Getting a bit confused with on'yomi and kun'yomi readings

Hi! I’ve started using the Wanikani app several days ago. I got a bit confused with the whole waiting for reviews thing, so I looked it up and found out that it’s supposed to be that way, and so I just went with it and completed my reviews etc.

Now I’ve reached kanji. At first it went pretty well, but now I’ve stumbled across the vocabulary with kanji and I’m pretty much lost.

So, for example, I know that 人 is pronounced as にん (because of the person/nintendo thingy), and I know that 二 is pronounced as に. So then I come across the vocab for ‘two people’ (二人), and I’m just sitting there like ‘‘yo I got this, I know what those two things mean!’’ and I figure that if 二 is に, and 人 is にん, that the pronounciation of 二人 has got to be ににん.

So I check the information on the vocab in the lesson and it tells me that it’s actually supposed to be ふたり. And I’m just sitting there trying to figure out how the heck they got to that answer, and I read something about on’yomi and kun’yomi and I think I’ve vaguely figured it out. So I proceed and go to the test and I got it wrong several times because I kept getting the on’yomi and the kun’yomi mixed up, but I end up finishing the test.

I still have a few lessons left and I try to keep going, but then we come across this abomination: 大人. I’m thinking ‘‘hah, I’ve got the knowledge of the different readings now, they can’t make me fall for it this time, it’s got to be either たいにん or たいり’’. Turns out it’s おとな.

This is the point where I just don’t know how to proceed. Did I make a mistake with learning the radicals/kanji or something? Or did I miss an important piece of information regarding these readings? How does this work and how do you know which reading to use? Thanks in advance!

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Some readings are exceptions, yes. This is also explained on the 二人 page:

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As far as I understand it, here’s the basic shakedown.

In general, any word made up of nothing but kanji is going to use the on’yomi reading and any word with kana in it is going to use the kun’yomi reading. However, there are a lot of words that break that rule. Like, a LOT. ひとつ/ひとり and ふたつ/ふたり are two of the biggest rule-breakers you’ll find early on.

What helped me in this situation was to try to remember which words actually obey that pattern and which ones don’t. I used the early SRS levels to drill into my head that, despite how it looks, 大人 did not fit the established pattern, and remembering just that piece of information helped springboard me to the correct reading. If that doesn’t work, I’d recommend making a mnemonic for yourself that suits you better than the one WK offers, as it sounds like you haven’t been relying on those as part of the learning process, and they can be quite helpful.

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I think it’s a great thing that they put those words in there, as you’re faced with irregular reading as well, which constitute part of what you will encounter later on.

Fortunately enough 二人 and 大人 are some inrcredible common words that you will learn SRS or not… The tricky part comes with irregular readings of some uncommon vocab :sweat_smile: … So put extra effort in the mnemonics for those.

There’s the case where you will find that there’s an irregular reading version of the word and also a reading that make use of the expected on’ reading as well … it’s nuts !!! But there’re those as well.

Learning the common on’ readings will do the trick for most part, so don’t be discouraged.

By the way, the Phonetic-Semantic Composition script will help you to see even a logic behind the kanji that share some radicals and how that makes sense in the on’ reading … so learning radical it’s super usefull. :yum:

Welcome to Japanese. Even Japanese people don’t know what the hell is going on there.

[Also Onyomi vs. Kunyomi: What's the Difference?]


Actually, if it’s only one kanji, it will usually use the kunyomi reading. Two or more kanji with no kana generally use onyomi readings.

But! As I’ve said before, knowing what is kunyomi and what is onyomi isn’t necessary for WaniKani, and it isn’t necessary for learning Japanese. I pay vague attention to which is which, but I’m sure I don’t know which is which for certain kanji. Remember that WaniKani teaches the most useful reading for each kanji (although many kanji have more than one useful and common reading). But when it comes to vocabulary, you need to learn the readings one by one. If you already know the reading, yatzee! If you don’t know the reading, pay attention to the mnemonic or write your own.


LMAO so true. Usually an exception is something that you don’t see often, though in Japanese it feels like exceptions are quite common :smile:

Welcome to languages in general, my dude. Grab my hand and follow me down the endless slide of but why tho??? Sometimes you never find out why. That’s just the way it be.

You’re absolutely correct on this (and also, thanks for catching my miss on one-kanji pronunciations!). It helps my learning process to think about it this way, so I still like to recommend it, in case it works for anyone else. I’m the kind of person who really likes logic puzzles. Thinking about on vs kun as a puzzle with (mostly) consistent rules is really valuable to me as a learning tool.


I mean especially because of the Kanji. Everytime you think you know how to read the Kanji you have a new example that shows you another reading lol. Japanese is my 4th language so I am used to exceptions but the writing system alone brings enough exceptions :smiley:

That being said, I am ready to follow you but make sure to take me to a nice place :wink:

Absolutely if it helps you learn, then you should use that tool. I just find that for some people, it seems more confusing than helpful to keep them straight, and for those people I just wanted to remind them that knowing which reading is on vs kun is optional. After all, the ultimate goal here is to learn words and how to read them.


