How important is it to understand on'yomi/kun'yomi differences?

Hi all. I’ve been really enjoying wanikani so far, but I worry that I am not properly utilizing it with regards to on’yomi and kun’yomi readings. Although I understand that the different readings are used at various times depending on the vocab, etc., and I’m doing alright so far remembering which to use in any given vocab word, I’m not very good at remembering which is which. So with 北, for example, I know one reading is ほく and the other is きた, but I couldn’t tell you which reading is on’yomi and which is kun’yomi. I know that jukugo words use one type or the other, but I don’t know which. I haven’t been focusing on understanding the why so much as I’ve been just trying to remember what the readings are.

For those with more knowledge than me, how important is it to understand the differences, and the contexts in which they’re used? How important is it to know not just both readings of a given kanji, but which is on and which is kun?

Also: apologies if this is covered somewhere else. I did a quick search on the forum and didn’t find anything, but I certainly may have missed it!


it’s as important as learning your abc in any other languages

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Pretty important, it tells you how a word is (likely) read.

If you plan to become fluent, you will need to learn tens of thousands of words. Most of these words are written in kanji, meaning they comprise an onyomi reading, kunyomi reading, or both. So why is it important to know which cases use which reading? In english, you can look at a new word you have never seen and know how it is probably read/pronounced. Take “zephyr”, for example. Pretty much no one actually uses this word and a lot of people dont know it, but most people could tell you how its read. In japanese, the equivalent is just knowing the on/kun readings (an obviously being to read any okurigana). It will make learning those 20000+ words SOOOO much easier, but you need to know when to expect Kun and when to expect On.

Furthermore its important to know when some Onyomi are used over others. A classic example of this is 人 being either じん or にん


Frankly, if you know how to read the word correctly, it doesn’t actually matter if you know what kind of reading it is.

However, even without any kind of training, for the majority of words after awhile it’ll become obvious what a Kun’yomi reading is. For example, なま for 生 that is not a possible On’yomi sound, so it’s pretty clearly a Kun reading, even without studying which is which.

People here are jumping the gun and not differentiating “Knowing what type of reading” something is versus “When to use that reading.”


You’re doing exactly what I did. After a while one reading starts to feel more natural in character compounds, so it’s probably the on reading. But I wouldn’t worry about specifically studying this.

I believe WK de-emphasises this because it’s built on the idea that multiple kanji readings are best learned via vocab rather than drilling all the various on and kun readings.


I disagree. Rather, I’d say it’s about as important as memorizing which vowels you read C as S before and which you read it as K before.

It might help, but it’s also a pattern you’re likely to internalize just because it “feels right” after a while.


I think it’s important to know which is which in order to be able to guess the reading for words you don’t know (but you know the kanji they use). It will make reading and learning vocabulary so much easier.

But I don’t really think you need to worry so much about it. For me, the understanding came naturally (and fairly slowly). I don’t think it’s something you have to study or worry about. Eventually you’ll come to see how kanji work and it’ll get easier. For now you seem to be aware that there’s a difference between them and that different types of words use on/kun respectively and that’s good.


Thanks all for the quick replies! Yeah, I’m definitely trying to develop a sort of gut instinct on how words are read, and whenever I see new vocab I try to predict the pronunciation before I actually see it. I am certainly not suggesting that one can just ignore the existence of common readings, if that wasn’t clear. Just wanted to make sure that going for more of that gut feel strategy wasn’t a long-term mistake.

Don’t worry, I think you were clear! And I think you’re on the right track. Continue as you are and you’re bound to develop the instinct soon enough :slight_smile:

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The gut feeling is fine, and you didnt come off as ignoring the common readings.

Not sure what syphus was referring to, but I’d like to address this directly. Take 付, and lets say you know it can be read as ふ or つ and you are given the word 交付. Obviously you know its going to use the onyomi, but if you don’t know which of the two readings are onyomi, learning the readings wont really help you. If you know 付ける uses the つ reading then yeah, youll be able to guess that ふ is the onyomi. Try your best to remember which is which, as it will help you out more when you are learning vocab.

You do not learn abc saying : " why are there R in words , why should I learn that letter ? "
you learn it cause you need it to read words and understand them

it’s the same for Onyomi and kunyomi
it’s linked to the origin of japanese words and their relation with their chinese origin
its complicated and if the why are they read that way is really a problem the best way to resolve it is to learn japanese history and linguistic !

the easy way is just : learn the words the way they are

you can also read this : Onyomi vs. Kunyomi: What's the Difference?

The point is that you could simple learn that, but not actually know which one is which. Just like how most people don’t know which On reading is 呉音, 漢音, 唐音 or 慣用音

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In my mind, the Japanese language is a highly confused mess. I think that is why I find it so interesting. A good read to help you figure out why it is confused can be found on the Wikipedia website under the title, Japanese language.

Hm, I’m not sure what you’re referring to with that first sentence. My point is, just knowing 付 can be read as ふ or つ won’t help you. If you never memorize which is on and which is kun, you will just be memorizing how an individual word is read rather than tapping back into your knowledge that you gained when you learned the kanji.

So I see where Vanilla is coming from, but my experience is different. I have been to lazy to explicitly memorize what the on’yomi versus kun’yomi are, but I still know which will show up in which type of word in general just by exposure to words with the kanji in it. So I know the one sound will be present more often if it is next to another kanji and the other if it is by itself/or in a word where it is functioning more like one of two nouns if that makes an sense. I guess in that sense I “know” on’yomi vs. kun’yomi but if you asked me to tell you which reading was which I could not say. I would just say this is the one that is in the verbs and this is the one that is used with other kanji more often.

That being said, it is probably not a bad idea to make that knowledge explicit. I plan to at some point, but I just keep pushing it off to another day. But my ability to accurately predict readings while reading books or articles is not hindered by my lack of knowledge of which is CALLED on’yomi vs. kun’yomi.

In summary, Vanilla is probably right, but it might not be the end of the world to not know if you are good at catching patterns.


The point is you can learn that without explicitly learning what On and Kun even mean. If you know that つ is the reading in 付ける and 付き then you can effectively transpose from that what belongs where.

Basically he’s just saying he knows how to read 北 but doesn’t know that ほく is a Kun reading. However he understands the difference.

But like I said originally, I find this to be a non-issue because after a little while it becomes pretty obvious what a Kun reading looks like because On readings are limited in what they can be.

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This is what I was trying to make an example for with my 付ける thing. Your knowledge of which is on and which is kun doesn’t have to be drilled into your head and can instead come from past knowledge.


Yeah this is pretty much what I was referring to. The point is, its important to know which go with what cases. If you know that one reading has been used in a couple other verbs like in pat’s example, its a pretty solid guess that if you learn another verb that uses that kanji, it’ll be read the same.

Mistype? In this case, so long as he can guess 北上 uses the ほく reading, I think hes fine. What im trying to say is that if he didn’t know whether that should be きたじょう or ほくじょう, he would have an issue.

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Yea, I meant to type the other. Oh well, I’ll leave it. That reminds me, I’ve noticed in my life I say 南 and 東 a lot but rarely ever 北 and 西

But yes, that’s the whole thing.

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While you’re memorizing your kunyomi and onyomi, I memorized the word :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

And yeah, it easily becomes an instinct to feel which reading feels right. I know literally 0 about which ones are kun and which are on and I rarely fail a reading whenever I know the Kanji.

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