Ambiguity of こう

I’m only at level 6 but i’ve already encountered what seems like 10 different words all with the same reading of こう. It would seem that at this rate there will be a ton more by the time I get to level 60. In another post i’ve asked how words with the same reading are differentiated and gotten “pitch” and “context” as the solution. However, I have a more trivial question now:

What is the first thing that would come to a fluent Japenes speaker’s mind if i walked down the street and shouted out just こう with no contex?

Just wondering…


They would think you are crazy/weird for shouting for no reason, or maybe you’re looking for someone named こう。
If you walked down the street and shouted “Drain” for instance, which in english can also mean many things depending on context, i would also think maybe you’re crazy :thinking:


There is only one vocab item with the reading こう on WK. 甲

Are you talking about isolated kanji? No one speaks in isolated kanji, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

EDIT: And to answer the question, probably they’d just think of こう (in this way, as such, etc.) which is almost never written with kanji. It’s the こ equivalent of そう or どう.


Oh, just wait until you meet my boys せい and しょう, you will be delighted.


Although my 大辞林 does list 42 words read こう. But most of them hardly matter much.





This is unfortunately very common in Japanese.

I don’t know the exact figures, but Japanese has one of the lowest number of phoneme’s (sounds) out of any modern language (source).

As a result, there are many words/kanji that share sounds.

There is the factor of pitch accent, in which words with the same characters are spoken in different ways (Open the links below and press “Play audio”:

  • 戦車 - Tank, as in the military vehicle.
  • 洗車 - Car wash.

They are both read as 「せんしゃ」.

How do people tell the difference? Well, its largely down to context and pitch accent. You don’t get your car washed at the “tank”, you can it washed at the “car wash”. And most Japanese native speakers / those that are well versed in Japanese will usually be able to differentiate by pitch, at least to a certain degree.

Warning, not all words with the same readings have different pitch accents, so one most often use context as well.


Not sure if you actually meant to reply to me, but don’t worry, I know. And it’s not really as bad as people sometimes make it out to be, largely because of what you mentioned.

And the こう (as a word) example is pretty silly. Sure, there’s a ton, but most of those aren’t really used for much of anything really, or are counters (like 一口), or would mostly be used in writing anyway where there’s no problem.

…I just wanted to make the 42 joke.
Because it’s true!


It’s super funny to me that in explaining two Japanese homonyms, you had to disambiguate two English homonyms.
To be safe, I want to clarify I’m not being sarcastic or trying to mock you. What you wrote is genuinely useful information. I just thought the ‘tank’ bit was genuinely funny and potentially informative.


Oops, yes I meant to post that to the OP.

And no worries, now you mention it is indeed ironic. Homonyms are hard, yo.


They might think you are just really friendly with Koichi and calling his nickname while looking for him :man_shrugging:

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That’s a very interesting fact!

There’s one thing in that source you linked that I’m curious about. I don’t know if you know the answer, but the list says that the Japanese language has 2 diphthongs. I tried searching around a bit, but couldn’t find out what those two diphthongs were. I’m really curious about what they are.


Especially since when we make cars, we have to wash the bodies in …

… giant tanks …

… of cleaner solution before we can paint them.

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Right? That got me really curious too! The only thing I’ve found is this, so I’m thinking maybe they labelled the semivowels /j/ and /w/ as diphthongs…? Maybe? If that’s not it, I have no idea. xD


That must probably be it. (image from the site you linked)

I looked around some more and I have a theory.

As we know, the Japanese language has 5 vowels; a i u e o. (image source)

I saw the image below, which has German diphthongs, and I thought maybe it was applicable for Japanese as well. (image source)

I tried to combine them in the same way, and figure out whether they sounded Japanese or not. Here are the results:

  • i + a = ya
  • u + a = wa

I don’t know whether these count as diphthongs, but that’s the closest I got to any explanation ¯\(ツ)


Likewise I cannot find anything conclusive.

Hopefully someone can shed some light on this.

One way of thinking about how many sounds Japanese has is to look at the 五十音 chart. There are ten consonants and five vowels, and essentially only fifty possible syllables. Well a few more considering the diacritic marks (eg へvs ぺ ) and the digraphs (eg にゃ).

Now consider English. English is made out of a smaller unit of sound, the phoneme, and the number of possible syllables is in the neighborhood of 10,000. (Different flavors of English have different numbers of phonemes, so this possible syllable count is not exact.)


Japanese syllables are special in a way that phonologists call the mora. Hawaiian is similar.

Suppose I ran down the street in an English speaking country shouting “dada!”. Would people think of early 20th century avant-garde art? Or that I was looking for my father?

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Interestingly there was a famous Swiss dada play called murmel murmel where the only dialogue was ‘murmel murmel’ repeated several thousand times. Maybe this is off topic


If you were in NYC with me then more than likely they would think your speaking of the Salvador Dali art gallery down the street or perhaps crazy becuase your probabaly way to old to still be using “dada”.

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ok, so unless the kanji is isolated in purple, as a vocabulary word, then the reading is only meant to be used as part of another word?