Kunyomi vs Onyomi Readings - do you guys remember which is which?

I’m still very early into using WaniKani but I’m loving the program and will probably stick around. I feel like I’ve already learnt a lot compared to when I started. One thing I’ve noticed is I don’t really remember which readings are which (kunyomi or onyomi. Although I DO tend to remember the vocabulary readings well enough).

Do you consistently know which reading is kunyomi or onyomi on top of just what the readings are? Do you think that’s helpful or important?

I’m just hoping someone with a little more experience than me might have some input. Also worth mentioning that for I’m not as serious as some people about learning Japanese. I’m here for fun and to hopefully be able to interact in a second language, not necessarily be perfect. I feel like that’s relevant here

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I never tried to memorize which is which, but I ended up recognizing them anyway by picking up patterns.
I personally think it’s not worth worrying about whether the reading originated in China or Japan.


Knowing which reading is which is occasionally helpful for figuring out how to read a new word, but you don’t need to bother to memorize them. You’ll pick up the patterns over time (there are relatively few onyomi and they tend to use a limited set of sounds compared to kunyomi).


i had a feeling it was something that i might end up figuring out as i went a long. Thanks for your input it’s good to hear what others think : )

Like said above it just comes naturally, so while I don’t know for sure if something is kun or on because I didn’t bother checking, I can still read what is in front of me just fine. It isn’t worth worrying about, after all, many words don’t follow the general on and kun rule

Some people who know much more than me say they don’t. I don’t either, and I can’t even tell you what kunyomi is v. onyomi tbh. I know one is like the “standalone” variant as opposed to the one used in words with multiple other kanji, but I don’t remember which is which

Eventually you just recognize which is which. Though I do occasionally get surprised that something was one and not the other… Potentially if a kanji with a short kunyomi has a very rarely used onyomi, it is possible to mistakenly assume the kunyomi is the onyomi.


Looking at you, 肉 :eyes:


I personally always mix up the onyomi and kunyomi for 架


Same with 死, never can keep 'em straight.


I use this script which automatically converts all onyomi readings to katakana when typing. Makes it much easier to distinguish between the two!
EDIT: Also helps to polish and maintain katakana recognition :wink:

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I don’t it’s always worth it to distinguish between the two types. However, I pretty much disagree with remembering Kunyomi while disregarding Okurigana; unless such readings are qualified standalone ones (like Nanori).

Nonetheless, it is sometimes good to distinguish more than one Onyomi’s, like each reading may be associated with different meanings, and aren’t interchangeable. Technically probably from different eras, therefore different history lines.

I had a similar issue for years since wanikani never bothers to distinguish which is which for whatever reason, and then finally a few months ago I sat down and thought of a helpful easy to remember mnemonic. Might as well share.

死’s only verb thats widely used really is 死ぬ. Now this means to die. You know how its read because you can imagine that the people who are destined to die are people that know too much. Particularly in russia, people who know too much are often said to be assassinated by the government. Now think about russia. Whats the first thing that comes to mind? Yes, they have a notably higher population of females than males. So this means that, hypothetically, if you were to randomly pick a person in russia they would have a higher chance of being a female. Females go by the pronoun she when the subject of a sentence. She sounds awfully close to the sound し. This is how you can remember that it is read しぬ (she knew). Now as for if that is the kunyomi or onyomi? Not a problem. What is the second thing that comes to mind when you think of russia? Yes, exports of oil. Oil is quite the dangerous liquid due to its flammable properties. It is also known for its ability to make…yes…gasoline. Gasoline has a number of usages, but one notable property of it is its SMELL. smell? smell. Onomatopoeic vocabulary. What do animals do when they smell? kun kun. this is how you know we are talking about the kunyomi.

the onyomi is a bit tougher. My preferred method is to imagine death (死) in china (origin of onyomi). Where am I going with this? Yes, the Tiananmen Square massacre. Square. Quadrilateral. しかく. We have now arrived at a word containing the onyomi (shi), but there is かく attached to it. I remember to NOT include this in the reading by associating かく with the word cock. Through extensive research, I have discovered that there is no conclusive evidence of any male chickens present at the Tiananmen Square massacre either on the side of the protestors OR the military. This is my hint to exclude kaku which just leaves you with shi.

Hope this helps.


Here the kana convention helps a lot, 死の順読みは「し」で音読みは「シ」である.

I never remember which one it is :laughing:

trial and error until I get them right

I am not an expert, so take this with a grain of salt, but here are some advices:

On’yomi tends to be monosyllabic. Even On’yomi with two syllables can be considered monosyllabic. Bisyllabic On’yomi tend to end in “tsu”, “chi”, “ku” or “ki”. Take for example 日 (“nichi”, “jitsu”), or 力 (“ryoku”, “riki”). If I am not mistaken, Chinese words were monosyllabic and could end in a consonant. Japanese words, however, can’t end in a consonant except “n”. That’s way I think final “tsu”, “chi”, “ku” and “ki” can be interpreted as final consonants rather than different syllables, even if it’s just for insight.

I think the pattern “consonant + y + vowel” is purely On’yomi. Take for example 力 (“ryoku”), 入 (“nyuu”) or 九 (“kyuu”). I don’t remember a Kun’yomi that takes this pattern.

Long vowels (“ou”, “uu”, “ei”) tend to be On’yomi. “oo” and “ii”, though, are Kun’yomi.

In general, Kun’yomi syllables usually consist of the pattern “consonant + short vowel”, or just “short vowel”. 力 (“chikara”), 人 (“hito”), 山 (“yama”), 川 (“kawa”). They tend to have more syllables than On’yomi. Try to remember how typical japanese names sound: Yamamoto, Tanaka, Sakura, Asuka, Suzuki, Yamada…

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Some people create sentences for their mnemonics, and some people create what would be a best-selling political intrigue novel for their mnemonics.

Also I just had an inspiration for an anime about an army of mobile Kenta-kun dolls squaring off at a political protest against the military police and firing chicken launchers.