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There are some characters in Chinese which give me severe headaches, especially those that have the same pronunciation and mean more or less the same thing.

I have learnt three characters which are all pronounced shēng: 升, 陞 and 昇. Is there any significant difference between these characters in modern usage? I'm talking about traditional Chinese here, I don't think 陞 and 昇 are used at all in simplified Chinese.

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In simplified Chinese the characters are all written as 升. –  BertR Sep 20 '12 at 14:32
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The answer to this one turned out to be fairly straightforward (assuming the website I found is accurate). The following is quoted from this website:

升 ① 容積的法定單位(市升與之相同),1升等於1000毫升。 ② 量糧食的器具,容量爲斗的十分之一。 ③ 向上,高起:升旗。 ④ 提高:升級。 昇 同「升」③④。 陞 同「升」④。 (《新華字典》第436頁左列「升」字)

說明:「升」「昇」「陞」三字在「登」的意義上相通,以「升」為正體。「昇」本義為太陽上升,例如「旭日東昇」,用「旭日東升」也正確,需要注意的是,「歌舞昇平」似用「昇」更正式。在一些人名上,如淸代寫《長生殿》的洪昇,宋代發明活字印刷術的畢昇。「陞」,古代「升」的寫法,可用於當今書法。 舉例: 昇──昇華,昇天,歌舞昇平,高昇。 升──毫升,升高,升堂,升班,直升機,回升,調升,提升。 陞──步步高陞,指日高陞。

So, in short, it's safe to use 升 in most cases (except in some names and fixed expressions).

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You will probably never come into contact with the latter two unless you are reading literary texts. –  deutschZuid Sep 21 '12 at 5:41
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