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I grew up learning simplified Chinese characters, but we are now living in Hong Kong, and so I need to teach my children traditional Chinese characters.

I can't seem to figure out the difference between these three characters 裡, 裏 and 里. In traditional Chinese book I see 裡, and in another traditional Chinese book I see 裏. Is there any difference, and is one of them "right"?

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Short Answer:

  1. For the meaning "inside", 裏 or 裡 is the traditional form (as @Ringil has pointed out, 裏 is the proper form in the standard of Mainland/Hong Kong and 裡 is treated as a variant; but in Taiwan the situation is reversed), and 里 is the simplified form.

  2. For the meaning "mile, kilometer, li (Chinese unit of distance)", 里 is the only correct form in both traditional and simplified Chinese. So be careful: 公里, 里程 cannot be written as 公裏(裡), 裏(裡)程 – That's wrong, wrong, wrong.

A few more comments

Duan Yucai's Commentary on Shuowen Jiezi wrote

裏(裏) 衣內也。引伸爲凡在內之偁。从衣。里聲。良止切。 The layer inside clothes. And the meaning is extended to generally "inside". The radical is 衣. Sounds 里. Consonant like 良 and vowel like 止.

So basically speaking, 裏 and 裡 both comprise 衣(礻) and 里. There's no difference between these two characters – if any, in my opinion, 裏 is a more "proper" form to exhibit the ideogram of the ancient scripts.

里居也。从田从土。凡里之屬皆从里。良止切。Dwell. With radicals 田 and 土. In the category of 里 all characters have 里 as the radical. Consonant like 良 and vowel like 止.

In modern Chinese, 里 is generally related to the distance unit li, kilometer or mile (sometimes it's written as 英哩 or just 哩). However in ancient Chinese, it has various meanings such as dwell, alley, lane, community, village, li (Chinese unit of distance), and hometown. Just note that in these cases, it should never be written as 裏 or 裡.

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They are utilized in the exact same way. The only difference is that 裏 is used in Hong Kong/mainland as the proper character (正体字) and 裡 is the variant character (异体字), but in Taiwan the situation is reversed.

Example: Taiwan Newspaper: http://www.cna.com.tw/news/asoc/201601310093-1.aspx uses 這裡有個好粉絲團,需要你關 as part of an ad.

Hong Kong video: https://www.facebook.com/hk.nextmedia/videos/10153143683192448/

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I'm from Taiwan and the form 裡 I've ever only seen in print because if you hand write the word, it's always 裏, I don't think I've ever seen anyone write it as 裡 which just seems wrong although it could be a generational thing.

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From the what I can find 裡, 裏 are both referred too as the traditional form. It might have something to do with diffrent areas of Asia. For instance in Taiwan it was believed that the (er) in Mandarin was to difficult and unnecessary. So they dropped it from their teachings. I will ask my Mandarin professor on Monday though, and try to give a better answer. As for 里. I believe it's just the simple form.

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    Wrong, 里 is also a traditional character, it's a unit of distance (and quite commonly used in both "mile" and "kilometer") – vermillon Jan 31 '16 at 12:06

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