Do you actually differentiate kun'yomi and on'yomi?

As the title reads. When learning a kanji, do you actually learn which reading is which as you learn them? I haven’t been doing so and I feel like it’s biting me in the ass when I don’t know which to use.


Do you mean, does WaniKani tell you which you’re learning? Because if so, it does tell you in parentheses next to the reading.

Sorry if that wasn’t what you meant! A general thing I’ve learned over time is just a feel for what readings would be kun’yomi and what would be on’yomi. Some of that is exposure - if I already knew a verb like 答える (こたえる), and WK teaches こたえ as the reading for the kanji, I know it’s very likely the kun’yomi reading even without checking. Does that make any sense?

I would say it does get easier with time and familiarity with Japanese, though!


Sorry. I tend to be a little unclear. :sweat_smile: What I mean is, when you’re learning a new Kanji, let’s say 方. The reading you learn is かた. Which is the kunyomi. Do you actually bother to remember that かた is the kunyomi reading? Because personally I just remember “方 is かた” and deal with other readings as they come.


Nah, it’s all good. And that’s tough to answer for me, as I mainly try to learn the readings for the kanji WK teaches in the order they’re presented. 方 is actually an interesting example, because it’s used in a lot of vocab, so simply through exposure alone, you should be able to learn the on’yomi reading (ほう) without too much difficulty, and it should become natural.

I would say keep on doing what you’re doing as you learn kanji through WK, and knowledge of kun and on readings should come more naturally (and be more easily learned) as a result of that.


After a little while it’s not really an issue, かた simple is not a possible On’yomi, so after sitting with them for awhile that becomes pretty clear.


I don’t worry about on/kun at all, I just learn the readings well for each kanji and I move on.

Though I do know that most of the time alone kanji wll use the kun’yomi and compounds tend to use on’yomi, but there’s a bunch of exceptions so it doesn’t matter much really.

The rule is that if 1 kanji by itself makes the whole word it uses the Japanese reading “kun”, and if the word consist of more than 1 kanji then it will use the Chinese reading “on” but it’s not always the case so it’s better to not even worry about it :stuck_out_tongue:


I tried to worry about this at first, but quickly realized just remembering the readings was more than enough work already, and gave up. I wouldn’t focus too much on it.


Yeah I keep it in mind for two reasons:

  1. You may be able to guess the reading of an unknown word (that you actually know), and hence understand it
  2. When a Kanji is used as a phonetic mark in another Kanji, it often takes the root Kanji’s on’yomi. E.g. 方 → 訪 or 白 → 迫 etc.

The second point is how I am able to ignore the reading mnemonic for many Kanji, making it easier to remember and progress faster (if that’s what you want to do).


I didnt learn wich reading is kunyomi or onyomi aaand that made me the thing more hard now, if you just started do your best to learn wich one is onyomi or kunyomi


It only takes the On’yomi.

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Well, I use the Katakana Madness Userscript which turns all Onyomi readings into Katakana. I modified it a little myself so that I also have to type Onyomi readings in Katakana or else the answer will be wrong. That way, I was able to memorize which reading is On/Kum; simply because I don’t memorize the sound anymore, but instead also have the Hiragana/Katakana. For example, I learned 方 as かた, but 万 as マン, バン. That way, if I am asked the reading, I just have to recall if Hiragana or Katakana were used when learning it to know if it is Kunyomi or Onyomi.
I think it’s not worth all too much, but I do feel more comfortable learning vocabs cause I just now which reading to use. For example, I remembered that 花 (はな) uses Kunyomi, so I didn’t even have to read the description when learning the vocab to know that it will have the same reading as the Kanji.

If you don’t learn it that way, you don’t miss much though. It’s just a little comfortable, but that’s all. I think only real completionists / perfectionists (like me :D) want to do this xD.


As @Syphus said, you’ll eventually get used to what readings are possible for the on’yomi readings. I would say you shouldn’t bother explicitly studying it, but you should pay attention when you are learning new kanji.


You don’t necessarily have to remember exactly which is on/kun’yomi but over time you will gather enough vocabulary that will make it easier to remember which is which.

If you know a little bit about the basic history of how kanji came to be used in Japan and its evolution, it will help a lot in remembering when to use what.
As a general rule, single kanji words just by themselves use the the kun’yomi because they were words that existed in the spoken language prior to the introduction of Chinese kanji. That’s why they retain the Japanese reading (kun’yomi) but use the kanji (with exceptions!)

Words that use one kanji and some hiragana also normally use kun’yomi for the same reason as above. It’s just a lot more useful to have a kanji in there to indicate meaning and differentiate between words that sound the same but have different meanings. Exceptions also exist here but this works for the majority of them.

[quote] 生き - いき - living, being alive, vitality
生まれる - うまれる - to be born [/quote]

Finally, if it’s a words with only kanji (two kanji or more), then it will very likely use the Chinese readings (on’yomi) because there’s a high chance that entire words was imported (also exceptions such as 目玉 that uses kun’yomi since it’s a body part and those are usually Japanese reading).

[quote] 生活 - せいかつ - living (daily life), livelihood
学生 - がくせい - student

Edit: Why is there only one quote that works? I don’t understand this :frowning:


That’s really interesting. Instead of learning the onyomi and kunyomi for each kanji so you can deduce the reading of a word, you use the reading of a word to deduce the onyomi and kunyomi. I suppose I have been doing so anyway.

Yeah no. Personally I don’t take note of which is onyomi and which is kunyomi, but I do take note of the situations they’re used in (like if it’s a reading of a vocab all on its own, or if it’s only said that way when together with other kanji to form a word). To me, it’s like knowing the names of things in math. The names are more erroneous than not. All you really need to know is how to do it.

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Both methods are good to use and should probably be used simultaneously to reinforce what you know! I use both regularly depending on the vocabulary that I already know.

When you encounter a new word with kanji, look at how it looks. Does it have hiragana? Is it only kanji? How many characters? Then it’ll give you a good idea of how to read that words. If you follow the general rule I previously posted, you’ll mostly get things right! If you get it wrong after following those guidelines, then it’s likely it’s an exception, and by making that mistake you’ll probably remember it even more!

I’ve been studying Japanese off and on for a few years and I still have to look up what On’yomi and Kun’yomi mean. I honestly don’t make any effort to tell myself, “this is On and that is Kun.” If I get multiple readings for a kanji (one for a magneta kanji and a different one for the purple vocabulary word using the same kanji), I am usually able to figure out which reading to use depending on if it has hiragana attached, if it is in a jukugo, or if there is a rendaku.

Yes, I do differentiate between them, but I wouldn’t worry about trying to memorize which is which at the start. It’s something you just naturally pick up. @Momoiro already went over some good rules of thumb so I won’t bother reiterating them, but I wanted to add that kunyomi, representing sounds from traditional Japanese words, are often sounds that are simply not possible onyomi. For instance, あけぼの from 曙 or なみだ from 涙. Those aren’t possible onyomi readings.

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Same here. I basically assume I’ll be learning a different reading come vocab when the kanji’s alone or in a verb, and when I don’t have to it’s a pleasant surprise. :laughing: But I’ve never specifically checked if it’s on’yomi or kun’yomi.

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I’m interested to learn if there is a reference that shows which subset of the kana syllabary is not possible to be used in onyomi. I have a feeling for which sounds are which, but don’t know how to check.

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