Newbie question about "power"

I’m just struggling with this concept as a new kanji learner. The radical for power is 力. The kanji that means power is 力 and is pronounced ryoku. The vocab for power is also 力, but it’s pronounced chikara. Help me understand why? This is just one example, but I guess I’m having a hard time understanding why the vocab for a kanji that is the same meaning as the kanji has a different sound. It’s definitely the first character I am having trouble remembering when asked for vocab vs. kanji readings. Any tips to keep these under control in the future?

Generally when you learn the kanji you will learn the most common reading. This, many times, is the onyomi reading, which is derived from the Chinese pronunciation. (Long story. It’s an interesting read if you look it up.) Many times these are used with jukogo when multiple kanji are combined together to make a word.

When you learn a vocab word, you a learning a genuine reading that people who speak Japanese will understand. These use kunyomi readings.

Here are some examples:

力 = りょく
体 = たい

Vocab (Actual words):
力 = ちから = Power
体 = からだ = Body
体力 = たいりょく = Physical Strength

You’ll see much more of this as you continue to learn.


Onyomi v kunyomi. The kanji reading is the reading that is commonly used when the character is paired with another kanji to create a new word (onyomi). Where as, a single kanji tends to use the kunyomi reading, and is a word itself.

For example,
体力 = tairyoku (onyomi) = Physical strength
力 = chikara (kunyomi) = Power

and like any language there are always many exceptions to the above rules lol…


Radical = part of a kanji. A lot of the names for these are made up by wanikani to make funny, memorable mnemonics.
i.e. 力 as a radical for power, can be a part of other kanji like 効, which is made up of 力 + 交

Kanji = character that represents an idea. Typically has an onyomi and kunyomi reading. Wanikani first teaches the most common reading used in compound words which is typically omnyomi, but could be either.
i.e. 力 can be read as りょく and ちから

Vocab = actual word / phrase.
i.e. 力 as a word is read as ちから.

You shouldn’t worry too much about trying to distinguish onyomi from kunyomi as overtime they will just come to you. Just try to pay attention to what the kanji mean and how to read vocab words as actual words.

I wanted to answer with other words.
Radical is just a symbol that can be adapted as you wish. It does not form part of the japanese language and it’s just a figure used to learn kanjis easil.

Now, the other part: Kanjis
This is more or less general, and there are a lot of exceptions which Wanikani will let you know.

Each kanji has two type of readings. on’yomi (from China) and kun’yomi (japanese style).

When to use each one of these?
On’yomi, when a word consists only of kanjis and nothing else
e.g. 体力 = tairyoku (onyomi)

kun’yomi, when a word consist of a kanji + hiragana, or when the kanji forms a word alone without the help of another kanji.
力 = chikara (kunyomi) → Kanji alone


Thanks for all the replies. What’s the point of learning one pronounciation of kanji if they are just going to be different depending on the word? I guess I am wondering why not just learn words rather than pronunciations of kanji in isolation? I suppose knowing the most common way is helpful when guessing new words or something.

Because it gives you a foundation before you start tossing 力 into the… more than 20 different words that contain it on WaniKani (there are more that aren’t included). If they just jumped to teaching you those words, you’d be able to do it, but I think you’d feel like you missed something.

Power is a relatively easy-to-grasp example of this too. Many more concepts are much more nuanced.

You will use both pronunciatios at a given time, however the kun’yomi for this one is only used once.
In order to not saturate you, WK teaches you only one (the most common), and later introduces you the other one.

[quote=“Bassmind, post:9, topic:17322, full:true”]
however the kun’yomi for this one is only used once. [/quote]

On WaniKani. They could teach more compounds that use the ちから pronunciation if they wanted.

力持ち - ちからもち - muscleman
力強い - ちからづよい - powerful (quite common, a JLPT N2 vocab)

There are some other less common ones too.

1 Like

You should read the info for each kanji and vocab.

The same statement about jukugo kanji, on and kun readings is repeated many times at least in the lower levels.

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.