All about the kanji 人 (video)

I made a video talking about many aspects of one kanji, 人. I chose it because it is a frequent subject of questions here.

I included facts that even advanced learners might not know, but if you just want the TLDW on the rules of thumb for readings, they are as follows.

Rule 1: にん is used for counting, and じん is used for place names.

Rule 2: When 人 follows a 2 character compound that uses onyomi OR a word that uses kunyomi, the reading of にん is used when the word expresses an action (e.g. 案内人).

Rule 3: When 人 follows a 2 character compound that uses onyomi or other word, the reading of じん is used when the word expresses an attribute. Those attributes can be related to location, occupation, or other traits (e.g. 有名人).

Rule 4: When 人 makes a 2 character compound with another kanji (e.g. 他人), the reading cannot be reliably predicted. These words’ readings are usually based arbitrarily on when the word was imported from Chinese, or other individual circumstances for particular words. Unfortunately, a great number of words fall in this category, and I think it is an overzealous application of rules 2 and 3 to these words that gives the sense that the rules are unreliable or full of exceptions.

The sources I used for the video are listed in the description on Youtube.


Sexy voice


This seems a lot like one of those ‘I before E except after C’ situations in which there are so many exceptions to the rule that the rule is mostly useless.


These rules have fewer than 5 total exceptions if you apply them (this is based on information from a research paper that I used as a source for the video). The problem is that a large chunk of compounds fall into rule 4, which are ones where reading is arbitrarily based on when they were imported. But that’s the rule.

True, you can’t look at ones in that category and use the rule to predict the reading, but you know it just comes down to memorization.

Ones in rules 1, 2, and 3, are very strictly followed, with exceptions mentioned in the video.

As I say in the video, these rules help you get a grasp on how the compounds were formed, but they’re not really something I recommend for predicting the reading for words you’ve never seen before.

Whether anyone feels like they can make use of these or not, they still represent the reality of the situation.


Very nice video. Since you asked for requests for future kanji, I request all of them!

But maybe more specifically, I really like 天 and that would be cool for me, but I’m not sure how much there is to say on that one. 日 though with all it’s readings would be a great choice imo.

Other suggestions I have are 手, 中, and 生.


Thanks! Yeah, they of course don’t all have to be 50% rules about readings. Other kanji might have different interesting parts. I won’t know until I research them!


Your pitch accent is 12/10 amazing, I can only dream. Bit off topic, but do you have any tips for getting that good?

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Literally double checking every word before I recorded it. The script had a note for pitch accent for each word. And using the Suzuki-kun prosody tool for sentences and phrases.

Even then, I doubt it was perfect.


I didn’t mean to offend by saying the rule is “useless”, just that it’s not useful to know how to spell a word you’ve not encountered before.
It’s definitely interesting and will help cement a spelling into your mind once you’ve learned it, it’s something else to remember it by and gives you more understanding of the culture. “Oh so it’s spelled like that because it was imported at this time…” or “Oh it follows rule 3, that’s why” or it might even me memorable to note that it’s an exception to the rule, especially if you can make a link in your head with that word and why it is an exception, like a story.

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Yeah, I get you, it just hit a nerve because I was like “I made the video because I used to think that about rules for this character until I found out about the time period rule”. Thanks for the feedback.

Well, I mean, like we said, we still can’t use them for those compounds, but at least now I understand the other rules.

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I’m not really sure I’d even class the time period as a rule… A rule when it comes to grammar or spelling is usually something you can easily work out with no outside knowledge other than the word itself.

Your rule 1, 2 or 3 can all be deciphered from the word itself.

Your rule 4 is basically an explanation of why some words don’t fit into the 3 rules.

It would be interesting to see if there’s a rule in Chinese which was changed which dictates the spelling of these imported words, and the exceptions are a carry over from that rule.

Okay, then yeah, maybe calling it “rule 4” will be considered a misnomer by some, but it’s basically, if it came from Chinese as a whole word it has arbitrary historical reasons for its pronunciation. If it was cobbled together later by the Japanese, it follows rules 1, 2, and 3. But wording that within the rules is tricky.

The ones that follow the rules are ones where the Japanese treat it like a suffix.

The reason that there isn’t a rule based on meaning for the ones from Chinese is because the pronunciation difference doesn’t exist in Chinese. The Japanese caused the problem by basing their pronunciation of it based on different eras and different places Chinese pronunciations.


I see, that’s cleared it up a bit for me.

Full disclosure, I’m an absolute idiot when it comes to the finer points of language, and even the basics. I admire people who have an in depth understanding of grammar, spelling and etymology.

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Also, everyone, feel free to be 100% honest. How is this kind of video without a low-volume bgm track? I wanted to add one, but the editing was already giving me a lot of issues. I would like to add one in future videos.

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Terrific video - thanks for sharing. I would certainly be interested to know more about the various types of 音読み, look forward to your explanation.


Very nice! Very much like the style and way you presented the information. I didn’t notice any lack from not having background music, but judging from your style and presentation, I’m sure that would work out great, too.

Looking forward to seeing more!

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I think if you want to add background music, have a short clip in the intro, but cut it out for the rest of the video. It would be more of a distraction if it was there for the entire time.

Since it’s a language video, the most important thing is audio quality. The quality of your microphone, minimizing echo, and minimizing background noises are the types of things that will be the biggest factor in video quality.

I enjoyed the style of the slides you used, but I wonder how well it would show up if you put it on a projector screen or similar. Not the most important thing right now, I imagine, but something to consider. If you have access to one, try testing it out and seeing if it’s readable from a distance.

If you plan on making this video into a series, it’s good to have some kind of series title so the videos are easy to find if I want to search for one. If you want to keep the current title, I’d tag it like “[All About the Kanji] 人” or “All About the Kanji - 人” otherwise insert whatever title you want to use. I think All About the Kanji is okay, but might do better with a shorter name for a series, something like “Kanji Complete” or “Kanji IQ.” I’m a fan of 1-2 word series titles.

Once you have a title tag, you can basically add whatever you want after it. So this video might be renamed “[Kanji Complete] - All about 人” or whatever you want to call it.

Like I said earlier, I really enjoyed the video and look forward to more of them.

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Thanks for all the tips. I definitely need to get around to doing some of the “busy work” part of my channel, and properly tagging and naming videos is one of those things. Good ideas.

Thanks again.

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Criticizing things is what I do best. I do it so well that people tell me to stop…a lot…do I have a problem?

I can’t tell if you are serious or not. If you are, the best way to avoid having people do that is to only give critique/feedback when someone asks for it or you ask first if someone wants feedback/critique and they say yes. ^^