Beginner question: Kunyomi vs Onyomi selection when reading

Hello! I’m sure this has been answered before somewhere but I couldn’t find it, so any clarification would be greatly appreciated. (And if this should be in the “requesting help” section, let me know and I’ll move it! Thanks)

I’ve just started Wanikani (woo level 4!) I didn’t actually pick up until quite recently that there are two general ways to read something- onyomi (the Chinese origin way) and kunyomi (the Japanese orign way.) (Yes, each of which in turn can have multiple options, I know, haha.)

I think the rules for choosing the reading are as follows (taken from Kanjidamage):

  1. Words with one kanji ( 水, 日, 大きい, 辛い) use kunyomi.
  2. Proper nouns usually (田中 is Tanaka) use kunyomi.
  3. Compound kanji words w/o hiragana (jukugo) (種類, 漢字, 哲学) use onyomi.
  4. Compound kanji words w/ hiragana (人当たり, あざ笑う) use kunyomi.

So if I’ve got that right, then why did I get my reading of “task” wrong? (screenshot below.)

I’m looking at a word with one kanji. Following rule one, the kunyomi is もち。Why would I use the onyomi reading?

I hope I’ve explained all that clearly. Thanks in advance!


Those rules are far from absolute. There are plently of exceptions that I’m sure other people will bring up, but the point is that those rules are only useful when you need to guess readings. The reality is that they aren’t 100%, especially the proper noun rule.

So if I had to give an answer as to “Why would I use the onyomi reading”, it’s just because that’s the reading, and those rules aren’t sound.


Because it’s the correct reading. You’ve taken rules of thumb as if they were 100% absolutes which they aren’t.


The early levels actually have lots of exceptions to the “a single kanji is the kunyomi” one.

本, 点, 天, 円, and more

Plenty of exceptions to the “two kanji compounds are onyomi” as well.

1 Like

My best advice is memorize the reading taught in each lesson for the respective kanji and vocabulary forms. For vocabulary you come across in outside of the application, over time with using WK you’ll learn to get a good feel how certain kanji react when they stand alone, are with other kanji, or come with hiragana.


Ok, thanks everyone. I understand now that they are general guides and not rules. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing it wrong! Still pretty new to this. I never saw any explanation of terms when I started Wanikani, I only googled the terms kunyomi, onyomi and jukugo yesterday because they kept coming up and I had no idea what they were (those guidlines I posted came from Kanjidamage.) Makes more sense now. Cheers


The problem with kun’yomi is that you’d have to know what the kun’yomi is of (a noun, a verb, an adjective etc) in order to figure out what reading to apply to what context. In your example for 用, the もち reading is from 用いる which is a verb. You can’t just use the kun’yomi from a verb for the noun reading. In this case, the reading was the on’yomi. There are many examples of this “one-kanji noun that uses the on’yomi”. Things off the top of my head: ひょう, , かん, しょく. You’ll also find multi-kanji words that use either both on’yomi, like 信用しんよう, both kun’yomi, like 右手みぎて, or a combination of both kun and on, like 職場しょくば.

Seeing as there are so many exception to the “hard and fast rules” that we usually learn in the beginning, my advice is to just learn the word by not focusing primarily on the kanji, but rather on the reading. Learn the word よう, and associate the kanji “task” to it. When you see 用 in the review, try the readings in your head. “Ok, so I know this kanji’s on’yomi is よう, do I know any words that have that pronunciation? Oh, I do, it’s “task”. etc etc”. Same goes for the kun’yomi. If you see the word “用いる”, go through the readings. “Do I know よういる? Hmmm, don’t think so. What about もちいる? Omg I know this, it’s “to use”, etc etc”.

This is the method that I use to remember words. The good thing about it is after a while your brain will automagically start to pick up patterns and you’ll gain an intuition for what to use and when, and create cognitive shortcuts for you to learn faster in the future.


Yes, this. The ting with kun’yomi is that it is heavily dependent on which word you have. You usually can’t carry a kun’yomi reading over from one word to another. You have to learn all the kun’yomi one by one and pay a lot of attention to the okurigana.
For example, you might know the word 上. from this you would say the kun’yomi is うえ. but when you see it in a verb it becomes のぼ (上る) or あ(上げる・上がる). With that last one you can see that luckily with intransitive/transitive pairs they usually take the same reading, even though the okurigana differs. But you can’t just take a kun’yomi from a verb and use it as a stand-alone word/apply it to a single kanji.

PS: even if they havethe same okurigana the reading may differ depending on context, since the kanji have been retroactively applied to preexisting Japanese words in order to convey the (approximate) meaning of the word, rather than its pronunciation.

1 Like

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