Both「目的」and「目標」have a common meaning which is "goal", but what is the difference?
When can we use one but not the other?

  • Which dictionary did you check? Doesn't your dictionary say more than just "goal"? Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 18:20
  • It was actually in my book. For example: まず無理のない目標を立てる。 If I use 「目的」instead of 「目標」 is the meaning of sentence going to change? 実は教科書に出てきた言葉なんです。例えば「まず無理のない目標を立てる」。もし「目標」のかわりに「目的」を使ったら意味が違うのでしょうか。 In my dictionary 目的; a purpose; 〔目標〕a goal, an objective; 〔ねらい〕an aim; 〔意図〕an intention 目標: 〔ねらい〕an aim; 〔最終目的〕a goal; 〔達成目標〕a target By the way I'm using mac osx Lion's dictionary Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 18:34
  • 1
    Thanks. I do not have time to think about a proper answer right now, but here are some hints. (1) “目標を立てる” means “set a goal,” but “目的を立てる” is incorrect. (2) Another hint is in your dictionary: what is the difference between “purpose” and “goal”? Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


目的 can also mean "purpose". There is a book called "The Purpose Driven Life". In Japanese, it's titled 人生を導く5つの目的.

I think it boils down to the difference in English between "purpose" and "goal". A goal is something finite you hope to achieve. A purpose is like a motivation for why you do something. Often they will overlap, but not always. Having a finite goal kind of implies that you have a motivation. However, the converse—having a motivation implies you have a finite goal—is not necessarily true.


A: Why did you come to campus today?
B1: I came to visit my professor and get a letter of recommendation. → The goal and the motivation are the same: get the letter.
B2: I came to visit my professor. → The motivation of why I came to campus is to see my professor. However, there is nothing "achievable" just by visiting him.

So the same with the Japanese words. If you have a 目標 you also (likely) have a 目的. However, if you have a 目的, you do not necessarily have a 目標.

That's how I see them anyway.



I want to become better at shooting the basketball. => 目的
I will consider myself better at it when I score at least 50% of my shots. => 目標

目的 is a high level image, global image of a goal. 目標 is a more milestones like low level goal towards achieving the 目的 which can be quantified and is explicit.

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