On or kun reading?

Hi, how can you know which reading are you learning when learning a kanji?
I’m making different mnemonic pictures depending on on or kun readings. Usually by color.

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Generally speaking (but from what I gather not always) what WaniKani refers to as the “kanji readings” (and the readings used in words consisting of only kanji) are the onyomi, and what is used in words with kana attached is the kunyomi.

Those are guidelines though, not hard and fast rules. If you want to be certain, you can always check a dictionary like Jisho - they’ll be listed separately.


It’s also listed on the Kanjis detail page here on Wanikani which of the readings are kun and which are on.
WaniKani / Kanji / 生 scroll down to the readings section. There’s even a listing for nanori readings.


Thanks, guys. I’ll try next time when I get a kanji lesson.
It’s my first post. Community here seems good :smile:

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I think there’s a userscript for this? I remember seeing this information in lessons. Tho, you’ll quickly get a feel for what’s a kun and what’s an on reading (which will fail you in cases like にく)


Note that “is this an on or kun reading” is not very useful information to learn, though. The only thing knowing that helps with is making guesses at readings of unknown words – and that is (a) never going to be 100% reliable and (b) is something you’ll naturally get good enough at as you learn words that use the kanji anyway.


I have to disagree with that. At times you remember that a word is specifically on’yomi or kun’yomi, but you forgot which one is which. In that case it is good to have your mnemonics tied to if it’s on or kun.
Besides, being able to make an estimated guess on unknown words is very useful. Language is not about being flawless, it is about getting a message across. And especially with typing or looking something up in a dictionary it saves time if you can directly use the right *yomi.

@langbot I tend to look at the list of vocabulary that the kanji is used in. That usually gives you an idea about if you are learning the on or kun readings. Perhaps useful for later levels is also this user-script: [Userscript] Keisei 形声 Semantic-Phonetic Composition

Edit: Another useful userscript: [Userscript] Wanikani Katakana For Onyomi
It is quite common that on’yomi readings are given in katakana for dictionary purposes. This userscript creates that distinction in wanikani (tsurukame also has an option for it).


This has never happened to me since I started studying japanese 7 years ago.

To make sure I’m understanding correctly, for a word like 大切 you would remember that it uses the onyomi but be unable to remember if the onyomi are おおき or たいせつ? And you would be unable to just go with the one that is usually used in compounds/not used in words with okurigana?


I agree that it’s useful – my point is that you will acquire this ability naturally as you learn vocabulary, without having to specifically memorize anything to get it. More generally, learning words is much more useful than learning kanji readings, because again to the extent that knowing readings is useful you get it for free by learning words. Like @Vanilla I have never in over a decade of studying had a “can’t remember which of these two readings is the on-yomi” moment. (And since guessing readings of unknown words is unreliable anyway, it wouldn’t matter even if you occasionally did – just try both, see which is right, and fall back to ‘look up by kanji’, same as for words where the kanji has multiple plausible on-yomi.)


I do have that problem yes. But perhaps that is a problem specific to beginners, I barely know what is ‘usually used’.


Hmmm, well if you have it then chances are other people do too, I guess. I had just never heard of that until today, honestly.

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Yeah, I can imagine that it gets easier in time. It already is getting easier now around level 5. But in the first few levels I have to admit I occasionally had a bit of a ‘guess the reading’ game going on (the high score is 5 wrong readings in a row, getting wanikani to shake it).

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I’ve had some use for it in the sense that there are some rough guidelines for exceptions (like “body parts are often kun’yomi” - so I know that 足首 is あしくび and not そくしゅ) but in all honesty like you say I don’t really think about the on’yomi/kun’yomi terminology in that. I just know that あし and くび are the readings I’d use for the words 足 and 首.

Which I guess boils down to the same thing in the sense that it’s the “meaning reading” and not the “sound reading” but at that point we’re getting more philosophical than practical.

I’m honestly not sure where I’m going with this beyond “I can see some use, just not in getting hung up on the on/kun terminology” :sweat_smile:

Somewhat related to this and maybe good to know: I have seen native speakers occasionally use the wrong readings and get the message across fine (with some good-natured mockery from friends, but they were understood all the same) - so while this is by no means an excuse to get lazy/sloppy, there’s some room for guesswork, especially with less common words and more obscure readings.

It does, and I see where you’re coming from, but not much - if you use a Japanese IDE you can just compose a word of its kanji and figure out the reading once you get the entry. If you want a kanji and don’t quite recall the reading, you just type a word with the kanji in it and delete the rest. It’s less of a pain to do than it seems at first.

Also IDEs can be pretty forgiving sometimes. The first suggestion I get for おおきり is 大切.

So yes, knowing the correct reading for a word helps, but if you don’t, it’s not much of a problem. Not necessarily knowing how to read a word is just a thing in Japanese, even natives run into it from time to time (also no excuse to get sloppy, mind you), and it’s possible to work around it.


Yeah, I can imagine that it gets easier in time.

It does! From the vantage point of level 32, you are going to see a lot of kanji used over and over and over. For instance, you will see 大 a million times over. Sometimes it is たい、others だい、and even おお; what I have found is that there is a “knack” to getting the right reading which you gradually develop over time. I’m by no means an expert, but I feel comfortable saying that you will get a sense over time for which reading is probably the way to go.

Seems similar with other concepts too. You begin to get a feel of what combinations don’t show up very often. For instance, you don’t see ちは all that often, so when a word like 一般(いち + はん)comes up, you can guess that it is likely not ”いちはん” (in this case it is “いっぱん”).

Don’t worry too much, you’ll get the hang of it (and surprisingly fast). I think level 10 was around the time everything started to click for me in terms of onyomi / kunyomi. It is a great feeling when that comes together.


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