人reading にん or じん

How do other learners deal with the variant readings of 人? I have a tough time remembering which one is which, so I end up guessing wrong (latest example: 老人).
Any tips?

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For a word like 老人 or 他人 or 人口, there’s actually no way to determine it. When the kanji appears in a compound like this as just one of the main elements, the reading is based on when it was imported from Chinese into Japanese. にん is older and じん is newer.

When it’s a suffix, such as in アメリカ人 or 10人, there are simple rules (nationalities get じん, counting gets にん).

人 applied as a suffix to some kind of action also gets にん. As in 使用人. Note that 使用 is its own word and then 人 gets suffixed on.

There are some more situations as well, but that’s covers the vast majority of words.

Sadly, for the main takeaway of this thread though, is the fact that when it’s not a suffix there’s just not much you can do but memorize. People often have rules of thumb they use, but they tend to piggyback on the nationality and action rules by coincidence. They aren’t actually structured that way. And as a result, they have many exceptions.


personally, get myself into looking for “what does it mean with the other reading?”.
that helped.
also, “occupation-like” words more often have “にん” reading, “definitive” ones are with “じん”

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Not sure what you mean by “what does it mean with the other reading” - there isn’t a difference in meaning between じん and にん, is there?

Yes, that’s what I was afraid of, I try to do some mnemonics with “djinn” or “ninny” but since there seem to be quite a few instances, I get mixed up with those, too.

Interesting about the rules, though - I think I had been applying them without being consciously aware.

that was for, like ろうにん and ろうじん - the “other reading” for the whole word.
so, once you learn whether there is any sense with other reading, that’s pretty easy.

ろうにん is a word though, 浪人 (ronin). Do you mean you have to already know that other word to eliminate it?

The one thing I’ve read for a trick on にん and じん is that
にん is usually used for words with less permanence 三人 (さんにん) or three people

  • (three people can be separated easily)

じん is usually used for words with more permenant titles such as 主人 (しゅじん) or master

  • (Someone called a master is not easily replaceable)

No offense intended pointing this out, but this is the kind of thing I was mentioning in my post about rules of thumb that piggyback on the hard-and-fast rules.

As long as you are okay with many exceptions, I guess whatever helps someone is fine.

For instance 故人 (こじん, the deceased) and 死人 (しにん, dead person) seem on their face to have the same amount of permanence to me, but they use different readings.


yeah, that is the point. there is such word, with different meaning - and it helps to differentiate pronounciation, and it makes remembering easier.
for じんこう, there is no other way to read it - and again, it helps (well, there is a homonym…)

these are “occupation-like” to me…

Okay… well, whichever rule of thumb you want to fit them into, at least one of them violates it.


This is the problem with Japanese, it has just so many exceptions so relying completely on some grammar tricks isn’t gonna work.

Funny enough I bought Zelda: Breath of The Wild a few days ago and I tried to play it in Japanese to practice some reading(even though I barely understand anything). I came across 老人 right from the start because you see an old man right at the beginning of the game. I also wondered what reading it should be, I checked online and it said “jin”. After seeing the word a couple of times in-game, now it’s easier for me to remember it.

I am really tired of all the exceptions that I find in Japanese so now I just try to memorize. Which means it’s all about practice, once again.

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and surely it was bad of me to be distracted during writing this answer… :frowning:


wel, here it helps to look for “other reading” and it gives distinction right away. しじん has very definitive-like meaning. (for all cases, btw)

ににん, at the same time, not an occupation-like, but does not mean anything other than “couple; 2 person”

Yeah, I’m not trying to tell people not to use their own ideas to help. It’s not much different from the ridiculous WK mnemonics, which have no basis in linguistics most of the time, by design.

I had the same problem, but I accepted it as a Japanesey weirdy stuff. I just try to relay on my memory and instinct, and hate myself everytime I get it wrong… I also try to read it both ways, it sometimes helps, like “tanin? tajin? tajin sounds awful guess is the other one”

same with nichi and jitsu :confused:

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