Do most words in Japanese use kanji, or are there some that use solely kana?

Hi there!

There’s something I’ve been confused about for a while with Japanese. Is it basically set up that kanji are the words and hirigana is mainly used to modify the kanji? As in 丸 for circle and then 丸い for circular?

I understand that there are resources out there that are solely in kana, but I haven’t been able to figure out if that’s by nature of simple words or if it’s just the kana for specific kanji. I know that katakana does that by nature of its purpose, but yeah.

I guess another way of asking would be:
Are there vocab words that are only in hiragana and don’t have associated kanji?


Yes, ようこそ (welcome) is the first example you should have already met.
I meant this word is only written in hiragana. They’re also words that used to be written with kanji but is nowadays only written in kana. For example, you’ll rarely see the kanji 熊 (bear) :bear: as it’s usually wrote クマ.


Hadn’t actually run into that yet, but I havent done much outside WaniKani and basic grammar. Thanks!

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Many words are represented in hiragana nearly exclusively, even if kanji exist. You will almost never see 有難う in place of ありがとう unless it’s super formal writing. Other words genuinely have no kanji and thus appear in kana by default.

What you noticed is something that is a relic of Japanese writing being adapted from Chinese. Japanese is inflected, so they needed something to show inflections and that’s what hiragana is most often used for.


Yes, lots of words are usually written in kana only.

And remember, kana consists of hiragana and katakana, and most katakana words are definitely katakana only.

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Animals, fruits and vegetables are mainly using katakana because their kanjis are rare, old or hard


Your example of 丸い (an i-adjective) illustrates something called okurigana. Basically, okurigana is kana after kanji, used for conjugation. You’ll see the same with verbs. For example:

  • 可愛い (かわいい, adjective) - the い is okurigana
  • 飲む (のむ, verb) - the む is okurigana

In something like 楽しい (たのしい), I’m honestly not sure if just い is the okurigana (since the し doesn’t get conjugated) or if し is as well. Someone with more knowledge on this can clarify if they want.

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Anything that is part of the word after the kanji and is written in hiragana is that word’s okurigana.


One of the earliest examples I remember is 分かる, which is usually just written as わかる

Cool, thanks for the clarification.

I’m not the most experienced but I’ve seen tons of words ‘spelled out’ with kana where there are common-use kanji for them. Part of it varies by reading level, with children’s media using fewer kanji. Personally, I find that way harder to read, since my brain can’t parse words out of long strings of kana. It’s like trying to read supercalifragilisticexpialidocious if each syllable could easily make a common word if added to the next. (i.e. if percal, califrag, sticexpial, listice were real words)

…and not in your native language. May make it easier for Japanese kids, but I think in the end we foreigners will be glad we learned the kanji :rofl:


So it’s more a way to mimic the original Chinese tones?

I had thought it was more for the scientific names than for the actual names. Do the pronunciations align more towards other languages or the original kanji pronunciation?

Chinese tones don’t really have anything to do with Japanese being inflected… so, no? In Chinese a verb doesn’t change form regardless of time, person, etc. In Japanese, it does. So while Chinese solves that issue by using more words, Japanese solves it by transforming the word. If you transform the word, you need to use more than just the kanji to show it, so Japanese has the kana on the end.

What about words that have hiragana before the kanji? Is that also called okurigana?
Here’s one that I found today on a package of okonomiyaki mix:
But the only other examples I can think of are where you have an honorific お or ご at the beginning, like お金 or ご注意.

Those have kanji variations. for ぶ厚く it’s 分厚く or 部厚く (source)

For the honorific お or ご, those are both 御 (source) That’s a level 39 kanji.


Cool, I didn’t know there was that honorific kanji!
So it doesn’t have a special name, it’s just a case of using hiragana instead of the available kanji…
Thanks :slightly_smiling_face:

Yeah, it’s just like any other time that hiragana is used for a harder or rarer kanji. Or it’s just a style choice.

It is actually for common names too, like grape for example, the kanjis 葡萄 are too complex so people write it ブドウ, idem for animals like scorpion 蠍 → サソリ etc

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