How proficient in vocabulary will I be when I am done with Wanikani?

Lol, I was just editing my post again to specifically include that one.

Ask someone how many words are in it.

A learner coming from English or a similar language might tell you:


菜, 花, 咲く, 季節, なりました, omitting the particles

“It was the season when the rape blossoms bloomed,” by the way, for meaning.

A strict grammarian native speaker will tell you:




Counting all the particles as discreet bits of vocabulary, and highlighting the compound nature of what learners tend to think of as verb “conjugations” (but which are actually just additional units of meaning being stacked onto the 連用形/stem, its own noun).

And then 菜の花 is actually a compound that can’t be broken apart because it loses its specific meaning, per this writer.

A native who isn’t attentive to grammar in any particular way might give you any number in between.

: /

Notice that their “phrase” breakdown problems above keep the verb “conjugations” whole, though, which is why that Wikipedia entry on “words” in Japanese specified that they might be more useful for linguistic comparison. But even then there’s a lot more subjectivity than just counting words in English.

Anyway, sorry for hijacking the thread. WK will teach you plenty of words, but you’ll need outside study to contextualize them and fill in a lot of lower-register gaps. That’s the answer for everything WK-related that isn’t reading kanji. “It’s very helpful but can’t be your only source.” :man_shrugging:

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Except somehow for theている “conjugation” that get break down into two “phrases” (文節) !? Madness !

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That one actually makes sense when you think of phrases like してばかりいる–there can sometimes be modifiers breaking up the “て-form” and the “いる,” and you also have “てある” for certain inanimate states, so treating “ている” as one conjugation is an even bigger cheat for foreign instruction than most things verb-related. But yeah, it just highlights the logic differences in terms of discreet bits of vocabulary even further.

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To add to the excellent replies by @IanD, English doesn’t have a clear-cut definition of ‘word’ either. This what MW has to say about it:

1a(1) : a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use
(2) : the entire set of linguistic forms produced by combining a single base with various inflectional elements without change in the part of speech elements

Except that’s not exactly definitive either – is “without” one word, or two (with + out)? “Within”? What about “to go”? Is that the same as “go”, “goes”, “going”, or a different word? And wait – what’s the past tense of “go”? It’s “went”. Is that a whole new word?

Most native speakers have a fuzzy understanding what a word in their language is. How come? Speech is a single unit, with barely any pauses. It’s orthographic idiosyncrasy that a lot of written languages have spaces between what we call “words”, and it’s based on the native speakers’ understanding at a certain point in time, which can change. Take a look at the word “apron”. It wasn’t originally “an apron”, it was “a napron”. In speech, both of these sound like “anapron”, so it got redivided.

Did you know that English has 2 pluralisation systems? One is the -s (books), and one is the -en (children). We can probably agree that “book” is the same word as “books”, but what happens in this case?:

  • Brother → Brethren
  • Brother → Brothers

Take the word “clear-cut” from my first paragraph. Is it actually a single word? Or is it two? Does knowing it require knowing the meanings of “clear” and “cut”? Does knowing it mean you know 1 word, or 3?

And this is just all off the top of my head, and 10 years outside of linguistics. I’m sure there’s more.


Farout, that thing about how they divide up the words is an eye opener.

Nup, it’s very simple. I’m sticking with the definition of anything between two spaces as a single word.

  • Without is one word.
  • To go is two words.
  • No, to go is not the same as just go, goes, going, or any other transformation. They are each their own word(s). If it has a different spelling it’s its own word. Meanings have little to do with it when you’re trying to distinguish word count regardless of context. Right is one word but has a few homophones such as the to turn right, to be right, and to make something right. The meaning/context doesn’t matter, right is still one word in each of those cases. But of course you’d have to learn those three separate meanings and effectively treat them as three separate words that for whatever reason share the exact same spelling if you want to understand the text.
  • Went is indeed a whole new word but one word nonetheless.

Languages change naturally over time, I very much agree with you on that.

What? Does this not include other pluralisations such as radii?

  • It is a single word. Hyphens incorporate multiple words and since they are no longer divided by a space they are effectively joined as one word.
  • No, clear-cut does not require knowing the meanings of clear and cut but it can sure help when learning it. However, it can be independently learned like any other word. Funny enough I tend to avoid hyphens and now I’m not sure if I were to write it as clearcut or clear cut.
  • Knowing it would mean you know one word, just like any other word that you learn. However, it makes learning its component words easier.

TL;DR It really does not need to be as complicated as you make it. In cases of such ambiguity, simple definitions are the best. Apply occam’s razor, KISS, and all that and you’ll save yourself time and pain.

