How do I know if two Kanji next to each other form one word or are seperated?

Now that I started learning Kanji and Vocabulary, I began wondering how to tell apart when two Kanji are being used to form one Word or when their singular meanings are used.
For example: If I read “女王” in a sentence how do I know that it is used for the word “queen” and not the two words “woman” and “king”?
This maybe isnt the best example, because “queen” and “woman king” are fairly similar in meaning, but I imagine that there could be cases where it isnt so easy.
Is there a grammatical rule or syntax that indicates which it is?
And how do I usually know when one word ends and another one starts?

Thanks in advance for any answers!


The same way you’d know in English, using grammar. Most of the time there will be particles in between the words, or it will be clear from context. I haven’t really encountered any scenario yet where I was unable to determine which word was being used.


I’m still a noob, so I would wait for someone who knows a bit more for a better answer, but anyway:

Japanese uses a lot of particles, so, if you want to say woman and king, it would be 女と王

I haven’t seen in books any place where it can be confusing, yet. But when speaking, or in mangas, sometimes the particles are omitted, but it’s usually easy to determine when a word ends and when the next starts. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter, you’ll understand the sentence either way.

Just keep going and it will come just naturally.

By the way, are you learning with other tools or just using Wani Kani? This is a great tool to learn kanji, but you have to learn everything else in another place. There is a lot of information about it here in the forum.

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If something looks ambiguous, I guess you would have to try to read it both ways and see what makes sense. It’s unlikely that you’ll really see many situations where you’d be completely unable to parse something, at least in a properly edited piece of literature or something.

How much Japanese grammar have you studied? You would probably need one of the words to possibly be an adverb for any such confusion to occur, because other parts of speech will usually be marked with a particle.

In casual contexts, particles can be dropped, as in something like “映画見る?” (Will you watch a movie?) rather than “映画を見る?” But in that situation, you have the る of 見る to indicate that there’s a verb and so part of what came before should be interpreted as having some grammatical relationship to the verb. And 映 and 画 typically aren’t words on their own.


Once you have more vocabulary under your belt, more grammar under your belt, it will start to flow more easily.

Particles are there, as is kana, to separate words, phrases, and concepts.

Once you have enough vocabulary and grammar, you will just know that two kanji are separate by virtue of what they are. Like if for some reason you saw the kanji for cat next to planning, you would know that there’s no vocabulary where the two touch so you would understand them as separate words.

And cat/planning is just a random example. Sorry I don’t have any sample sentences with real world use.I am still learning as well. :wink:

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Thank you all for the replies!

Right now I’m just using WaniKani, I plan on getting started with grammar a bit later on. Im still looking for a way to learn all the “non-Kanji” words.

I haven’t studied any grammar at all, but I heard about this one book everyone recommends, so I’ll check that out. And of course, theres always the internet so maybe I’ll find a good overview somewhere.

You just have to rely on context in some cases. One of my favorite examples is something like this:

Most of the time, publishers / writers try to make stuff easy to read for their readers, for example by putting words in hiragana to avoid long strings of kanji, or by using commas:


Hey, that book is clearly experiencing a spell of cold weather today

In all seriousness though, it’s exactly this. As you learn vocab and grammar, and as you have context of what’s being discussed, you’ll learn to pick out which words are meant.


I have never encountered this problem. As I assume you know, particles should separate words that aren’t affecting eachother. The only occasion which I can think of where particles are dropped is in casual conversation. When this does happen, you shouldn’t worry, usually it is very obvious what is being said without particles (that’s why they’re dropped).

Yeah, but really, don’t worry. This is a non-issue. Kanji makes Japanese 100x easier to read than if it were written in pure kana!


It is true that you can usually tell the boundaries between words through the sentence structure - in the example of “女王”, the “woman king” reading just doesn’t make much sense from a grammatical standpoint - but particles are not always part of the equation.


I said words that aren’t affecting eachother; those are all adjectives affecting a noun…

That is true, but that doesn’t help OP determine if they are one or two words.

(Also, バス is pretty definitely a noun and バス乗り場 is exactly the kind of closed compound word OP is worring about. It is somewhat mitigated by the fact that バス is clearly a loanword and 乗り場 isn’t, so a better example might be 地下鉄駅 - technically, two words that are just glomped onto one another as a closed compound.)

My mistake… Check edit history if curious!

No, it doesn’t. The の is part of the word のりば / 乗り場. It is not the possessive particle in this scenario.

Oh yeah! :rofl: But my point stands for a lot compound words.

Yes - but closed compounds without の are surprisingly common.

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You win this round…

But I legitimately have never had this issue; maybe it’s because I learn them as separate words?

Also, we have this in English too: bus + stop = bus stop; railway + station = railway station; pan + cake = pancake, etc.

Right, but in English you have the space in between those two words to disambiguate it so the compound is not fully closed in those ways (whereas “railway” is a closed compound in English).

I’d argue this makes it harder to distinguish them in English though; it’s almost misleading you into thinking that they’re not just a single compound word.

True but there are very few situations where any ambiguity exists. For “railway station”, the only context where there would be any ambiguity about the relation of those two words is if “station” was used as a verb - “will the railway station any staff at this station” or something like that.