Are there numerous ways to say vocabulary in Japanese?

Today I’m starting my first ever lessons on Japanese vocabulary!! :partying_face: I’ve been presented with this welcome screen. It states that “vocabulary typically only has one way of reading it.”

Is it normal you’d see vocabulary with multiple readings in JLPT N5? Or is it in more higher levels of Japanese? If you know any, I’d really appreciate example(s) of vocabulary that could be said in different ways!!

I’ve attempted to find the answer to this question myself but Google ain’t being much of a help… :laughing:

ありがと!

1 Like

There are probably some N5 level words that can be read multiple ways.

For example, 一日 can be read as いちにち when it means “one day,” but ついたち when it means “first of the month.”

Both of those are arguably N5 words.

Reading kanji has all kinds of curveballs that you just have to get used to as you encounter them.

But don’t worry too much about it before then.

9 Likes

Yeah, there exists a decent amount of vocab that can be read in different ways. Sometimes with different nuance, sometimes with regional differences, sometimes no difference at all.
I wouldn’t worry about it too much as a beginner.

その他 is a recent example where I’m overthinking if そのほか or そのた is the better reading for the sentence. Honestly, doesn’t matter much…
I think that is N5 at least?
EDIT: scratch that. Easy Kanji but vocab wise it seems to be N2 o_O

2 Likes

From time to time you’ll encounter words that have alternate readings. This can be because it’s slowly being transformed to be easier to pronounce, or there were two words that happened to get the same kanji composition, or it might just be a dialect difference.

For example, like Leebo said, 一日 has two possible readings with differing meanings, but so does 後, either あと, or のち, and a few others.

There are also some words, that either are the combination of the chinese readings of a given kanji word, or the alternative pronunciation is the japanese readings for those put together.

2 Likes

They absolutely do exist, but the original statement is correct that “typically” there’s only one way to read a word – the vast majority of words have only one reading, with no ambiguity.

2 Likes

I’d argue that character combinations that can be read in different ways and change their meaning accordingly are essentially “not the same word”, but just homographs, like 一日.

As another N5 example, 今日 generally means “today” and is read きょう, but it’s I guess technically possible to write こんにちは, as 今日は - I haven’t yet found out if that’s just really rare/outdated or if it’s something that nobody actually ever does.

Sometimes you do get a word that can be read in different ways and means exactly the same thing regardless. Sometimes these are minor changes such as 瞬く (to blink) being read またたく or まばたく. Sometimes it’s more radical like 平壌 (Pyongyang) being read as either ピョンヤン or へいじょう. Those are not N5 though.

I guess as a more common example, you might have 二十歳, which is commonly read はたち, but the (regular) reading にじゅっさい is apparently also allowed? Because of the Kanji, I think that’s N3, but the words themselves might be of a lower level.

2 Likes

Maybe the winner at the N5 level has to be 明日. 3 readings !
It’s read あした most of the time, but it can be read あす in more formal context (like weather forecast and such) and can even be read みょうにち in super formal context like in some business situation.

4 Likes

Though just to be clear, I think あす and みょうにち would not be considered N5, so you don’t have to know them initially.

2 Likes

I think WKs definition of a “vocabulary” is a single item they teach. In which case it fits.

1 Like

In that case it does. However, in certain cases I’d argue it would be better if WK deviated from that. As it stands, it’s completely possible to do all of WK and completely have forgotten about ついたち.

3 Likes

I agree, but I couldn’t think of a better term for “group of characters that form a single lexical item” than “word” :slight_smile:

1 Like

熟語, perhaps? :slightly_smiling_face:

3 Likes

Rather than searching for “Are there numerous ways to say vocabulary in Japanese?”, try “Japanese words with more than one reading”. ^^

Everybody mentioned some examples already, so I won’t bother. It’s usually some of the low-level beginner vocab or the names of people.

When a kanji or vocab word does have more than one reading, WaniKani suggests one of them (occasionally two of them) for the mnemonic. All of the alternate readings are provided on the Reading tab. If you get confused about why there are other readings and which one is most often used, it’s likely someone already asked on Reddit, HiNative, or Japanese Stack Exchange so be sure to keep using Google/a dictionary.

3 Likes

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.