Kanji to Hiragana

So I though the way it worked was that a kanji can either exist as separate word like 上 being transcribed as うえ, or as a part of a longer word and then transcribed as じよう, according to the table at wiki:

But every time I see 上 it’s supposed to represent a different set of characters:

In 上る it’s のぼ, and in 上げる and 上がる it’s あ. Is there actually a rule to this and I just stumbled on a bunch of exceptions, or is it the case that it can mean whatever and you need to learn the hiragana for each use of kanji separately?

Especially for kun’yomi this is probably the case.

The reasons for this (as far as i understand it at least) is that うえ、のぼる、あげる etc are completely different words that already existed in Japanese before it had a writing system.

Then when the chinese characters came along, they chose the ones that best matched the meanings of these existing words.

Sometimes the same word in Japanese had multiple different meanings in chinese, leading to words such as のぼる having multiple kanji words with slightly different nuance (based on the chinese meaning), 登る、上る、昇る.

EDIT: compound kanji words are often loan words from Chinese, so these are often more regular in their use of one or a few on’yomi readings. (Again as far as I understand it).


I recommend reading this Tofugu article that explains everything about how the kanji came to exist in the current state:

My personal advice is: Japanese is made out of words. Kanji is used to write the words, but the words themselves are what’s important. Focus your learning on the actual words, and less on the way to write them (of course kanji are important, and you should know how to write the words, but the words should be the actual focus).

What WK does when teaching kanji is teach you 1 reading that they think is the most common or important to know. This will get reinforced later in vocab, and you’ll learn the other readings this way as well.


From wiki:

Some common kanji have ten or more possible readings; the most complex common example is 生, which is read as sei, shō, nama, ki, o-u, i-kiru, i-kasu, i-keru, u-mu, u-mareru, ha-eru , and ha-yasu , totaling 8 basic readings (first 2 are on , rest are kun ), or 12 if related verbs are counted as distinct

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When you learn all those words, you’ll also learn they are spelled with the “life” kanji. That’s it. They are all separate words that have their own meanings. As you learn them you’ll add them to your repertoire. No one’s expecting you to learn all the readings with a kanji all at once.

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I guess it’s just another thing to learn as a part of each word’s spelling, it’s still just a couple options for each kanji. It’s much better than learning the male/female/neutral for each single noun in German, which was especially a bother since I already have that in Polish, and they no not align at all, making it even more confusing.

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Quick side note here: that’s not じよう but rather じょう. Note the small ょ - there’s a difference.

Weirdly, it’s the commonest kanji that seem to have the most readings, but for the most part, you probably won’t encounter more than about four or five of them in real life.


Yeah, I know, I just copy pasted it from the “hiragana” wiki page, since I have no way of writing Japanese characters.


Thanks, I tried installing it before but didn’t know how to activate it.

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Sorry did someone mention 日


or how about 生

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there’s a number of kanji that have a lot of readings, but i don’t think anything comes close to the number of definitions for the english verb “to run”… so we’re still better off than the poor japanese kids who have to study english at school.

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If it helps any, even the japanese kids don’t read all the readings at once. My elementary level kanji books have bunch of readings that have a symbol next to them indicating that “this will be learnt in junior high/senior high” :slight_smile:

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Kinda on the same topic, in the word 大人 (おとな) 大 is read as the (お) part and 人 in the (と), but where does the (な) come from? Is the 人 read as (とな), because according to the jisho.org/search/人 that’s not the case.

Then again り from 一人 isn’t listed there either.

There’s a word in polish that’s generally a swear word, but it’s used in so many different ways, I think I’ve once seen a list of something like 137 various grammatical uses of that single word :slight_smile:

Though polish grammar is a mess in the first place…

And the orography, like, we have a 32 letter alphabet with additional slightly modified sound like ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ś, ż, ź, then there are some more alternative sounds cz, dz, dzi, sz, and then to not be boring there are alternative letters for the exact same sounds ch for h, ó for u, rz for ż, ci for ć and ni for ń, and then weather a word is spelled through either of those alternatives depends on like 7 different variables including grammatical time, 1st/2nd/3rd person, singular/plural, and a couple more, so a word like “move” can have about 50 different variations with different letters at the end, and that’s only counting the main meaning of that word. :smiley:

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I think some words are not just the sum of their parts. Or even if the individual kanji do have specific pronunciations assigned to them within a given word, it’s not always useful to think of the word that way. Like with 今日, it’s probably not useful to memorize う as yet another reading for 日, but rather to think of 今日 as a single word that is spelled according to the meanings of the two kanji, not the pronunciation.

I could be wrong here, I’m still very beginner.

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This type of reading is called jukujikun. It’s a kunyomi (Japanese-origin word) that got applied to a set of kanji rather than just one kanji. So you can’t separate it and say “this part belongs to 大 and this part belongs to 人”. The whole thing belongs to the set.

Similar beginner words that are jukujikun include 今日 (きょう) and 明日 (あした).


That explains why at jinsho.org the furigana for this word wasn’t split between the characters like in other cases.

大人(おとな) vs 大(たい)人(じん)

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