When I first started learning Japanese, I learned that 飲む meant "drink" and 食べる meant "eat". These translations seemed to work for a while, but then I learned that you could 飲む things that you can't drink, like 息, タバコ, or 錠剤.

While going through various definitions for 飲む, I found one in particular that caught my eye (which I've abridged here, taken from the 集英社国語辞典):



It got me thinking: is the fundamental difference between 飲む and 食べる whether you chew before you swallow? Can I express these words as:

  1. 飲む "to pass something through the mouth and into the body without chewing"
  2. 食べる "to pass something through the mouth and into the body with chewing"

Or is there a better way to explain the difference?

1 Answer 1


I completely agree that the difference between 食べる and 飲む is whether you chew it or not. For example, “eat some soup” is スープを飲む, not スープを食べる.

The entry for のむ (飲む, 呑む) in Daijisen has a slightly more detailed explanation in a usage note, although the purpose of the note is to explain the difference between のむ and 吸う:


My translation:

飲む means “swallow something (liquid, small solid, etc.) which was put to the mouth into the body without chewing” as in 水を飲む (drink some water), 薬を飲む (take medicine (orally)), 卵を呑んだ蛇 (a snake which swallowed an egg).

  • BTW I often don't know which to use for お味噌汁...
    – user1016
    Dec 21, 2012 at 21:54
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    @Chocolate: I use 飲む for 味噌汁. I think that I use 飲む for any 汁物, including 豚汁 and けんちん汁, and this is probably because I consider the primary part of 汁物 is its liquid part. I wonder what others think. Dec 21, 2012 at 22:38
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    Thanks~~ and.. how about シチュー/ビーフシチュー? (reminds me of「カレーは飲み物です!」by 石ちゃん on まいうー ^o^)
    – user1016
    Dec 22, 2012 at 14:14
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    @Chocolate: うーん、シチューは食べますね…。あと、豚汁も食べると言うような気もしてきました。 Dec 22, 2012 at 14:34
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    ww 分かんない時は「いただく」と「召し上る」でごまかしましょ(^O^)
    – user1016
    Dec 22, 2012 at 20:06

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