How do you know when to use the right reading?

I’m on level 3 and I’m taking things slow, but I get the wrong readings on certain things because there seems to be three versions of the same kanji and I never know which is which. The first example that comes to mind is 力. There are two readings for it: ちから and りょく, but I always mix them up. Same with 中. Is the key the color of the background? But how would I know how to pronounce it or read it on a sign somewhere? Does it matter?

Maybe I’m overthinking everything.

ちから is the kunyomi reading. It’s the actual Japanese word for power.
りょく is the onyomi reading. THis is taken from the Chinese pronunciation. Many times this is the reading that is used with jukogo.
For example: 全力 - ぜんりょく - full effort. This is when to kanji are next to each other.
On wanikani pink background means that it is the kanji/onyomi reading and purple background is the vocab/kunyomi reading. Hope that clears things up.


In daily usage, vocabulary is the only reading that matters. It’s what you’ll see on a sign, or in a restaurant menu, or in a novel that you’re reading. A word is (usually) only pronounced one way. But the same kanji in a different word may be pronounced differently.

To illustrate with English, the words ‘cat’ and ‘civil’ are each only pronounced one way. But notice that ‘c’ is in both words, and is pronounced differently in each. ‘c’ can sound like either ‘k’ or ‘s’. That’s how it works with kanji. A kanji can have different ‘readings’ depending on what word it’s used in. But the words themselves (i.e. vocabulary) are pronounced only one way.

When Wanikani is asking for the reading of a Vocabulary word (purple background, plus the question says ‘Vocabulary’), it’s asking for how the word is really pronounced. If you enter a different reading, it’s wrong because that’s not how the word is pronounced.

When Wanikani is asking for the reading of a Kanji (pink background, plus the question says ‘Kanji’), technically any of the possible pronunciations of that kanji would be correct, but Wanikani is only asking for one specific reading, usually the most common one (which may be either the onyomi or kunyomi, so you can’t rely on that). Since any of the valid readings for that kanji are technically correct, Wanikani won’t mark it wrong if you enter the wrong one (as long as it’s one of the possible pronunciations of that kanji). Instead, it does that ‘shake’ thing and tells you that’s not the reading they’re asking for… so you can try again with the other reading.

And, of course, the light blue background is for Radicals. Radicals are only pieces of kanji, but can sometimes be the same as a whole kanji. Since their purpose is only for visually breaking down a kanji into pieces, they don’t have a reading – their purpose is purely visual. (Though sometimes several kanji that share the same radical will have the same reading).

So, to tie it back together again, let’s look at one specific radical/kanji/vocab:

力 happens to be a vocabulary word made up of only one kanji. It is pronounced ちから, which is the only way to pronounce that word.

力 as a kanji can have several pronunciations:

  • In the word 力, it’s pronounced ちから.
  • In the word 入力 (にゅうりょく), it’s pronounced りょく.
  • In the word 馬力 (ばりき), it’s pronounced りき.

So, the three valid readings for the kanji 力 are ちから, りょく, and りき. But Wanikani specifically wants you to enter the onyomi reading (because the onyomi is more common). In this case, both りょく and りき are onyomi readings, and Wanikani will accept them. But if you accidentally enter ちから, it’s still technically correct, but it’s not the one Wanikani is asking for, so it will shake and tell you it wants the onyomi. So, there’s no harm if you enter the wrong one on kanji (as long as it’s really one of the valid readings for that kanji).

And radicals are only visual. You learn them to help you visually break down kanji into reusable chunks. 力 is used as a component of a lot of different kanji, such as 男, 助, 功, 勉… and, of course, 力 itself.


Very good explanation. I shall copy this over to our “Advice to Future Pleasants” thread. Thank you very much for putting this together.

That makes so much sense now. Thank you!

I clicked on a link to that thread today from an unrelated thread, and got a message that I don’t have access to it. Then I tried the search box… nothing. Do noobs have a secret clubhouse or something? Or maybe my advice is dangerous and subversive, so I’ve been locked out? :scream_cat: ( :wink: )

I could only find the thread “Advice for a traitor”.

Yeah, I saw that one, too. Didn’t click on it, since I didn’t figure it would hold any useful info for me :slight_smile:

On a side note (just to derail this thread even further):

A few weeks ago, I installed an update for Notepad++, and noticed in the release notes: “Fix CIA Hacking Notepad++ Issue”. That got my attention. Clicked the link, which had a “read more” link that ended up being Geez, there’s quite the list of interesting stuff there.

And, of course, after reading, I warded off the evil eye by doing a preventative google search for “how to report subversives to the NSA”… Just in case :slight_smile:

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simply you look into your heart, it contains all the answers. you knew the answer all along

[quote=“rfindley, post:6, topic:16753, full:true”]
Do noobs have a secret clubhouse or something?
[/quote]Yes. There is a separate forum for “painful” level people (levels 11 to 20). I can see the “painful” forum because I’m level 16. I assume that there is a separate forum for “pleasants”, “death”, “hell”, “paradise”, “reality” - but I cannot see them.

Can you see a forum called “reality”?

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Ahh, so that’s what that’s for!
There’s also one called “King of the Turtles” just for Level 60. Sadly, it’s locked, and no one can post. But I suppose, in some ironic way, that it fits with the theme of the secret message… which I shall in no way spoil for those of you who are earnestly striving for the big six-oh :wink:

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It’s probably worth mentioning that pink background isn’t always on’yomi reading. Sometimes you learn kun with the kanji.

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You bloody tease! This is actually going to eat away at me for the next year or so worth of studying. FFS

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

[quote=“rfindley, post:13, topic:16753, full:true”]
There’s also one called “King of the Turtles” just for Level 60. Sadly, it’s locked, and no one can post.
[/quote]Are you saying that “King of the Turtles” locked to you? You’re already on level 60.

Actually, I misunderstood how it worked. There was an category thread, which is closed. But since there were no other threads in the category, is appeared as if the whole category was locked… until I noticed that glistening ‘Create New Topic’ button over in the corner. Now we have our first thread in the secret clubhouse!

Aww… It’s gonna take me so long to gain access to that clubhouse…