Fun with 人 and じん vs にん

So I figure this might help those that have trouble knowing when which reading is reasonably possible, outside of purely memorizing each word (which i imagine a lot of us have done). It has helped me be more thoughtful in working out the right one and putting the two endings into a more conceptual space in my brain.


<Yes, very good resource.>

One of the ways I was taught to differentiate にん and じん was that にん is a temporary status like ‘the number of people’, since that can change, but that じん was more immutable (e.g. you can’t change your nationality). I don’t know how consistent that is, but it seems to work in far better than half the cases for me.


the essential of the article was that にん tended towards number of people and occupations, and じん tended to be attributes a person might have such as nationality or traits (an abstract one being 殺人 being a person who has…murderous intentions)

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殺人 isn’t a person, it’s the act of murder.

殺人者 is murderer.



“Someone that murder person”

Edit: Haha. I meant it as a literal translation. I thought it was funny.

If you mean as a mnemonic, I’d go with “killing (殺) a person (人) makes someone (者) a murderer (殺人者)”

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For 殺人者 I just built off of knowing that 殺人 means murder. 殺人者 --> murder + someone --> someone who murders --> murderer.

i know it’s murder, it’s a person with a trait of murder (to remember jin instead of nin) not that it’s a murderer

Thanks @jhgoforth. I’ve been struggling with this too. I made a list and invented my own formula. It’s got exceptions but that resource has explained the exceptions for me.

にん and じん according to my forumula

  1. じん has a dakuten. That is, it is じん not しん.
  2. にん has no dakuten.
  3. When looking at a word with 人, look at the other kanji.
  4. If the other kanji reading begins:
    a) with dakutan, use にん e.g. にんずう 人数
    b) without dakutan, use じん e.g. さいじん 才人

Here I have listed examples from my notes. I used blue highlight to describe the exceptions.
Note that all にん exceptions are “occupations”: villain, merchant, chef, witness. Amongst the じん exceptions: べつじん (changed person), which would fit into that “attribute” category in the article. Apparently, soldier is not an occupation ぐんじん.

My Japanese housemate said that she could tell which one to use because the other one would make the word harder to pronounce. It is different for native speakers. :wink:


hah, i hadn’t thought about the harder to pronounce part…gah…i only think that with really long vocab words that have lots of changing sounds.

The article you posted does incorrectly say it’s murderer, and not murder. So, figured you were quoting that.

You said

Which would be the murderer.


that’s in reference to the 人 not the definition itself, the hito with a murderous design which is a trait would mean 人 = jin and not nin in this situation

Guess I don’t understand the value in corrupting the meaning of the word to remember the pronunciation.

well you are missing the point that it’s not about the meaning of the word that we are looking at, it’s making sure we are using the correct reading for 人 in those situations, this is after you already know the meaning of the word and are making sure you get that reading right rather than being unsure if it’s supposed to be nin or jin.

i think this may be more of an issue since you are obviously far beyond needing to make those distinctions since pure usage of the words is more than likely mentally stamped permanently for you to read them lol

I actually try to use that approach as well. But of course as a nonnative learner it doesn’t always work for me.

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I did see this in counter pronunciation clip. So that if lips are closed at end of number, you use counter reading that starts with closed lips and other way around. Helps sometimes there but i think にん and じん have almost same mouth position with first letter and both end with ん so i don’t see it working well here.

This is great! Thank you!