Confusion remembering the Kun and On'yomi Readings

Recently in my reviews, I’ve run into the issue where I know all the possible readings for a kanji/vocab word/etc, but I can’t remember which reading is needed in the specific circumstance. Sometimes a jukugo word has an exception for the readings, sometimes there are multiple on’yomi readings, and sometimes I just can’t remember which are the kun’yomi and which are the on’yomi readings.

How do I remember which readings are kun’yomi and which are on’yomi?
When I’ve figured out the reading is kun’yomi or on’yomi, how do I know which kun or on’yomi reading?
Is there an easier way to remember the patterns of things like jukugo words = on’yomi and single kanji = kun’yomi rather than just memorization, or do I have to just memorize it?

Thank you in advance for the help!


If the kanji is in isolation it’s usually kun’yomi. If it’s several kanji it’s usally on’yomi.


Like jin, nin, hito, bito?

Ya… When I first started someone wrote, ‘When you get used to it a little, you’ll just know what sounds right.’ I thought that was crazy…though now sometimes I sound out words and some do actually just feel more correct on my tongue and are correct (…except of course when they aren’t. ha!)

Other than that…just keep doing it and try to remember or have a trick.

For nin and jin… I’ll use san nin which is 3 people in Chinese, so something about 3 people, and for jin I’ll try to come up with something about people wearing jeans.

But medama (eyeball) and nanzen (thousands) and others still throw me sometimes. I guess just have to repeat repeat repeat until you have it!


I think you’re confusing kun’yomi and on’yomi with rendaku.

1 Like

KanjiInsanity has the big picture. Unfortunately there are a lot of exceptions and words with multiple pronunciations of both kun and on’yomi.

Over time you will get a feel for how the words flow and have better intuition on which reading to use.

Things related to body parts tend to use kun readings.

Nouns the become verbs (i.e. attached kana) still use the noun reading, which is usually on’yomi.

大 and 人 will be a constant source of annoyance. There are many threads on the techniques people use to remember which readings are used for certain words.


Yup. But I wouldn’t worry about it all that much tbh, it’ll make sense later like you said. It will either sound right when you type it out or it won’t.


I use the KunOn script. Of course, it doesn’t tell you which kun or on reading it wants when a kanji has multiple, but it still saves time when you know if it wants kun or on’yomi. But aside from that, you really will start to get a feel for it as you come across more words, both with which kun/on reading you use and with telling whether a reading is kun or on/what the difference between them is.

As you progress and advance levels you’ll get used to it. You’ll be able to recall which one is kunyomi and which one onyomi (for the most part at least).

Onyomi is the most important reading either way so since you’ll be mostly reading onyomi, those readings will eventually stick. I say most important because you mostly see kanji in groups when reading than on their own and so with the exceptions of half kunyomi and half onyomi for certain words, you don’t see many standalone kanji when reading.

At least that’s my impression.

Edit: someone will correct me if kun is more prevalent than on in readings but I don’t think that’s the case.

And sometimes, even if the vocab is all Kanji, it may have both kun and on variants, and probably even exceptional reading. Kun is generally preferred in this case, though.

As a rule, I feel like I should remember all Kun readings, along with their tails (associated vocabularies), but for On, I should know some vocabularies first, then try to read the Kanji within the vocabulary later.

Yeah, somehow you will have to prioritize reading of the vocabularies (without Kanji) over Kanji themselves.

Honestly, pure repetition is the best way to learn readings. Your brain will automagically figure out the “rules” on its own (and will sometimes find the exceptions easy to remember BECAUSE they are exceptions, as weird as that sounds).

Just know that it sometimes takes a LOT of repetitions. I have one じん/にん vocabulary term I’ve reviewed nearly a hundred times so far.

Eventually you get so sick of seeing something you invent a better mnemonic, but sheer repetition really is the key.

Always remember that WK doesn’t know you need more repetitions UNLESS you provide a wrong answer. Never feel bad about wrong answers.


Since on’yomi comes from Chinese pronunciation, you could try to include Jackie Chan in your mnemonics, so when you recall the vocab pronunciation, he will automatically come to mind and you will know which pronunciation to use.
For example:
大切 [たいせつ] (important), I will imagine a fat Jackie Chan with a set of swords being all self-important in one of his films.


Normally, compound kanji vocabulary that uses only kanji (and not hiragana), as @x90PT very well pointed out, will be pronounced using on’yomi readings. However, there are some cases in where they take kun’yomi readings. This is the case if the meaning of the word implies two separate physical things, as in 足首 [あしくび] (ankle) → lit. “the neck of the foot”

In this case, and to help remembering the readings, you could use Nobita / Doraemon, since they are renowned japanese characters.
足首 [あしくび] (ankle), you could imagine Nobita spraining his ankle and asking Doraemon to fix it. Then Doraemon gives him a gadget that replaces the ankle and gives it a weird neck shape.

When remembering vocabulary as an adult, we have to use the tools we have at our disposal, since our brain is already cluttered and programmed in our mother tongue, and is not as receptive as that of a child that starts with a clean slate. Imagination is such a great tool that will do wonders for us in this area.


You don’t really have to memorize this meta about vocab. There are general rules mentioned already, but really, there are enough exceptions that you should rather just focus on memorizing vocab simply as a word like any other language; this happens to be what this word is in Japanese! There’s no need to overthink it.

With enough time you’ll start to get a feel for which is kun’- or on’yomi, however, but as you start out, you don’t really have to think about that. At that later point in your language journey, you’ll naturally be able to “guess” what reading is likely when encountering an unknown word. But, you won’t arrive at that point immediately, and even then, exceptions are a fact so gradually looking up words on Jisho and then memorizing them is the better way to go, imo.

(unless we’re specifically talking reading and avoiding to spend too much time on looking up unknown vocab, then guestimate it is for me)


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