Beginner question regarding kun'yomi

Hi everyone! I’m new here so please forgive the very amateur question. I’ve just unlocked my first vocab words and I’m drowning in confusion. Mainly how many different meanings and pronunciations there are. For example, for 上 I’m told the kun’yomi for the kanji is うえ. But in the very next lesson for 上げる it says the kun’yomi for the kanji is あ ? Are there multiple kun’yomi? Wanikani hasn’t really gone over this & it didn’t mention it in the lesson, and I have no idea how many kun’yomi or on’yomi there are for each kanji. I’m not sure how I can ever guess the reading of vocab (if that’s even possible?). Again sorry for the beginner question, if anyone has an estimate of when this gets less overwhelming I’d love to know :sweat_smile:

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This should answer your questions! If something is still unclear after reading this article, feel free to ask!

Kanji can have both multiple on and kun readings. 上 though is a bit of an outlier because it has tons of different readings.

上 #kanji -


It’s pretty normal for kanji to have multiple readings in the same category. This because of the history of how kanji came to be used. When kanji were borrowed into Japanese, there was already a spoken language. There were many words in the language that could be conceptually tied to the idea of “up” that were still different words. Those are the different kunyomi readings.

On top of that, those same words can be conceptually tied to other ideas as well. That’s how you get 挙がる and 揚がる, which are also read as あがる, but they express different nuances of that word.


thank you! I’ll check it out(:

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oh wow that’s a lot! so in english you can kinda guess how to pronounce most words even if you haven’t seen them from sounding them out, is that not a thing with japanese? If I was reading a text and it had an unknown word would I always have to look it up due to the different possible meanings/kun&on?

I see, thank you for the clarification!

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A native Japanese speaker will often be able to read words they’ve never seen before, but kunyomi readings are probably the least likely candidates for that, since they can be fully contained within a kanji with no attached hiragana hints.

But if you give a Japanese person a verb that ends in がる and a kanji they don’t know, but the context of the sentence has something to do with rising… they could take a stab at it. Since they learned あがる before they went to school to learn writing.

Onyomi readings are often easier to guess, because of how kanji were created in Chinese originally. Many kanji contain an element that is not used for its meaning, but because it has the same pronunciation as a different character. Those can be recognized over time and lead to being able to guess onyomi readings for characters you’ve never seen before. Like 租粗狙組姐祖阻 all being そ.

Unfortunately, the messy history of Chinese and Japanese combine so that these readings are sometimes not identical anymore, but even then you can still see the genetic history of them. Like 根 (こん) and 眼 (がん). They are more alike than they are different in the grand scheme of things.


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