Help! On'yomi versus Kun'yomi

Hi all! I’m only on level two in WaniKani and I’m already having trouble figuring out when to use the on’yomi pronunciation versus the kun’yomi pronunciation. I understand the difference between the two but I keep typing in the wrong one during kanji reviews. Any suggestions/info would be appreciated! Thanks!


Hi, you!

It tells you which reading it wants on the thing (in kanji reviews), but it’s usually on’yomi for kanji and kun’yomi for single kanji vocab, and on’yomi for more than one kanji vocab. :smiley:


most kanji reviews will use the on’yomi readings. but sometimes they will be kun’yomi, too.

Vocab can go either way, so it is good to notice some patterns there:

most jukugo (two or more kanji form one word together, like 火山 for example) will use on’yomi.

verbs will mostly be kun’yomi, a big exception being する verbs, as those are mostly jukugo nouns, with する (to do) attached.

Single kanji as a vocab are usually kun’yomi.


Thanks so much!!

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Thank you!!

Definitely take a good look during lessons if the reading is different than the one you would expect.

At the start that will be more often.

Thanks for the helpful summary of when to use On’yomi vs. Kun’yomi, Saida.
A problem I have had though is then remembering which of the readings I know are On’yomi and which are Kun’yomi.
I know that usually the first reading learnt ie. “Kanji” is On’yomi and the later one ie. “Vocabulary” is Kun’yomi. But there are enough exceptions that I seem to be permanently confused about which is which.
Wanikani’s structure seems to be aimed at learning the readings independent of their On’yomi/ Kun’yomi status but there is a mixed message when the explanation for the readings in fact relies so heavily on On’yomi/ Kun’yomi status.
I have started my own spreadsheet, subverting Wanikani, to try to learn this attribute of the readings but I don’t know how successful that will be. I’ll share that here if it gets filled up to the end of Level 3.
Has anyone else experienced this difficulty, and hopefully solved it??

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Onyomi and kunyomi have certain restrictions due to their history that makes certain readings definitely one or the other, and you’ll start to recognize those patterns over time.

If a 2 mora reading ends in ん, you’re almost certainly dealing with an onyomi.
If a 2 mora reading has an お sound extended by an う, that’s almost certainly an onyomi.
If a 2 mora reading has an お sound extended by an お, that’s almost certainly a kunyomi
If a reading has more than 2 mora, it can’t be onyomi.
And other restrictions as well.

Sometimes it’s impossible to tell, particularly if it’s a 1 mora reading, and you just have to accept that memorization is the only option. On rare occasions, certain kanji can have the same 1 mora reading for both onyomi and kunyomi (for example 死 and 架).

But you’ll likely just absorb this stuff without consciously having to think about it over time.


I’m in the same boat; this is pretty tricky stuff!:pensive:

I think as you do more vocab lessons, you start to get a feel for it. At the start you’ll have to click all the way to the Reading page to know how to say a compound word, but after a while you’ll notice the patterns and be able to guess beforehand (do keep checking, though, as sometimes the on’yomi will be slightly off, like きょ/こ where it usually one, but sometimes the other).

Also, there is no harm in just learning every item as a word on its own. If the kun/on thing is overwhelming right now, just learn the new words without paying attention to that for now. Your brain will start to pick up on the patterns eventually, 'cause brains love patterns. Your early in your kanji studies (and maybe also Japanese?), so this can be put on the backburner.

The only times really knowing the on-readings will come into play, is when you run into a new compound word, without furigana, and maybe you know the kanji individually, but not that particular combination, and you want to quickly find it in an online dictionary. Just type in the on’yomi you know and see if the IME rolls it out. Also, in ‘guess the word’ type games where you need to describe a certain word, without saying the word.

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Thanks Leebo, I’ll look out for those. Especially nice to know On’yomi can’t be more than 2 mora.

Thanks Saida, I’ll be guided by your experience. It is tempting to grasp a rationale like the On/ Kun’yomi classification, but there’s plenty more variation from multiple readings and rendaki anyway I guess. Maybe I’ll just keep it simple (but complex!).

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