Is there a good mnemonic for all those 人 words?

Hi, I’m really struggling to memorize the pronunciation for all 人 words, especially nin vs Jin…
To me it seems as if nin and Jin is just randomly used and I really have to sit down and learn them just by heart. There is no rule that I can apply or did I miss something?
How do you remember these?

And so many more…


This is a very, very rough general rule, and I have to admit that I’ve never tried to look for deeper patterns than this, because I learn the rest case by case. Here we go:

  1. Aside from 一人(ひとり)and 二人(ふたり), when 人 is used as a counter for people (i.e. when a number is involved), it’s always read as にん

  2. a. When you’re talking about a nationality, it’s always [country name] + じん

That aside, I usually expect じん to be the more common reading, and if I’m wrong, I treat it as an exception.

However, since you raised this question, I figured I’d look into my monolingual dictionary, and based on the examples, I think we can add a two more general rules:

  1. b. When someone belongs not just to a particular country, but to a particular field or domain, it’s usually [domain] + じん (we can see this as an extension of the nationality rule)

  2. When someone does a particular thing or performs a particular function, it’s usually [function] + にん

This article (in Japanese) suggests a further generalisation of rule #2:

  1. c. When we see [characteristic/state]人, it’s usually [characteristic/state] + じん

and of course, when 人 is alone, it’s just ひと.

However, as the article notes, there are still exceptions to these rules, like 悪人(あくにん)= ‘evil person/villain’, so some things will have to be learnt separately. There are also some words containing 人 that doesn’t use any of these three major readings, even though the reading for 人 might not be too far off. (I’m thinking of 素人(しろうと)= ‘amateur’, but honestly, this is an example of kanji being chosen more for their meaning than for their readings, so don’t worry about it.) Ultimately though, these general rules should help make your life easier, and you’ll probably get a feel for them as you go along.


I definitely see your problem and Wanikani doesn’t really help much with it. I had the issue myself and had to come up with my own strategy. Here’s what I’d advise:

Create a mnemonic for both nin and jin and integrate that into the mnemonic of the word that you’re trying to learn. For example, when the reading is nin, I’ll associate the word with nintendo. If the reading is jin, I’ll think of Jin from BTS. So if I see a word like “shounin” (merchant), I’ll think of a merchant that sells nintendo consoles. If it’s “roujin” (old person), I think of Jin getting old.

Ever since I did that, I don’t think I mixed up nin and jin even once.

Obviously you have to create a mnemonic that works for you. You’ll probably get the nintendo mnemoinic, but for the other one if you don’t know much about BTS, that mnemonic isn’t going to work. In that case, what is the first thing that pops up when you think jin?


to this day and level I keep confusing some of them

I couldn’t get them right unless I memorize them definitely.

same with 大,

I never remember when is oo or dai. Like in 大規模 or 大騒ぎ

I am thinking of how many words I know as 〜びと.

Somehow, remembering the whole compounds improve my guessing sense; but of course, it is never perfect, nor good enough…

Nowadays, I messed up 者 - しゃ and もの, and as always, rendaku is easy to mess up.

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The way I keep them straight is to add a bit to the mnemonic in my notes -

for example, “help wanted” is 求人(きゅうじん) so I think “this company only wants to hire people wearing jeans who are willing to get dirty while working!”

or, 料理人(りょうりにん) is cook, so I think “this cook is a clean and excellent cook, so he would never wear jeans in the kitchen!”

or for 悪人(あくにん) = evil person, I’ll think “evil people always going ‘neener neener neener’ to one another when they do something bad.”

Haha, it’s silly but it works for me!

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That’s why I said ‘alone’. However, yes, there are some compounds that use びと, such as 人々(ひとびと)and 村人(むらびと). I just decided to leave them out in order not to complicate things. Generally speaking though, and this works even for this problem

On’yomi tend to stay with on’yomi, and kun’yomi tend to stay with kun’yomi. It’s not always true, but it’s a common trend. However, that’s not very helpful if you’re not sure which sort of reading is which (it’s a very common question on WK), so it’s not much of a tip if someone’s relatively new to kanji readings.

Sheer repetition. LOTS of repetition (like several dozen reviews over a year or more in some instances). It really is the best way.

