How do you help differentiate the readings between different kanji?

As I go up the levels and learn more vocabulary, it gets difficult remembering which reading fits where. For instance, person has 3 main different readings and big has 2. When ever a vocab word comes up and has that kanji, I always end up guessing whether its jin, nin or hito. Does any have any tips to overcome this?


The best answer I can give you, is that にん and じん are both on’yomi readings, so they will be tough (experience based) to recall - however, as a general rule, when there are two kanji next to each other, they use the on’yomi readings. ひと is kun’yomi, meaning it will be used when it is the only kanji by itself or is only attached to hiragana alone. (there may be exceptions to this, but again, these are general rules).

Hope this is of some help :slight_smile:


Make it a part of the mnemonic, at least that is what mostly works for me. Decide if the person in the story is a ninja (にん ) or if they’re wearing jeans (じん). Works with other tricky pairs too though I can’t think of any others right now.


I’ve seen the explanation about when on’yomi vs kun’yomi are used, but reading through your explanation just now finally made it click. thank you!!


I’m happy that helped! This is a rule that helps me a lot. I am early on as well, but when I discovered this myself it really made a difference. As I’ve experienced, the Kanji are taught in on’yomi, whereas the vocabulary tend to teach kun’yomi (unless it is a kanji-kanji word like I’m experiencing more and more at my level). I hope this helps some! :slight_smile:

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Your ultimate goal is to engrain the words in your memory, not just readings on the fly.

I get that that sounds kind of obvious, but at the end of the day there’s also a spoken language that doesn’t rely on kanji at all, and eventually you’ll look at 友人 and ゆうにん and ともびと or whatever will sound completely wrong and you’ll just feel that the only option is ゆうじん. Not because you have a little trick to remember it, but because you’ve seen and heard ゆうじん so many times you couldn’t possibly have doubts about it. (And yes, ともだち is a more common word, but you can still get enough exposure to ゆうじん for the point I’m making)

The tricks and mnemonics are a little bridge to get you started, but eventually you want to be relying on input.


one that’s coming…hopefully this will save you some headaches!!

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@Leebo those beginner level 3 people that know everything (inside forum joke) how many times have you gone round from 60 now 2 or 3? hope you had cake each time!

agree with this completely…there are things that just start to sound right (it’s taken me 3 years but there’s times I’m like that sounds strange)…just keep banging your head against the wall eventually it will give… :smiley:

This is unfortunately not the case. I wish it was consistent for my own mental notes, but I think it’s whatever WK feels is the most common/useful reading. If the Kanji and Vocab symbol have the same reading, then the kanji reading you learned was probably kunyomi

As Leebo says, you get the feel from repetition and exposure from other sources.
Want to always remember 友人? Watch or read the series called Natsume Yuujin-chō ( Natsume’s Book of Friends)


that’s exactly what I do.

役人------やくにん-----public official, goverventment official, public servent

so, I remember that: a government official is really a NIN(ja) who rides a YAKU.

So far a small rule that works most times for me specifically for differentiating にん from じん within 人 is this:

Vocab that use にん tend to have meanings that feel more impersonal and objective(e.g. 人形 = doll, 人気 = popular)


Vocab readings that use じん tend to have meanings that feel more personal, specific, or “human feeling”(e.g. イギリスじん = British person, 人生 = human life)

These are obviously pretty poorly defined and I’m only level 7 at time of writing but these guidelines have seen no exceptions that i can remember since i started using them shortly after learning 人

Edit: a newer Kanji that I’m increasingly having this problem with is 青(blue) and other kanji that use both せい and しょう. I may sit down at some point and try to think of a guideline for that too if i think its worth it


I can imagine this difficulty with 正 and 生, but are you really learning words like 緑青 and 青面金剛 at this stage? >_>

Basically, I think せい will handle anything you need to think about for a long time with 青.

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No i haven’t seen those vocab before but the 2 kanji you’ve mentioned are exactly the troublemakers ive noticed. 青年 was hard to remember in my last review session.

Edit: maybe i should say that i frequently click the links under “kanji composition” when learning vocab

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Ah, I see, they teach 青 with both しょう and せい as if they are equal, or even with しょう first, implying that it might be more common.

せい is leaps and bounds more common for 青. The words I mentioned are advanced (like, probably harder than I would expect to see on N1) and are really the only things that came to mind for me with しょう as a reading for 青.

I think it’s a little strange they teach しょう like that.

EDIT: I forgot about 群青, but that adds rendaku to the mix, so it almost feels easier to remember the reading.

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Have faith in the SRS and don’t worry about getting them wrong. Trust me: get them wrong enough times and you’ll eventually have the reading for a particular vocabulary item memorized. Either you’ll get sick of seeing it and figure out some trick to avoid confusing it with other readings, or sheer repetition will sear it into your brain.

You’re paying for a service that gives you more repetitions for things you find difficult. It doesn’t know what you find difficult unless you answer incorrectly. Never feel bad about incorrect answers! Use the force SRS, Luke!

There are rules and patterns. But there are also plenty of exceptions. IMHO (if your goal is to learn to read rather than to get to level 60 as quickly as possible) it’s best to let efficient SRS repetition train your brain to recognize the rules and patterns (and exceptions) automagically rather than trying to memorize and apply the rules.

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I will keep in mind that せい is much more common, thanks for the tip

That kind of describes the pattern I’m seeing too–at first I thought it might be whether it was at the beginning or end of word, but then it seemed to come down to importance, with jin being somehow more important than nin. I was wondering if it related to up/down in the hierachy, like “patient” uses nin but various versions of “expert” all use jin. I think that’s similar to what you are seeing too.

making hundreds of mistakes on reviews until I get them right :sweat_smile:


Tried and true :rofl:

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