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The French and English dictionaries I have consulted translate "низкий" and "нижний" in ways that I find operationally indistinguishable.
Are these adjectives synonyms or is there a clear, unquestionable difference between them?

Edit
If I understand the answers correctly "нижний" would be a comparative or superlative of "низкий". However all grammar books or online sites I consulted (for example this one) give"ниже", not "нижний", as the comparative form of "низкий".
And they don't indicate that the superlative is iregular.
In other words, "нижний" is never evoked in these grammatical explanations.
Does some user know a better reference on the subject ?

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Низкий is a qualitative adjective (low tone, low building, etc.).

Нижний is about something having a lower position relative to some other items of the same kind (lower brick, etc.).

(Самый) нижний - the one having the lowest position. Самый is not always needed.

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  • Thank you for this perfect answer. I wonder why my dictionaries didn't give this crystal-clear explanation. – Georges Elencwajg Jul 25 '18 at 18:00
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нижний means "lowest of", which then may not be low by itself.

низкий means low by itself. But it doesn't imply it is the lowest or placed particularly low.

Here is the clear difference.

на нижней полке стояла ваза, which could itself be pretty tall.

на столе стоял низкий ящик, which is low by itself even if located on top of something.

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  • Thank you very much:your post is quite clear and completely answers my question. – Georges Elencwajg Jul 25 '18 at 18:02
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In English низкий and нижний are like "low" and "lower", which are not really interchangeable.

In a setting you know something about, there are numerous places in math where нижний is used: нижний предел интегрирования (lower bound of integration), нижний индекс (lower index = subscript), нижняя оценка (lower bound), нижняя грань (infimum). Compared with "lower", you don't really use "low" in technical math terms much, right? About all I can think of right now is low-dimensional topology, but in Russian that term does not use either adjective: it is маломерная топология.

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  • Thank you very much for this interesting specialized piece of information . – Georges Elencwajg Jul 26 '18 at 19:25
  • Low is used more in engineering than in pure mathematics. For example, in filter theory low pass filter corresponds to the Russian term фильтр нижних частот. Probably, the word low is used here as an abbreviation of lower, since the sense is: passing frequencies, lying below a defined value, from input of the filter to its output. – Alex_ander Jul 27 '18 at 5:03
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"Нижний" means "placed at the bottom of something", so it's about position relative to other objects. Object couldn't be "нижний" by itself, it needs another objects, to be placed under them.

"Низкий" is about object's shape, not about place, where it is located.

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