Help differentiating 申 vs. 由

I’ve searched the community forums but couldn’t find anything so I wonder if anyone out there has a good mnemonic to differentiate 由 (reason) from 申 (say humbly).

Their mnemonics are:
由: A giant cross with a mouth stands above you. “I am reason!” it says to you. It is the Cross of Reason.
申: There’s a cross in your mouth, so the things you say are very pious. Everything you say you say humbly.

…this doesn’t really help since to me 由 looks more like a cross in a mouth than a cross with a mouth.

Anyone? :latin_cross: :lips:


I assume you can clearly see the visual differences between the two but just can’t recall which one is which. WK’s mnemonics clearly aren’t very helpful because they use the same radicals.

But maybe you could focus on how the kanji look?
由 Reason looks like a something solid standing on the ground, you have a reason to assume it’s stable - because it has a wide base.

When you look at 申 Humble you have no reason to say it’s stable (so you know it’s not Reason).
But in fact this kanji looks a bit like a person standing humbly (notice how the line sticking out from the bottom looks like legs close together):

Btw, there’s also 甲 that you’ll learn on later levels :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: It’s a Turtle Shell, and how do you differentiate it from Humble? Easy! See, there’s no head above the shoulders. And who can hide their head like that? A Turtle. So, this one is a Turtle Shell.


@jujuhermit I was about to suggest something exactly along these lines: provided the mnemonics you already have allow you to remember the meanings, then you can just remember that 申 has a longer stroke because it looks like… I don’t know, someone extending their hand forward as they make an offer (I’m imagining the stereotypical ‘confession of love’ scene: 「付き合ってください!」), or the way someone’s body ‘extends’ itself forward when that person bows to someone else.

If you want to know how it looks in my head (I’m a Chinese speaker)…

  • 由 looks like a big pot with something coming out of it (the丨), meaning that it represents the origin (this is one of the other meanings of 由), and hence the reason/cause.
  • As for 申… I just focus on the length of the central vertical stroke and imagine the words coming out of my mouth following that line towards my interlocutor, perhaps accompanied by a bow on my part. It might help you to know that the original meaning of 申 is ‘to extend’, which fits the long vertical stroke perfectly. It’s the base character for 伸, which you find in のばす. ‘I humbly extend my apologies.’ Sound familiar? I could go on with a whole bunch of other ideas that associate length, pulling and humility in Chinese, but I think I’ll stop there because it’ll probably make things more confusing.

PS: the sense of 申 being related to ‘speaking’ isn’t all that strong in Chinese, but it can be used in phrases like ‘to air (grievances)’ and ‘to explain in detail’, so it’s not entirely unrelated to the Japanese sense.


Yup, that’s right!

This is actually super helpful and just the kind of thing I was looking for; straightforward and simple, thank you so much! And for inclduing the turtle shell as well, I’ll remember that for sure :blush:


i keep getting them wrong too and now i’ve got this new one to contend with:

甲 for turtle shell!

reason is stable is a good one. hope i remember this next time!


That’s really interesting, both the original meaning and relation to 伸 + I just generally love hearing about people’s personal mnemonics, thank you!

1 Like

You could imagine that the little bit peeking out at the bottom is the turtle’s head, with 田 being the shell? I’ve frankly only seen that kanji used in 甲斐 (かい; 〜がい in compounds) in Japanese though, and possibly in stuff related to celestial legends of some sort?

In Chinese, aside from being used in words related to shells and plates of armour, it’s used as part of a traditional numbering/ordering system that’s sort of like using ‘ABCD’ when you label similar objects (e.g. Box A, Box B, Box C, Box D). The first four are 甲乙丙丁. They’re part of a set of ten called the 天干, which is itself part of a system called 天干地支, which is a traditional system for tracking dates. You can still find it on modern Chinese lunar calendars. Apparently 干 here means ‘everything under the heavens’. I don’t really understand how that meaning came about, and I don’t know about the history of the system. I see a lot of sources translating 天干 as ‘heavenly stems’ and 地支 as ‘earthly branches’, which makes sense given the meanings of 干 and 支 that I know and the fact that the two characters are used together here, but the ‘stem’ meaning of 干 is usually pronounced gàn in modern Mandarin, not gān like in 天干… Maybe it’s just an old pronunciation. There are lots of little exceptions like that. Anyway, don’t mind my rambling: I just thought it might be interesting to know. The Japanese name for the system is 十干十二支.


Japanese also has 甲乙丙, (to my knowledge) mostly used as abbreviations in contracts to indicate the former/latter party.
Another often used expression is 手の甲, the back of one‘s hand.


ramble away, i really appreciate your explanations. your background brings a different light on things as well.


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