May 8, 2023

What’s the Difference between 目 and 眼? Seeing Eye to Eye in Japanese

Both and are pronounced and both mean "eye".

In many cases, they are interchangeable, but there are a few differences.

What's the difference between 目 and 眼?

Let's start with the conclusion and then give examples.

  • 「目」 is by far the most commonly used kanji for "eye"
  • In most cases, either can be used depending on the author's preference.
  • 「目」 is often used when describing the form or movement of the eye: ()をつぶる (to shut one's eyes) or general function ()()る (to see with one's eyes)
  • 「眼」while meaning the same thing (eye), it is mostly used in medical, literary, or formal purposes.
  • Both are pronounced the same as standalone kanji: 「め」
  • However, the on reading is different. 目 is 「もく」 or 「ぼく」 and 眼 is 「がん」
  • "Eyeball" can be written as 目玉(めだま) or 眼球(がんきゅう)

Examples using 目

Literal examples:


to see with one's eye


to blink one’s eyes


to close one's eyes

More idiomatic or figurative usages


eye of a typhoon


corn (on one’s foot; literally, “eye of a fish”)


to go through a bitter experience; to feel pain


seeing things in a favorable light; biased view; favoritism


to stand out; be conspicuous


spotlight; public eye; public opinion; in the eyes of society


to witness; see with one's own eyes


to catch one's eye

Using non-め pronunciation




table of contents


target; objective


obvious; clear at a glance

Examples using 眼

Using め pronunciation


(eye) glasses


eye drops; eye medicine

Using がん


means "ophthalmology" or "eye department," and 眼鏡(めがね) means "glasses."


 intraocular pressure; eye pressure [the fluid pressure inside the eye to maintain the eye’s shape]




fundus; back of the eye


eye socket


sharp eye; keen eyes [describes someone who has a perceptive or discerning gaze, often indicating an ability to notice details or read people's emotions; can also be pronounced (まなこ)【まなこ】]


Quick and dirty tip: if you are talking about your eyes generally (or with most idioms using the eye), use 目.

If it is a technical term or a medical reference, use 眼.

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