Mnemonics are good when first learning the words and for those that just don’t seem to want to stick, but I think trying too hard to make better mnemonics (or apply rules) to every item is a mistake. They take too long during conversation or distract you while trying to read. Wanikani is about long-term memorization of individual vocabulary, not about rules.

Just do your reviews.

Repeat ad nauseum. The goal is to have the correct reading pop into your brain immediately upon sight, not after applying rules and mnemonics.

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What I’m about to say will run counter to the way the other people are approaching your question, but:

Forget the kanji for a second. When you do your vocab lessons, focus extremely hard on repeating to yourself each vocab reading a few times. Don’t focus on the kanji almost at all, the kanji will be your clue to accessing the memorized reading (and you already learned those beforehand), so instead focus on the vocab reading first and foremost in your mind.

Don’t just memorize for example 他人 as “other + person”, and then when you get to review you try to guess which reading it was. That’s counter productive in the long term (at least it was for me). Instead memorize “stranger” as “たにん”, focus hard on creating a link in your brain between vocab reading and vocab meaning.

Then when you finally get to reviews, you try to access the memorized reading. You see 他人, you think “ok, let’s remember this. let’s try たじん, do I know any word with that reading? hmmm, nope, what about たにん? oh yeah, I memorized that as “stranger”, I know it”. That’s my strategy for learning vocab.

Then if you’re exposed to the spoken language enough (via conversations, podcasts, dramas, anime, youtubers, etc), and pay attention to the words they’re using, you’ll hear them in context (and you’ll rarely even see the kanji they’re using unless you have subtitles or something), and that’ll get reinforced over time as well. It’ll shock you even more when you try to use the wrong reading, because you get a “wait, I’ve never heard a word that sounds like that before, it can’t be right” feeling.

Think about it for a moment. Japanese kids will memorize thousands of words by the time they learn how to read, then they just associate the new kanji they learn with the words they already knew and were using in their day to day lives. The way WK does vocab lessons I feel leads to a lot of confusion, making up mnemonics for kanji meanings in the word, but then glossing over the reading part when there’s multiple possible readings (“this will use on’yomi readings, you already know those”, for example).

Don’t confuse yourself with “was 月 in this word げつ or がつ? was this 人 にん or じん?” etc. Focus on memorizing words as a whole instead. Learn いちがつ and まんげつ and なんにん and めいじん instead, and you’ll have a lot less confusion overall.

And the most important thing (and this is in general, not just for this situation). If you find that you keep making a mistake in your reviews, take a couple of minutes to review the item again and try to memorize it from the beginning instead of quickly moving on.


Couldn’t agree more.


Just a bit of semantics here really but びと is technically not by itself a reading for ひと, it is a rendaku form. There’s no consensus on what rendaku comes from or what causes it but Tofugu has an interesting article about it. They posit there that the rendaku forms are made to prevent confusion, or to establish that the words are combining together to make a new word rather than remaining two separate words.

It is good to remember the whole word, or 単語たんご. Knowing the meaning of the kanji and being able to recognize them is good, it can help you guess the meaning of a word or phrase you haven’t already learned.

However, when multiple kanji are strung together the “meaning” of the kanji becomes more of a connotation or implication. Or sometimes they’re just there for their sound like 寿司すし. Or sometimes the reading is just completely exceptional like in 火傷やけど.

For these reasons it is a good idea to take the words and phrases as a whole rather than separate pieces stuck together to make something.

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I know I’m the one who provided a long list of general rules, and I love breaking things down, but I second this as well. I tend to know or be able to guess quite a lot of individual on’yomi because I already speak Chinese, but ultimately, I look at any word I’m unsure about and go, ‘Is this X or Y?’ I read the whole thing. If one reading sounds wrong, it’s usually because I vaguely remember the correct reading somehow. Also, when I look up readings, of course, I check the entire word as well: ‘The reading is this, and it means that.’ Knowing individual kanji readings is a good backup plan and is very helpful for guessing the readings of new combinations, but ultimately, you need to learn the word or phrase. This is true even for Chinese, in which kanji readings are much more consistent and less numerous, even if multiple readings are often possible – I remember words, not just individual characters, especially because different readings often have different meanings.

