Any tricks to remember the different readings?

I’m getting really confused about all the different pronunciations for 日 月 and 人 in the vocab.
Like in the same set of lessons 人 is pronounced nin, jin, and hito and I can’t see a reason why?
E.g. 人気, 何人, 外人, 主人, 一人

Any tricks to help remember or decode these? Or do you just have to learn each individual case when it comes to vocab?


At the most basic level, are you familiar with the fact that kanji come from Chinese, and pronunciations were imported alongside the characters?

にん and じん are two Chinese pronunciations, with にん being older than じん. They’re really based on the same Chinese pronunciation, but depending on when and where the Japanese monks who learned kanji picked up the pronunciations, sometimes they interpreted them differently.

ひと is the Japanese word that means “person.” So when they started writing everything with kanji, it made sense to use that kanji for that word as well.

When 人 is a suffix, like in アメリカ人 (where it is じん) or 料理人 (where it is にん), it has precise rules for how it gets pronounced. Places and nationalities get じん and actions get にん.

にん is also used for counting.

But when 人 appears in a word as just one element of a compound, not as a true suffix attached to a separate word, then whether it gets the にん reading or the じん reading depends on when it was imported from Chinese.


From what I’ve found, unfortunately, a lot of it comes down to memorization.
Immersion is probably the best way to remember the readings and pronunciation, so finding a kids book in Japanese or any reading material that’s in Japanese and reading through it will help a lot.
I’ve found when reading stuff in Japanese it’s better just to read through and look up meanings of the kanji/vocab and carrying on rather than trying to memorize them.


For the にん vs じん readings, I’ve been extending the mnemonics to try to sort them out in my head.

For example, everything with the にん reading, I’ll add a little story that incorporates Nintendo (I think this was used in the WK mnemonics early on, and I’ve just kept using it on later words). So for 人気(にんき) , I make up a story about how Nintendo is super popular. A couple levels ago, I had 商人(しょうにん) (merchant), and the only thing this guy has in his shop are piles and piles of old Nintendos.

On the other hand, if the reading should be じん, I come up with a story about a person named Jean, who thinks that Nin would be an absolutely terrible name for a person (like, really, are you trying to name them after your Nintendo? Jean is very angry about how rude this is :rage:Also, my apologies to anyone who happens to be named anything similar to Nin…).

So, the 主人(しゅじん) is obviously going to get upset if you don’t know his/her name, and accidentally call them by the name of your gaming system. Or for something like 人格(じんかく) (character or personality), I think of it like this: people (who could be named Jean) can have personalities; Nintendos can’t (because they’re machines, and that would just be stupid…)

Unfortunately, a lot of it is just memorization, but sorting all of the new 人 words I come across into these two categories (person or Nintendo?) and making up a story about that has definitely helped me keep them straight in head.


Of all the times you’ve answered this question, I feel like this is the first you’ve mentioned this rule. Can you give a few examples of this?

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I think I’ve mentioned it before… but as in the example given, you have 料理 (cooking) with 人 (person) for 料理人 (cook).

Some more random examples
支配 (management) 支配人 (manager)
受取 (receipt) 受取人 (recipient)
差出 (sending) 差出人 (sender)
保証 (guarantee) 保証人 (guarantor)
見物 (sightseeing) 見物人 (sightseer)
代理 (substitution) 代理人 (substitute)

One true exception to this which I found in a research paper about 人 was 貧乏人. Since being poor is not really an “action.”


So, I had a lot of trouble with 月 and 人 as well. Since most of the responses so far have been covering 人 for you, here’s what I did for moon.

For moon, I use two different mnemonics. For げつ I think of a month-by-month calendar. がつ is the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. Working these into the mnemonics really helped with getting the readings. The つき reading hasn’t been much of an issue, for me, since it seems to be used only when talking about the moon itself. The others are about months.

日 wasn’t as bad for me. Ror some reason, it just sticks. But you could do the same thing, choose a good symbol for each reading and incorporate it into the mnemonic that WK gives you (or build your own). I’ve done this for a number of reading that I have had trouble with, and it’s worked quite well, once I got used to modifying the vanilla WK to incorporate my extra hints.


がつ is only used for specific months of the year (January etc.) and also 何月 which is like “which specific month?” つき only refers to the moon itself except in 毎月, but for that word the げつ reading is also accepted. Everywhere else, it’s げつ.


Kanji were imported along with vocab as various Japanese big shots across Japan learned classical Chinese, and this happened in many waves, over many centuries. China at the time had many dialects (still does btw), who are very different, so when a different region of China became dominant they imposed their own dialect as the prestige language. So Japanese people learning Chinese words & kanji in different periods imported different pronunciations along with them. On top of that, they added their native Japanese words to the kanji whose meaning made sense to attach it to. So that’s why, depending on the kanji, you can have multiple kun’yomi readings, and multiple on’yomi readings. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of how the Japanese learned to write in the first place.

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Thank you. Do you have any good suggestions for kids books for a beginner?

Thank you. Although it may not help with pronunciation, I like understanding why.

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