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There’s several (and free) options available, but the platform that made me actually start learning vocabulary was Kitsun. It offers all the mainstream decks (including Core 10k - probably the best version around) and they actually look good visually (not bland looks like most decks on other platforms). It also has a dictionary integrated, so you can literally search for a term and make a flashcard for it right away. It’s very friendly-user :slight_smile: It’s however a paid platform, but offers 14 days of free trial :slight_smile:

If you really can’t afford a paid platform, you can always study the deck on Anki. I recommend this version of the deck :slight_smile:

I usually try to do reviews during the day (most of it in the morning) and save the time for reading to around dinner time :slight_smile: I think it’s best to have different schedules for both because it allows to have a better focus. You won’t be worrying about doing reviews during your reading time because you do them at different times of the day :grin:


So you’re saying that “lead” (the verb) and “lead” (the material) are the same word? They’re spelt the same.

Also according to you, “to go” and its conjugations are all different words. Does that mean that when you count it for estimating how mantle words you know, you actually know 5 different words, per every single verb in English? If so, why does it show up in the dictionary only once (or twice)? Does that mean that every single conjugation of よむ is it’s own word?

I’m pretty sure everybody would agree that English spelling is a mess. It hasn’t really changed ever since the printing press was invented, several centuries ago. It no longer really represents the spoken language. Orthography, in any language, will always be accurate for a very short time until it becomes slightly irrelevant, and then steadily more and more irrelevant (just look at Arabic or Tibetan). A real language is not its writing system or its script or how it’s spelt - it’s how people speak.

You’re to, I did forget about that. Does that mean that Cactii and Cactuses are different words?

Ahhh thank you so much for this - especially for taking the time to find and translate to English from the Japanese Wikipedia article. It’s really helpful for me to know that different native speakers might come up with different word counts, and it’s also a relief to find that this is truly a difference between the languages and not just me being extreme. :slight_smile:

Also helps to know that we are aiming at the larger groupings specifically because the it allows for more easily relatable meaning vs. English word correspondences.

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Thank you soooooo much for the detailed breakdown and explanation. It’s extremely helpful.

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That may be the case in many languages or, at least for English, when you get a bunch of linguist types in a room who love to unpack the granular meanings in a word.

But there’s no way to dismiss the significance of this: when English speakers count words in sentences they come up with the same totals.

And thank you!!! I love unpacking my language!!! :smiley: I am delighted to have read your post! :slight_smile:

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I meant that natives would generally know what a word is and what isn’t, and besides having spaces in an orthography really primes people to consider everything that comes between 2 spaces ‘a word’. Japanese doesn’t have that priming.

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Ohhhhh ok. I see what you are saying.
Thank you!

All: sorry for the threadjacking and thank you very very much!

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No, in that case where you’ve distinguished their meanings they’re of course two different words that just happened to share the same spelling. I mentioned that a bit further down.

I thought you were talking about counting words in a text though, not whether or not to give a word its own dictionary entry, which is a completely separate matter where meaning is everything and spelling is of secondary importance. The priorities are opposite to word count! Speaking of whether or not to give a word its own dictionary entry…

To go, goes, going and so on all stem from the same meaning. They are their own word in their own right as you need to learn each of them to be able to use the verb ‘go’ properly. For the number of words a person knows though that seems more grey and I feel more inclined to say no, if you know all the conjugations of ‘go’ you still only know one word as their meaning is essentially the same and is why it makes sense to only use up one dictionary entry.

In fact, I think it would be more correct to say that you only really know the word once you know all of its conjugations because realistically in a text it would be conjugated. Latin declensions are probably a good example of this because you can’t really claim you know 10+ words from just knowing lingua’s variants linguae, linguam, linguas and so on.

For japanese I have no idea how they do their word count as it appears it is not as cut and dry as it is in english. よみました is apparently three words even though it was just conjugated from よむ which I think is just one. I guess you could look at it like ‘to go’ in english being transformed to ‘goes’ (2 words to 1) but I’m fine with this since to go is separated by a space. Whereas I have no idea what indication you would need other than memorisation that よみました is three words.

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This is coming at the difference in the wrong way. Obviously よみました is one easily digestible unit of meaning, and in terms of Japanese that does use spaces (usually all kana writing aimed at young children), it would be a unit to itself. But よみ is also its own noun, and part of things that are more easily identifiable to us as compounds incorporating it (読み方, for example). So it also wouldn’t be strange or intuitive to think of the polite forms as stems plus add-ons, even before they really get that drilled in through grammar classes. And unlike English, “How many words are in this sentence?” just isn’t a thought likely to occur to native speakers in the first place, where the most digestible, least subjective or niche counting unit for writing by the time they’re cognizant enough of language to ever need such a thing is characters. Unless you’re doing grammar drilling, Japanese is pretty much always going to be counted in characters rather than anything else, whereas in English it’s words.

There are also issues with “word count” in Japanese for non grammar-focused speakers even without getting into things like the fact that verb “conjugations” are actually stem-based compounds, such as how to group particles and compounds where the break isn’t all that clear. (What do you do with three- and four-character jukugo phrases? Even as a native English speaker trained to look for “words” in foreign languages, there are some of those I wouldn’t really know how to classify.)

