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When I search both online I get the same definition of to struggle.

What is the different use of them then if the meaning is the same?

  • users recommend online dictionaries with many examples, bkrs , iciba, ichacha, bkrs: 挣扎 进行垂死的挣扎 put up a last-ditch struggle 他挣扎着要逃脱。 He struggled to get free. 那头小猪在洪水里挣扎着。 The little pig was struggling in the flood.struggle; 奋斗 fight; strive : 奋斗目标 the objective of a struggle 为一个崇高的理想而奋斗 strive after a lofty ideal 那些年,他只是为成名而奋斗。 In those years he just fought for fame. much more at bkrs – user6065 Jun 28 '18 at 10:48
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奋(to erect) 斗 (to fight)

奋斗 (summon up all of one's will and strength and fight) = to strive; to struggle (metaphorically)

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挣 is a pulling motion, 扎 is a thrusting motion

挣扎 (pull and thrust) = to struggle (graphic description of a physical struggle or metaphorical expression of desperately trying to break free from a situation

奋斗 and 挣扎 are both intransitive verb. 奋斗 has the meanings of 'fight hard/ work hard' and 'struggle'(metaphorically)

挣扎 also means 'struggle'(metaphorically or physically) , but it express a stronger sense of 'desperation'.

  • We can describe an animal get trapped in a net, struggles to break free as 挣扎, but we cannot use 奋斗 to describe this physical struggle

  • We can describe a person’s struggles to advance in the society with either 挣扎 or 奋斗, (挣扎 expresses a more desperate manner)

Example sentence:

這局棋已經無望了,但他仍在苦苦挣扎 - This game is already hopeless, but he is still desperately struggling (to escape defeat)

雖然十年未奪得頭銜,但他仍在努力奋斗 - Although he hasn't won any title for ten years, he is still working hard and striving (to win one)

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  • 這局棋已經無望了,但他仍在努力奋斗 sounds odd. We take it as 用词不当 in Chinese. – dan Jun 28 '18 at 0:46
  • Yes, if a game is hopeless, the struggle would be a desperate one, therefore, 挣扎 is the appropriate translation of 'struggle'. Example two edited. – Tang Ho Jun 28 '18 at 1:00
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奋斗:to make a great effort to achieve something, usually striving to be successful. It's a positive word, because you have a target to achieve.

挣扎:try to struggle (to get free), usually we say someone is trapped by something bad, and try to struggle from it. It's much more passive feeling, because you have to struggle in order to escape from something bad to you.

See these expressions:

我们要迎难而上,努力奋斗,争取获得技术突破。

你们已经被包围了,赶快投降,不要做无谓的挣扎

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Well, I often hear 努力奋斗 in speeches by 习近平 and other 党员们

他指出:“新时代青年要乘新时代春风,在祖国的万里长空放飞青春梦想,以社会主义建设者和接班人的使命担当,为全面建成小康社会、全面建设社会主义现代化强国而努力奋斗,让中华民族伟大复兴在我们的奋斗中梦想成真!”请随“学习中国”小编一起学习。 

“青年人的梦想有多雄奇,青年人的奋斗有多努力,中国就有多美丽。”

I don't hear 努力挣扎 so much.

人民不是抽象的符号,而是一个一个具体的人,有血有肉,有情感,有爱恨,有梦想,也有内心的冲突和挣扎

I think they are not the same. When you strive, 奋斗, you want to be better, improve something.

When you feel threatened, you may struggle: 不要挣扎了。 Don't fight it. (you won't achieve anything)

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