How to remember the reading versions kun and on?

Hi, I’m pretty new… Try to learn and remember as much as I can… But I’m really struggling to recall which reading for the kanji I learned… So I can’t apply the rules when it comes to vocabulary (e.g. Single kanji kunyomi, with hiragana on’yomi etc)
Problem is you first learn kanji… And in 70% you learn the on reading… But then you sometimes learn the kun reading first…
So then it comes… You get a vocabulary… Kanji with hiragana… And I think… O yeah I should know how to read… But naaaah… I réalize its been the kan reading that I’m recalling. :frowning:… And that I’ve been presented the kanji with its kun reading. I didn’t know this at the beginning and just learned the reading without the connection if it is kan or on!
When I realized this (I’m just level 4)…i started really trying to focus on the reading… And to remember what kind of reading this is. But it’s hard.
Kind of I think it would be easier to get presented consistently by WK only the on reading first… So your brain makes the connection… What I leaned first with the kanji… Is on reading.
How do you remember this stuff? Any suggestions?
Thanks a lot



The pink kanji reviews ask you for what is considered the most likely-to-be-applicable reading when you encounter learned kanji in an unknown word.

Generally speaking, tons of kanji have only 2-3 kun’yomi words, after which almost all of their other vocab is made of compound kanji words that use on’yomi instead. So, the on’yomi/kun’yomi split on WK’s pink kanji reviews is about ~1,700 on’yomi to ~300 kun’yomi.


To learn which readings are which, you can install a userscript (called Wanikani Katakana Madness) to display all on’yomi answers as katakana (the WK phone app, Tsurukame, also has this functionality available as an option now). This is a super efficient way to discern the different readings (requiring no extra time/effort from the user), and also doubles nicely as some extra katakana exposure.


When they don’t teach the onyomi, usually it’s because it’s not going to appear very often. For instance, with 川, the onyomi is せん, and it only appears one time on the site, in the word 川柳せんりゅう (comic haiku). It also appears at a high level. So they just wait to teach you the onyomi until then.

I generally think it’s something you shouldn’t worry about too much as a beginner. Just try to recognize patterns when you can, but don’t stress about it too much. It will eventually be something you naturally recognize without too much thought.


Usually it also shakes once telling you if you use the wrong one (on vs kun), so it gives you a second chance naturally to type the other. Or maybe I am wrong?

But yeah, the pink ones I usually type on-readings first, then if it is purple and alone, usually kun-reading.

It takes some time, but try to pay attention to the colors. Of course, at first, it just teaches you a bunch of radicals, which are those light blue ones, so keep working hard and you can get through it :slight_smile:

When memorizing the kanji lessons, focus on the reading they teach you.

If I understand correctly your problem seems to be on vocabulary items. On a personal level, I don’t think the way Wanikani teaches vocab is that great, because it encourages people too much to focus on the component kanji of the word instead of the pronunciation, which is the most important.

For example let’s think of 一月. Many people on WK seem to approach items like this in the following manner when they come up in reviews.
“Ok so it’s one + moon, I learned that as January. Now for the reading… hmmm one was いち, and moon… had too readings, which one was it again? Dammit let’s try いちげつ. Ah shoot, it was wrong.”

That approach never worked for me, and I was endlessly frustrated, until I changed the way I learned vocab to actually focus on the pronunciation first. My approach would be:
“Ok, let’s try to sound out the kanji and see if it matches any words I know. Do I know any いちげつ? Nope, doesn’t ring a bell. Do I know any いちがつ? Oh yeah, that’s January, I know that one.”

I use a reorder script for reviews so that I always get prompted for the reading first, and then the meaning, in order to facilitate this learning process.


Of course some vocab is just weird because it doesn’t follow the kanji readings at all. and I’ll have to learn them a bit differently, like 今日(きょう) or 昨日(きのう), but this method helps me in over 80% of cases. Even in these rare cases, I focus first on burning the meaning + reading in my head first, and then attach kanji to it as a secondary process. When speaking to people it’s less important to remember the kanji than it is to remember the pronunciation, so I focus on reading first.

