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I was writing a letter to a friend where I said "скучаю тебя" (to mean "I miss you"). But then I remembered that "скучать" means "to be bored" and I panicked because I thought I misremembered the verb for "to miss" and was telling my friend that I think they are boring/that they make me bored (when of course the opposite is true).

However, apparently it means both. Is there ever any danger of ambiguity or sever misunderstandings when using the word "скучать"?

I am kind of afraid to use "скучать" now and would prefer to find alternatives to "скучаю тебя", since I don't want to insult people who are close to me.

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    Я без тебя скучаю.--еще один вариант. – V.V. Oct 14 '16 at 5:49
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    You should be afraid of using "скучаю тебя" not because of "скучать" also means "to be bored" but because "скучаю тебя" is wrong :) – Abakan Oct 14 '16 at 11:48
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Believe it or not, for most of my life, I (a native speaker) wasn't aware they were the same word, until one day it just hit me. The thing is, мне скучно is a massively more common way to say "I'm bored" than я скучаю, so the latter pretty much defaults to "I miss" unless the opposite is very clear from the context. (And, as already pointed out, it's я скучаю по тебе, not тебя. The "bored" one uses от as its natural preposition.)

P.S. To answer the question in the title–why does it mean both "to be bored" and "to miss": they're two different extensions of the same, now-lost original meaning, which is to howl or whimper.

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    I am a native speaker - and never heard phrase я скучаю от тебя – Aleks G Oct 13 '16 at 21:42
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    @AleksG that's because мне скучно от тебя is so much more common. And I bet you have heard something like скучать от однообразия. – Nikolay Ershov Oct 13 '16 at 21:49
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    @AleksG well, like "скучно от этой всей суеты" – shabunc Oct 13 '16 at 21:50
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    @shabunc скучать от чего-то - yes; скучать от кого-то - no... although I can see why/how it could be used. – Aleks G Oct 13 '16 at 21:51
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    @AleksG Quite possibly. The reason I brought up от in the first place was to point out another reason why you can't (or can super-rarely) get the two meanings mixed up. – Nikolay Ershov Oct 13 '16 at 21:53
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Because

Я скучаю по тебе - I miss you

actually means:

Мне скучно без тебя - I'm bored without you

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    However, «скучать без дела» (to do nothing) is not the same as «скучать по делу» (to miss a meaningful work) – J-mster Oct 27 '16 at 18:45
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    but very close.. – Alexan Oct 27 '16 at 18:47
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First, correct usage is скучаю по тебе.

Now, you are correct, word скучать can mean both, however the main difference is in usage. If you want to indicate that you missing something/someone, you would indicate what/who you are missing. If you keep only the verb without adding any subject(s), then it would mean that you're bored:

Compare:

Я скучаю по тебе
I miss you

Я скучаю по дому
I miss home

with

Я скучаю
I am bored

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    То ли городовой в медалях заметил, что странный человек усмехнулся, когда ему указал на ворону извозчик, то ли городовой скучал от безделья, но он покинул свой пост у губернаторского подъезда, перебежал к памятнику и, махая руками, принялся шугать ворону: [С. Т. Григорьев. Иегудиил Хламида – V.V. Oct 14 '16 at 5:41

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