Confused About Conflicting Instructions

In WaniKani, in the lesson for 女, it says:

When a word is a single kanji with no okurigana (hiragana attached to the kanji) it tends to use a kun’yomi reading.

But then Tofugu says:

If a kanji has hiragana attached to it, it almost always uses the kun’yomi reading.

I thought that the Tofugu definition was correct, that Kun’yomi is used when there are okurigana, and to use the On’yomi when it’s combination kanji.

Is this a mistake on Wanikani, and that 女 pronounced by itself is じょ?

I don’t see a conflict here. A word “[composed of] a single kanji” and a word made with kanji “[with] hiragana attached to it” are different things that both tend to have a kun’yomi reading. Both are strong hints that the word is of Japanese origin.


This is not a rule. They are strong hints, but the reading depends on the origin of the word rather than its composition. That’s why you see the qualifiers “almost always” and “tends to” in the text you gave.


No. WaniKani is correct. The word 女 uses the reading おんな.

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I think a logical breakdown of the quotes might help

  • a single kanji → one word → tends to use the kunyomi reading
  • kanji + hiragana (okurigana) → → almost always uses the kunyomi reading

Does that help? The explanations are not mutually exclusive

That would be true for compound words where 女 appears with other kanji.

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It’s often true, but it’s not a guarantee. I just searched for 女 on Jisho.org and found counterexamples like 女房 (にょうぼう) and 女神 (めがみ).


@KenCalderon, the rules you read about kun’yomi and on’yomi readings are really just hints, and you can’t rely only on rules. You will encounter lots of words that break the rules. For instance, you’ll soon see words like 右手 (vocabulary in WaniKani level 4), which includes the text

This is a jukugo word, which usually means on’yomi readings from the kanji. This word, however, uses the kun’yomi readings. This is possibly because of 手, because body parts often use kun’yomi.

Now we have an even more complicated rule! In fact, it’s not really a rule at all. The writing system was made to work with the spoken language, not the other way around. We now have the words “usually” and “often” to qualify the respective parts of this statement.

The only way you can really know which reading is used in a word is to see the word in writing or speech or look it up in a dictionary. You can make an educated guess based off the rules you’re learning now, but it is still just a guess.

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Imho these are outliers. 女房 is a relatively common word and yes, にょう is a possible onyomi reading of 女, but it’s not a very common one. Also, notice that み is not a reading of the kanji . It’s 女神 being read めがみ as a whole.

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The other answers are correct of course but maybe it’s easier to look at this from the other direction: if a word is made up of several kanji without okurigana, it will usually be a jyukugo word and be read with the on’yomi.

If it’s a single kanji (女、今、窓 etc…) or it has accompanying okurigana (受け付け or 見返る for instance) then it’s usually read with the kunyomi.

There are some more subtle patterns that are worth knowing later on, for instance kanji + じる usually uses the on reading despite having okurigana (信じる, 感じる, 命じる etc…).

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I agree, but I think it helps emphasize that the written language can’t always tell you what the spoken equivalent is. If you saw 女神 and tried to read it based on rules you might learn on WaniKani or elsewhere, you’d be pretty confused.

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Yeah, that’s definitely true… :frowning:

And it’s kind of one of the reasons I would advocate for learning vocabulary and kanji as part of vocabulary instead of hammering at kanji alone. That’s a different topic altogether, though :wink:

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The fun part is the words where both readings exist but the onyomi one is more literary. I think wanikani teaches a few of those, like 山道 (yamamichi or sandou). 今年 (kotoshi or konnen) sort of fits the pattern too. Oh and 紅葉 (momiji or kouyou) which always trips me up because the Tango N5 deck I used to use taught it with the exceptional reading while WaniKani wants the regular onyomi one.

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Ah, I would be careful with this one. もみじ and こうよう mean different things. I had a discussion with the teacher in class about it at some point.
Extra reference: meaning - Do the terms 紅葉{こうよう} and 紅葉{もみじ} mean the same thing? - Japanese Language Stack Exchange

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Ooh, interesting. Actually now that you mention it I vaguely remember going through this distinction at some point last year and I entirely forgot it :expressionless:

EDIT: year after reading that page I know why I forgot. There’s no way I’ll remember this distinction in a week…

I already struggle enough with the two readings of 開く…

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This is a tangent, but my only exposure to the word 紅葉 is from the ink color:

Now I’ll have to read about why they use that reading for the color!

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You make me want to purchase it for my kanji writing practice but Pilot ink is so overpriced here that I refuse to buy it out of principle. Over 30€ for 50mL!

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I think it’s () + (かみ).

女房(にょうぼう) is pretty much an exception of using にょう. It’s more commonly じょ or just にょ.

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I always found it amusing and a bit frustrating that this め reading for 女 is relatively uncommon (especially since other words with that め root absord it in other kanji like 娘 or 姫), yet it’s the actual origin of the hiragana ‘め’.

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If names and the meaning are included, maybe not so much.

Maybe because I recall 女神(めがみ) alongside 乙女(おとめ). Or 女々(めめ)しい.

Or other things that sound alike, like (めす) which can also be め.

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Yeah 女神 is my go-to because of 真・女神転生…

Hahaha of course :man_facepalming: . Well that was pretty silly of me, not gonna lie.

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Uh, no, but かみ certainly is, and がみ is rendaku’d.

The じる is not actually okurigana but rather a する verb that’s been stapled on permanently.

こ isn’t actually a reading of 今, though - a pure kun’yomi reading for that word would be いまとし.

Already solved.