2

I'm a little confused on the difference between 綺麗【きれい】 and 美しい【うつくしい】. When is it appropriate to use either word to refer to a person?

For example, if I wanted to refer to a woman as beautiful, would I say 「綺麗【きれい】な女【おんな】」 or 「美【うつく】しい女【おんな】」?

Does it matter what age a person is? Is one only appropriate if the person is young like in their 20s, late teens or a teenager? Do you only use one when they are in their 30s or older?

4 Answers 4

3

Agreed with other answers that 綺麗 focuses on the physical appearance, while 美しい also includes mental/situational aspects.

Does it matter what age a person is? Is one only appropriate if the person is young like in their 20s, late teens or a teenager? Do you only use one when they are in their 30s or older?

You can use it for any ages, and regardless of their gender. 綺麗 does require that the subject is 整っている, i.e. things need to be neat. For example, you can't describe a hand with scars and dirty with oil 綺麗, because it's not neat. On the other hand, 美しい doesn't have such restriction and you can pretty much use it for anything (even when the subject is not neat).

For example, 「傷だらけの、機械油にまみれた美しい手」is completely fine, whereas 「傷だらけの、機械油にまみれた綺麗な手」is contradictory.

2

They both could be used in that case. There is a slight difference in nuances, but it's not critical.

I`d use 綺麗 if I saw or heard someone or something gorgeous, showy, colorful. Someone or something that stood out. For example: 綺麗な女性を見ました。 I saw a beautiful lady. (Meaning, she stood out from all other women.)

美しい, even though it also means 'beautiful', is not always about appearance or other visible or audible characteristics. It could mean that someone or something appealed to my eye or heart, even if it wasn't as eye-catching as with 綺麗.

2
  • If she stands out because she's dressed in a showy, colorful way, I'd think maybe おしゃれ is more appropriate. To my mind, 綺麗 connotes something that's neat, proper, pristine, refined... not showing off, but beautiful because it's free of anything that would make it ugly. Apr 8, 2023 at 11:52
  • 1
    @KarlKnechtel Nah, I didn't mean because of the clothes, that's why I specifically mentioned 'someone' or 'something': a very gorgeous person, a very bright flower, a very beautiful voice, etc. Something more... let's say tangible -- that's when I'd use 綺麗. Something more sublime, poetic -- that's 美しい.
    – Dalila
    Apr 8, 2023 at 14:55
1

Both of your cases are OK, and it can be used to any ages. However, I think 「綺麗な男」 is a slightly more unusual expression than 「美しい男」.

「綺麗」 has nuances of clean and clear. I think that is the difference. The sound of「風鈴」(wind-bell) is 「綺麗」and also「美しい」, although in this case 「綺麗」is more commonly used.

0

綺麗 is more commonly used as a compliment for a woman’s appearances. It may be used for someone English speakers might describe as “pretty” but not necessarily “cute”. When you say someone is 美しい, I would think of someone who is elegantly beautiful not only in her physical features but also in her demeanor. It could sound a bit too serious as a casual compliment.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .