How are the kanji in vocab ordered?

In general the kanji in a vocab word relate to the meaning of the vocab (not a hard rule, but usually). An example is when you take 子 and add it to another kanji you usually get the child version of the other kanji.

子牛 = child cow
王子 = child king

In the two examples though the 子 appears in different places. Looking at a list of vocab that use 子 I get the feeling that maybe 子 comes after the “root” word if read as し (rendaku’d for おうじ?), and after if read as こ. I thought for a bit that maybe vocab describing people usually used the し reading, and would therefore have 子 in the front, but we have 転子…

What’s the general rule for how the kanji are ordered in vocab?

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Kanji are ordered in vocab because that’s what the vocab looks like. It’s the same reason why letters are the order they’re in when used in English words - basecue fi teh odrer is dernfefit, si’t a dernfefit wrod.

I thought I might be thinking about it too hard xD
I figured it was different because there’s no alphabet

Yeah. I mean, you’re right in that 子 tends to precede other nouns to make “baby (noun)”, but then you get words like 女王 and 王女 or 光栄 and 栄光, which form subtly different words when the kanji are swapped.


This isn’t a stupid question. There are general rules for how kanji compounds are structured. But sometimes there are historical reasons for them to be broken as well.

A section on the Kanji Kentei actually requires you to identify the relationship between the kanji in various compounds. That section is called 熟語の構成.

Both 子牛 and 王子 could be changed into non-jukugo Japanese by adding の.

However in 子の牛, the の is appositive (the child which is a cow).
And in 王の子, the の is genitive (the king’s child).

There are other rules as well, such as in compounds where there’s one kanji that has a verb meaning, and one that has a noun meaning, the verb one will usually come first, if the compound was truly borrowed from Chinese. When that order is violated, usually there’s some other explanation, like the Japanese created the compound by abbreviating something, for instance.

I actually started making a video about this, but never completed it. I should go back and revive it.


That’s a great explanation. I know enough to go do some Googling. If you make videos, where can I watch them?


There’s not much rhyme or reason to them (just kind of randomly make videos on random topics), but the ones I’ve made are here.

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Also, now that you’ve mentioned it, what do people take the Kanji Kentei for? I understand the JLPT is often used for jobs, but the Kanji Kentei (from Google), seems a little intense for that. Is it like a GRE type item for academics?

I personally started taking it because it’s fun, and to push myself to go farther in my kanji studies.

Most Japanese people who take some kind of Kanken level do so to improve their chances of getting some kind of job, or getting into a school.


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