Help with level one people readings


I just finished level one, and I thought I had a handle on “radical vs kanji vs vocab” and “Kun’yomi vs On’yomi” until the vocab with 人。

I am trying to make sense of the following

  • 人 radical is にん /じん but 人 kanji is ひと. I figured this is just on’yomi and kun’yomi reading differences, but then it gets weirder:

  • 人(ひと) and 一人(ひとり). Is ひと coincidentally a reading for 一 and 人, or is り the “one” here? Or both?

  • 一人 (ひとり) and 二人 (ふたり) both have り, so maybe 人 is a counter that reads as り, but then 三人(さんにん) breaks all of these guesses because it jumps to the onyomi for both kanji.

I am self studying and started wanikani after learning hiragana, so my grammar knowledge is just a smattering of things Ive read on Tofugu and other places.


yes, 人 can be used as a counter besides being a word in its own right. A Person = ひと.

Due to Japanese not being all that helpful with some things, it has multiple readings. 一人 (ひとり) one person, alone 二人 (ふたり) = two people and ~にん above that, for example 三人 (さんにん). It’s related to the Japanese way of counting things, better explained in the first article below.

So, not as 1, 2, 3 in the Chinese way being ichi, ni, san etc, it becomes hitotsu, futatsu, mitsu etc. for things in general up to 10.

I think checking out the general concept for how Japanese people count things will be helpful, not just to understand how it works with 人, but because several other counters will be taught on WK as well.

You won’t need to learn all possible counters, but it’s good to know that there exists specialized counters akin to English’s “loaf” of bread, and “sheets” of paper, but also more general ones, that you can use as a default.

I also recommend using the forum search feature, because there are multiple threads asking about how to predict whether to use にん /じん in various word compounds, with lots of good answers already (spoiler alert, it’s a bit predictable, but not completely).


一人 and 二人 and other kanji like 今日、大人、etc., are read as a group instead of saying that one part is read x and the other y.

So it doesn’t mean 人 is read り.


Don’t fret over 一人 (ひとり) and 二人 (ふたり) . These readings are exceptions that should be learned as such.


Yeah, learn vocabularies as a unit, and there are so many Kanji reading exceptions early on.

Even if not an exception, there are still many reading choices to choose from.

There really is 三人(みたり), though.


人 is just one of those kanjis with way to many readings, because how it was pronounced changed over time, and not all words adapted the new pronunciations. In the meaning of 人 as a counter, it used to be pronounced たり, but later changed to にん for all amounts other than one or two people. Then, because 一 used to be read as ひと, and ひとたり is considered hard to pronounce, this got shortened to ひとり. Sadly this all means that there are a lot of pronunciations that don’t seem to make any sense anymore and just need to be remembered in one way or the other.

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This. @Bradreaves why it’s levels away it might help knowing that 一人 can also be written 独り. Both are read ひとり and given the context mean the same thing, though 独り has the emphasis of meaning “single” or “alone”.


I strongly suspect that historically speaking this is the wrong way around. The ‘hito/futa/mi’ based counting words will pre-date any use of kanji to write Japanese (at the time they were probably pronounced pito-, puta-, incidentally). So you have a pre-existing word that means ‘one person’, and then when kanji come along the obvious thing to do is write it 一人 and not worry about the word not breaking up into two parts that can be assigned as separate readings per kanji. (The multi-kanji words where you can split them up like that are generally the newer ones based on loanwords from Chinese; these counting words are Old Japanese.)

Language history aside, my view is that for learners it’s best to think of this kind of word as not “these kanji have funny readings here” but instead to think “this multiple-kanji word is a special case with a reading which cannot be divided into one reading for each kanji”.


As far as I understand is, this is where virtually all kunyomi readings originate from, so these are no exception. I have no idea what the best way to think about this is from a learning perspective, but I find these pronunciation origin stories interesting. The source I got this from claimed that the ひとり, ふたり style counting system used to go all the way trough. So you also had みったり, よったり, いつたり, etc. All following the same pattern as with the つ counter for things, using the original Japanese pronunciations. Then later on most of the number of people readings switched to the Chinese reading at the time for some reason.


Thanks, everyone!

All of the explanations have helped me better get what’s happening and how to think about vocabulary moving forward.


Radicals do not have a pronunciation. The kanji character 人 has the pronunciations of にん/jじん (and some others - the kanji entry for 人 here for example 人 #kanji - As a word (人 as a vocabulary word) it is ひと。


I came here to post this very question. Everything was clicking for me and I know the Kanji and the Meaning, but as soon as the pronunciation happens is confusion town.

For example:
八つ is やっつ, not はちつ

I’m assuming 八人
Would be やっり but I doubt it?

The whole thing has thrown my mind into a tail spin making me question my sanity. LOL. :face_with_spiral_eyes:

I’m guessing the best way forward is to just learn these numbers and counting Kanji just by cheer memorization because I don’t see any logic to it.

Crazy how this has been such a wall for me. :dizzy_face:

How did get over this hurdle?


Here you’re using another reading of 八 or 8, which is や.

一人 is not 一 ひと and 人 り, it’s just ひとり.
Same with ふたり, and after that it’s just number + にん.

So はちにん.

But yes, at first it’s easier (probably) to just memorize counters from 1 to 10.
They don’t change much, and eventually they start making sense, plus you get used to readings.


It seems that that’s やたり, just like みたり / みったり mentioned before. 人の数え方,「ひとり」「ふたり」の次は?/日本書紀より | \横山験也のちょっと一休み/

There may be rules, but with lots of exceptions. That might be a sociological phenomenon.

Just remember first, rules / reasons second.

Ok thanks everyone. Going to sleep on this and let my mind reset, learn numbers 0-10 in Kango and Wago and go from there.

Thanks so much. I’m really enjoying learning Japanese and this forum has been amazing to keep the spirits high!


To clarify for people not yet able to read that article, it was やたり in the Nara Period (roughly 700-800AD). In modern Japanese the only pronunciation of 八人 is はちにん.


I had a lot of trouble with the couters as well, but found that rote memorisation was the best way forward. I seem to work well memorising lists for some reason, so I had them on paper in 2 columns and kept coming back, covering them up and repeating the answer.

It’s worked pretty well tbh because I had a year long break and reset back to the start again. It was a grim prospect, but at least I remembered all the counter readings and exceptions! They’re locked in for sure now!


There is a logic, but the problem is that this logic shifted over time. Most counters use the onyomi readings of the numbers, which is mostly regular between the different counters. The つ counter uses the kunyomi readings, which is also a regular system, just a different one. And then, because we can’t have things being too easy, the people counter uses both of these systems at the same time. So the first two use the kunyomi readings for the numbers and an older reading for the people counter, and the rest use the onyomi readings again like most other counters.

And then while writing this, I remembered the counter for days, which uses almost the same system as つ, but not completely, so i guess maybe that system is just too old and inconsistent to still be considered as ‘logic’ after all.

I agree that brute force memorization is probably the best solution at this point though.