Can you tell whether it is じん or にん?

人 is a pretty annoying character because it seems to randomly switch between じん and にん for the pronunciation. Do I have to learn each word use separately or is there a reason it switches that will allow me to work out which is the correct pronunciation?


This would interest me, too. I‘m switching up those readings way to often


There is no ironclad reason. It feels random to me. Jin is more common so that’s my guess most of the time. Sometimes you can tell (e.g. professions are mostly nin, the counter is nin (unless you’re counting one or two of course RIP), nationalities are jin). But wait until you know the pronounciation of 人々 and then you will know the true despair of this kanji.


When the kanji is used as a suffix, in other words, when the Japanese appended it to an existing Japanese word, there are rules.

When it’s not used as a suffix, in other words, if it arrived in Japan as part of a complete word, whether it’s at the front or back of whatever, the reading is based on when it was imported.

That’s why it often feels random.


This thread really helped me out when learning the distinction: Fun with 人 and じん vs にん


I’m trying to take note of what WaniKani says about the reading for these words more. WaniKani regards じん as the “default” reading, and will often (but not always) give you a hint involving ninjas or Nintendo on words using にん. If it doesn’t, you can always come up with your own.

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Short explanation: You have to memorize each instance separately. This is why you should learn kanji as part of the vocabulary rather than separately.

Long explanation: The onset consonant of the two on’yomi 音読み readings (/ɲ̟/ and /d͡ʑ/) correspond to /ȵ/ in Middle Chinese (/ʐ/ in Mandarin today). The sound was absent in Japanese, so they approximated it as じ first and に afterwards, resulting in two different readings, largely depending on when the word in question was absorbed into the language.

The character was also used to write a native word, ひと (then pronounced /pito/) resulting in a third reading. This native pronunciation is referred to as a kun’yomi 訓読み reading.

Edit: I haven’t actually been using WaniKani, I came across this post by chance. So I’m “level 1” lol

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にん is 呉音 while じん is 漢音, so にん is the older one, but the general idea you were describing does apply, yes.


Ones I found a nice explanation that works in most of the cases from my notice (maybe always works :slight_smile: ). If the words mean that someones do something, for example, profession words, then it would be ‘nin’ (使用人 - employee, 管理人 - manager), in other cases, like if the first part means quality of person, it would be ‘jin’ (美人 - beautiful person, 老人 - old person). But it’s only when 人 ending the word.

As noted in my earlier post above, this applies when the kanji is a true suffix, as is the case with 使用人, where it was attached as a suffix to 使用. But often when it’s at the end of two character words like 美人, then it’s not a suffix, but just the second character of the word, and any connection to the suffix rule of thumb is coincidental.

An example of the suffix じん as a true suffix would be something like 日本人.


An 悪人 would like a word with you. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Apparently, he makes evil

This might only work for me and probably has a ton of contradictions. じん seems to be used for more permanent things than にん. It might just work for me cause anytime I face a contradiction I can see a word as permanent/impermanent if I twist things enough.
貧乏人 (びんぼうにん) means poor person, and I think “Well, it’s not necessarily permanent that you’re going to be poor forever, so にん.”
Meanwhile 詩人 (しじん) means poet. If you compose a poem you’ll be a poet forever, so じん.

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But what about a peasant 美人 whose face gets mangled in a tragic tractor accident? :scream_cat::sweat_smile:

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She will stop being 美人, problem solved! But you cannot stop being a poet


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