While we’re at it, I have a (stupid) question too:

I have been trying to get myself to understand when to use on’yomi or kun’yomi readings by finding some sort of system.

and I understand that “big”: (kanji for “big”)+“ki”+“I” is pronounced ookii (I’m at work at the moment and I don’t have a Japanese keyboard - bear with me) and the same for “size” - pronounced ookisa. I understand that this is because it has okurigana and therefore uses kun’yomi readings. I got that.

But why is “considerable” - which also uses the kanji for “big” - pronounced “taishitai” (the on’yomi reading)? As far as I can see it also has okurigana, so is this just an exception or does it have anything to do with what kind of word it is (adjective, etc)?

I realize that this is probably a pointless question and that I should probably just accept that it is what is is and stop thinking, but I thought I’d at least ask…

No guarantees for this, but there is a pattern of [single kanji] On-yomi + する, sometimes modified to 〜じる (感じる, 禁じる, 存じる). This may be related to something like 大する here :slight_smile: (Those things turned into phrases, so it is not really considered to have a separate する anymore.)

Check out Kanji Damage for more kanji with “FUCKED PRONUNCIATION”.

Thank god there’s other people who had the same question/problem with on’yomi and kun’yomi readings. I was thinking I’m just being really slow at understanding the system but I see that many people had a similar problem early on! Thanks for the advice anyways.


Sorry! I’m a bit late to the party here… but I just started WaniKani a week ago, and I just hit the same spot. What I’m really confused on is On’yomi vs. Reading vs. Kun’yomi. Do I have to memorize them all if there are many, or can I get away with just memorizing the ones that are easiest for me?

I just learned that Power is not just ri-ki or ri-yo-ku but now it’s chi-ka-ra. So… which one is it? Is it all three? It didn’t seem to explain the difference, so that’s where I’m getting confused. I’m going to hold off on new lessons until I can get all of this straight. I was doing so well, and this was just a huge brick wall to run into. lol. I knew Japanese wouldn’t be as easy for me as other languages have been, but dang. Wasn’t expecting the difficulty to ramp up this quickly!

Also, as the poster said, I think they were on the same lesson I just finished that threw me. It included “two people” and “one thing” and I… yeah, I got pretty confused.

I’ve actually found the mnemonics WK provides to heavily confuse me, just give me the romanization and I’m set. lol. I have a screenshot of me typing in the full word of “nintendo” in for person and getting severely confused. I just don’t think that way. Just tell me it’s nin! xD lmao. But that’s just me, personally. My boyfriend is letting me borrow his book on learning Hiragana/Katakana and the mnemonics the author provides to help memorize the symbols do absolutely nothing for me. I just need to take a mental photograph and repeat a few times and I’ve got it, if I need a mnemonic I make up my own simplistic ones that make sense. Haha. I’m weird, though. I get tripped up on simple things and easily grasp the complicated things.

When you see 力 by itself in a sentence, it is the word ちから (power). When it is in some other compound, it might be りょく as in 電力 (でんりょく electric power), りき as in 馬力 (ばりき horsepower), or ちから as in 力添え (ちからぞえ assistance).

Why does that last one use ちから even though it’s in a compound? Well it’s combined with the verb 添える (そえる to add as support). If you add power as support you are assisting. When you combine something with a verb (which will usually be the kunyomi) often that word will use the kunyomi as well.

At the end of the day, the words are what actually exist. Learn them and you will become acquainted with all the readings. It is no help to just know a bunch of readings in isolation. As you absorb more content you’ll just absorb the readings too.

WK teaches you a single reading to start with, so you have something to work from, but you’ll get them all over time.


I wanted to add a couple things in addition to what Leebo said.

You wrote “ri-yo-ku”, but that would be りよく, which is wrong. It is actually “ryo-ku”, りょく. Notice the small version of ょ.

It sounds like you’re still learning hiragana and katakana? You should hold off on learning kanji until you know those. It’s important to know them anyway and WaniKani won’t give you the romanization. They already give you the reading(s) in hiragana (and occasionally katakana for words) on the left side of the screen in the Readings tab during lessons. Additionally, the reading is in parentheses after the word used for the mnemonic.

For Example

I am also on level one working on those same Kanji. So first of all I would point out that in the case of futatsu and mittsu etc these are part of the Japanese grammer for things in general. when you count one floor for example it’s ikkai and not hitotsu. If its one glass of water its ippai etc. So the ending of he numbers do change depending on what is being counted. I think this one of the main reasons why the approach of combining meaning lessons, pronunciation lessons and vocabulary together is so key, I focus on meaning first and foremost. but you are right there are no hard and fast rules about which reading is but what I would say is that the reading in my opinion are mostly recalled via the vocabulary. ie remembering the whole word. Focus on remembering the pronunciation of the whole word. Like others have said here I don’t pay much attention to on vs kun myself. Another reason this is so is that pronunciation can also change depending on how the word combines like nin, jin , and tai, dai is really because tai does not combine well with other sounds so dai is also an alternate pronunciation. yet another reason to recall pronunciation mostly through the whole words or vacabulary

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