Memory tool for 大? When to say だい or たい

Does anyone have a clever memory tool for remember when to say だい or たい for 大. I don’t see a pattern yet…

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A mnemonic? :sweat_smile: People tend to use the English words ‘tie’ or ‘die/dye’ in order to create a mnemonic for the words.

There isn’t necessarily one. You’d have to study the etymology of the specific word. As with all of these kanji that have multiple on-readings, it’s based on when the words were adopted from Chinese. You’ll just need to come up with mnemonics that help you make the readings stick.


To be fair, sometimes there are patterns with readings such as with 象

Just pointing out it’s not completely ridiculous to ask if a pattern exists…

In this case, it’s go-on (呉音) versus kan-on (漢音).

When in doubt, use だい and memorize exceptions (which there are tons of, no matter what you do)


Unfortunately I don’t have any clever tool but I have some observations-- which might be full of exceptions since my vocabulary does not go beyond WK vocabulary. My (possibly misguided) impressions are that when onyomi is being used:

  1. If the sound that the follows 大 is softer じ, じょ, が use だい.
  2. If the sound that follows is た then also use だい.
  3. If 大 means large (large intestine, large root) then also use だい.
  4. In most of the other cases use たい.

But I would not try to memorize some rule of thumb like this one which is full of exceptions. In the same way that our brain is learning on how to anticipate rendaku、we will eventually instinctively figure out how to use one or the other. Human speech evolved to be efficient so combinations of sounds that are hard to pronounce tend to be avoided.


I wasn’t trying to imply it was. Just pointing out that in this case it has to do when the word was incorporated from Chinese. Sometimes that really is the only ‘pattern.’ Anything else is going to be ad-hoc and prone to exceptions.

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Yeah, this is going to have lots of exceptions. 大軍, 大群, 大火, 大量, 大木, 大金 were just 5 I noticed on the first 3 pages of Jisho. And that was just quickly scanning.

I haven’t investigated most of the rest, but I’m guessing there will be a number of exceptions for many of them as well.

Not trying to be a jerk or anything and these rules might generally work well within WK which is great, but like you said I would be hesitant to ingrain them too hard because once you step out of WK into broader native content, many of them break down with many exceptions.

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The main heuristic I use is that if it’s a prefix to something that is already an 音読み compound word on its own, then it’s probably だい.

(Beyond that, I personally treat たい as the default reading and だい as an exception to be memorized, but that’s probably just arbitrary.)

Thanks! These are all interesting ideas which I’ll try :slight_smile:

Perhaps more than a historic or logical pattern, I’m looking for a fictional yet easy to remember pattern which can be used for easier memorization.

For example, for 人, I’ve been @PosturelessHobo 's idea

in my head I define にん as plural, and じん as singular. Just think of some stupid mnemonic and as long as you don’t actually start thinking they’re either of those two, it works pretty well from my experience. :sweat_smile:

So, I always visualize “sick people” (にん) instead of “sick person”, or “Japanese person” (じん) instead of “Japanese people”. It’s artificial, but it’s working well for me.

Maybe I just answered my own question. I’ll try using this arbitrary fictional pattern and see how it goes…

だい = large, たい = big


I just glanced over WK words on the 大 kanji page and I noticed that when 大 is not at the beginning of a word, it’s pronounced だい. Unfortunately, it appears mostly at the beginning of words.

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There is no miracle solution here, just “practice”. I wish I had an answer to this but there are so many exceptions to Japanese that there is no real rule that you can use.

The only thing I can think of is “is it part of the word or an addition”?

For example, the word “大会(taikai)” which can mean “convention” or “tournament” but it doesn’t have the word big in it. Whereas "大ダメージ(dai dameeji) which means “a lot of damage” has the word “big” or “a lot” in it.

However, I am sure what I said doesn’t always work.

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It’s really whatever helps and as long as you make sure you remember that’s arbitrary and “fictional.” As there are plenty words that use the たい reading that have “large” in one more different sources of translation.