So while it’s true that you might need some grammar training to think of よみました as three words (but also not that much, because you’d see よみ as its own unit in plenty of other cases, and the polite form is already an extra step of conscientiousness on top of the plain forms kids speak in first), it’s also a bit of a projection from an English-native mindset to think that it would be automatic to consider it one.

English and Japanese are just … super-duper different, and the way native speakers think about their smallest practical units is one of the ways that’s true. For counting in Japanese, characters are easier. For parity in translation or for thinking about increasing your vocabulary, there are “phrases” (言葉, etc. - we tend to translate that as “words,” but it can include longer strings of language), but they won’t always line up with what an English speaker would look at and intuitively identify as single “words” either. Basically the two most useful, intuitive units of measurement in the language run either shorter or longer. Languages are just different, and they don’t always break up the same way.

But to the points above, I think the thing that best illustrates that difference is, if you ask a native Japanese speaker to count the number of words in a sentence, they’ll look at you like an alien and ask why you’re having them do this difficult and unintuitive grammar exercise instead of just counting characters. Conversely, if you asked an English-speaker to count the number of letters on their sentence, they’d ask why and if they couldn’t just count words (though at least both would be easy and objective in English; one would just be more tedious).

What is this all useful for? Not a ton really, in terms of how we learn Japanese. But maybe it’ll save someone from trying to bring up an idea like word-count with a native-speaker and expecting them to automatically be on board. (Again, it’s also just interesting.)


As an aside, the reason I really dislike word counts as a means to judge language ability, is because I come from a highly inflected(/conjugated) Semitic language, where things really tend to fall apart there. There are a lot of people who say “English has so many different words!” as a way to say that English is better from other languages, and that other languages are poorer and worse at expressing ideas, and that’s just both wrong and insulting.


Agreed! Word counting for the sake of word count, for me, is useless when learning a language. It has its uses when you need to write X words in an essay/story, or when you need to make sure something looks uniform and aesthetically pleasing, but except for that? There aren’t a lot of used to it.

I mentioned above that speakers coming from languages that use spaces to distinguish between different words in their orthography are “primed” by it to separate the language into “word units”. Adding those spaces is a relatively late addition to scripts (Ancient Greek and Egyptian also did some interesting things with writing direction too). I think it represented that fuzzy word bound separation that all native speakers have had at the time of the orthographic development.

For the record, I do think you can sort of count vocabulary items - but it’s not just a matter of “counting words” but also a matter of lexical, morphological, and semantic distinctions.

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I mean, that’s just wrong because there are no expressionistically incomplete non-pidgin languages as far as I’m aware. It is fun to see what different concepts different languages have distilled down into more compact words/phrases though, and how that can influence interaction.

The ease of imbuing certain connotations to certain concepts will also vary from language to language, depending on what words/set phrases they’ve wound up with, which is neat (and sometimes frustrating once you get deep enough into learning a second).

“Vocabulary items” is a good way to put it. It’s basically what native Japanese dictionaries end up counting too. Some might be words, some might be closer to what we’d think of (and even Japanese gramatically considers) phrases, but they’re useful self-sufficient bits of language, at any rate.

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I kind of have a question. I saw people mentioned Kitsun for basic 10k words, but here’s my problem:
in the first five lessons over there you get the word for ‘general’ which has a kanji I’ve never seen before. So what’s the point of trying to use rote memorization with no mnemonics to just try to memorize the word? Now, it’s okay for kana only words, but in this instance the word consists of the kanji for ‘one’ and another kanji, the word has the meaning ‘general’, I can’t possibly tell what’s the meaning of the other kanji. And since I don’t know the radicals for the kanji, memorizing the kanji itself is hard.

I’m currently level 6 on Wanikani, but it seems to me that before I go on to studying more vocabulary, I should focus on learning as many kanji as possible first. In my understanding, Wanikani is primarily a kanji learning tool, vocabulary is just a byproduct of that. My original intention was to use Wanikani until I’m about level 10 and then start Genki and then start vocab focused stuff when I’m comfortable with kanji and have an understanding of basic grammar. So please tell me does this approach make sense.


You can have it so that you study the hiragana/katakana words from Core 10k first. For that, you go to deck → manage cards → advance search for “kana” and then push these cards to the front of your lessons. This means that they’ll be your next lessons on that deck :slight_smile:

I do agree with the order you’re taking this. Since you’re already learning some vocab on Wanikani, it’s definitely important for a beginner to reinforce the grammar, as the basics are the foundation of the language. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of ways to learn vocabulary that uses kanji you know/it’s written in hiragana/katakana. I wrote a post on the Kitsun forums addressing this.

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aren’t there furigana? I use torii and just figure I’ll learn the kanji at some point or another so just focus on the word itself.