If having rules helps you, great, seek them out. However, as your vocabulary grows and more and more words make sense to you, I think you’ll start to see patterns yourself, and you won’t have as much trouble remembering new words anymore. :slight_smile:


I second making a mnemonic for nin/jin and integrating that into the mnemonic for the vocab, focusing on learning vocab as a whole instead of combined kanji readings, and just doing your reviews, you’ll learn it eventually.

My personal mnemonic was nin = temporary, jin = permanent, with an optimistic perspective. It doesn’t always work, but it worked most times for me.

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Adding my approach here: I use Genius and Ninja as my mnemonics, and usually I can make that work (or work for long enough for the word to take, your aim is that you aren’t reciting your mnemonics each time, but remembering the word itself.)

Integrating this with @Jonapedia’s general rules:

  • When you are talking about numbers (above 一人, 二人 which you just have to know) you are counting your army of ninjas.
  • When you are talking about nationalities, you are talking about a French/Japanese etc genius. (If you need an image put Einstein in a beret, Yakuta etc), by extension do something similar with the wider domain/characteristic words. (So 老人 / Roujin is an old genius.)
  • For people performing a function it is your personal army of ninjas who are carrying that out. So your cook is a ninja with a little white chef’s hat on top of his or her black robes.

Not everything easily, or immediately fits into those categories or follows those rules, but even then I try to use the same mnemonics. I’ve not found a good way to remember the ひと words yet, and so those can take a bit more exposure before they settle.

I should say again that this is a stepping stone, I go back to the mnemonics when I encounter a new word/type of word to help me cement it in my mind, but if I encounter a new nationality word I am not trying to mentally dress Albert Einstein up in a stereotypical outfit every single time!

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Thank you all for your help! So at least I’m not alone and will just stick to my learning routine which is a mix of everything said above by you all.
And there were some good comments about vocab learning which is so true… Words you already know are less harder to memorize the kanji… With no effort.
And I will give myself (my brain) the time needed to make the connections between everything.
At the end it’s a long run and I rather take it slow than being frustrated and overwhelmed in a couple of month.


And by the way… In these cases the hito/bito ones or person counters don’t cost me anything. Maybe because they are are different enough.

But just this morning I’ve done this damn “doll” wrong again for the hundreds time

NINGYOU… NINGYOU… the thing NIÑas are playing with… that’s my mnemonic now

Repeat repeat repeat… Coffee… Coffee… Repeat

And try to learn something new before 7AM…it never sticks… Not in my case. :smiley:


For Ningyou, i recommend watching Naruto (anime), you’ll never forget it :wink: there are also ninjas using ningyous there.
Yes, repeat, repeat, repeat! And if you’re lucky, you get an emotional connection or an otherwise memorable memory attached to the word from some media.

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There are exceptions but generally and IME:

-jin is talking about what a person inherently IS. If you’re a nihonjin or an uchuujin, that’s an objective fact about the circumstances of your birth and life that nothing can change.

-nin is ascribed or circumstantial. If you have a particular job, you might be a (job)nin. (I can’t think of a specific word example at the moment, but I know there are some.) If you’re poor, you’re binbounin - because you could just not be poor, right? What if someone gave you a billion yen? If you witnessed a crime, you’re a shounin (IIRC) - witnessing isn’t something inherent to your nature, it just kind of happened to you.

For prefix form (jin-/nin-) you just have to memorize, I think.

For hito you just have to memorize.

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Yeah, this is similar to my nin = temporary, jin = permanent mnemonic. It doesn’t work every single time though, even if most times. Is 悪人 less definitive/permanent than 愛人?
(I have to admit I had to search pretty hard for this and it’s still not a perfect (counter) example)

Ive looked at all the 人 words on Wanikani. There really isnt a good pattern as far as I can come up with. But I personally use じん = jinn like genie. So like 宇宙人 the jinn is actually an alien :alien:. And にん = ninja as in 商人 the merchant is a ninja merchant selling you ninja tools :ninja:. It wouldnt be a genie, genies dont need to sell anything.

It works better for me than the other mnemonics cause all lot of them its easy to confuse yourself. The more complicated it is the more youll be able to like argue with yourself about how much it actually applies in each scenario and there isnt always a clear line.

Also: There are more じん words in WKs list than にん words. About 48% are jin and 30% are nin so if you have to guess go with じん