just found out about 捜す. Is there any difference between this and 探す?

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    I would translate 探る as “to explore” while 探す is to search
    – dvx2718
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 16:59

2 Answers 2

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To add examples to MA-Moustache's answer.

探す for 'looking for what you lost/don't have':

  • 鍵/仕事を探す - 探る is not possible here

探る for 'explore/try to find out'

  • 原因を探る - 探す is not impossible, but less idiomatic.
  • 様子を探る - 探す is impossible.

There are cases where both can be used:

  • ポケットを探す means searching for something particular in the pocket while ポケットを探る means more fumbling in the pocket to see what the subject has.
  • 海底を探る is to explore the seabed while 海底を探す may be used when you look for something you dropped in the sea, which is not very likely.

Source: a thesaurus entry

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The verbs 探す and 探る both mean "to search for," but they are used slightly differently in Japanese.

探す is typically used when actively searching for something that you don't currently possess or know the location of. It can be used in a variety of contexts, such as searching for a lost item, looking for a specific person or thing, or trying to find information on a particular topic.

探る, on the other hand, is used more specifically to refer to physically searching for something by looking around or inspecting a place or object. It is often used when trying to find something hidden or concealed, such as searching a room for a hidden key or checking a car for a malfunction.

In general, 探す is more commonly used in everyday language, while 探る is used more specifically in contexts where you are physically searching for something.

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