Nerdy details about what can and can't be on'yomi

As for remembering if a reading is kun or on, if you already know the vocab words it’s easy enough to tell which is which. For one, if the vocab word has hiragana attached that’s part of the pronunciation, like in ()べる, (はや)い, it’s a safe bet that that’s the kun’yomi reading. If the reading is very short and usually part of multi-kanji words, like 事故(じこ), that’s a safe bet that it’s on’yomi. But there are exceptions to this “rule” so it isn’t reliable for all cases.
However, there are certain combinations of kana that can’t possibly be a on’yomi. For example, on’yomi can’t be more than 2 mora long. As for the second mora, it’s usually an vowel to extend the sound in the first mora (い for the ‘e’ sound, like (えい)、う for the ‘o’ sound, like in (こう), or う again for the ‘u’ sound, like in (すう)), or one of these: く, き, つ and ん. If you find a reading that’s two mora, and doesn’t end in the above-mentioned sounds, it’s not a on’yomi reading. Similarly, readings that are three or more mora can’t be on’yomi.
You can read more about it on Wikipedia: Kanji - Wikipedia


Most of the time, Wani shakes if you put in the wrong reading. 女 Woman じよ and おんな don’t and there are others.

It would be extremely helpful to me to have the on-yomi in katakana. I will try to track down the extension that Kai_973 mentioned.

The shake only happens on pink (kanji) reviews because even though WaniKani expects a specific reading, the other ones are still correct. If you enter the wrong reading on purple (vocab) reviews, it will be marked wrong because that’s not a correct reading for that word.


Yes, i understand what you’re saying. But like 女 the kanji appears on its own in both kanji and vocabulary. With new kanji, which i don’t know the independent nominative, remembering the correct reading can be difficult.

Take 手 て or シヨウ, i know the vocab is て because I learned the name for hand is て. Generally, once I learn some compound kanji plus kanji with kana, it becomes a little easier to sort out.

If I see the independent kanji in purple but put in the pink reading, Wani doesn’t shake, just marks it wrong.

Cool thing that I learned the other day is that when 2 kanji are next to each other it uses the onyomi and if it is a lone one it uses the kunyomi. Don’t know why I didn’t pick up on that by myself but it has helped knowing that. I don’t know if there is exceptions as I’m still new to the language though.

This holds as a general rule, but there are exceptions. The most common ones I’ve seen so far are compounds with body parts, which almost universally use kunyomi.

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Oh yeah I didn’t think about those ones.

Pink backgrounds are the kanji, and kanji can take both kun’yomi or on’yomi, depending on the circumstances. That’s why you get a shake. It’s not wrong in any way, it’s just not what WK is looking for.

Purple background are vocab, and there is only one right answer for what the actual word is that is used in Japanese. Answering on’yomi for a kun’yomi vocab word should be marked as incorrect, so that the correct reading will be reinforced.

I like the example that @Raionus used recently.

On’yomi are usually used in compound words. Similar to a word like “hydro” in English. You can say a substance is hydro-phobic and that’s fine. But if you ask for a glass of hydro, that would be such an anomalous way to ask for a glass of water that an English teacher would have to mark you as wrong.

WK tested you on what the actual vocab word for woman is, and you didn’t put in the right answer. If WK just gives you a shake, you might only then switch to the right answer, and the word progresses further up the SRS, although your first instinct answer was incorrect, and then you run the risk of ingraining things that are objectively wrong.

So I suppose the best advice is to mind the background colours well, and in a few levels, your brain will immediately jump to the correct versions based on the colours. ^^


Thank you all for your good advice! I will try it… And let you know how it works :blush::+1:
… Only 56 levels to go… Haha… Good to have such a great community here!
Enjoy your day… Or should I say reviews? :grin:

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Okay, at least I can understand WK’s logic for not shaking with the purple.

At first, I kept thinking purple and pink were representing kun and on readings, respectively. Eventually figured it out.

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