On'yomi vs Kun'yomi

Hi, this is my first post on WaniKani! So, I know that there are two ways to say kanji: on’yomi and kun’yomi. I think WaniKani teaches the on’yomi for kanji, and kun’yomi for the vocabulary. I can differentiate the sayings because of the colors used on this site. But that won’t happen in actual Japanese texts. For example: 水 is pronounced as すい in on’yomi and みず in kun’yomi, correct? So, if I were to come across this kanji in text, should I assume it’s the kanji reading, or vocabulary reading?

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https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/onyomi-kunyomi/ :slight_smile:


WaniKani isn’t differentiating by on’yomi and kun’yomi; they are differentiating between kanji and words (vocab). On WaniKani, pink represents kanji, while purple represents words. When WaniKani teaches a kanji, they select what they consider the most important or common reading to teach. This is usually, but not always, the on’yomi reading. When WaniKani teaches you a vocab item, they are teaching you an actual word that is used in the language. These words can have any number of kanji, and will sometimes use kun’yomi, sometimes use on’yomi, and sometimes use a combination of the two (and rarely they will even use a non-on’yomi non-kun’yomi reading).

So I’ll use your example to make what I’m saying clear. If you see 水 all by itself as its own word, it would be read みず, because that’s how the word 水 is read. If you saw it in a compound word, it would depend on the word. For example, 水泳 (swimming) is read すいえい. However, 水着 (bathing suit) is read みずぎ.


To phrase this another way, probably the best method is to just learn that 水泳 is read as すいえい, 水着 is read as みずぎ, and don’t fret about which is on’yomi and which is kun’yomi.


Wanikani really needs to include this as mandatory reading before you take any kanji lessons. We get so many threads asking this very same question.


We get endless threads about things that are already in the mandatory reading too. That’s always the case everywhere.


I love how my response was briefly marked as the solution before it was changed to the one complaining about WaniKani. :joy:


It depends on the context and the word in which the kanji is used. You’ll understand which reading to use over time and experience, as you encounter more words.


Oh, I’m sorry! I really loved your response, truly! I just was trying stuff out on the site, and didn’t want the question to be closed just yet, in case the site would do that. But I think that I get it for the singular vocab word. As for compound words, I’ll just learn along the way.

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Ah, don’t worry topics don’t get closed just because they are marked as solved. :slight_smile:

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I also liked your addition to seanblue’s post. Thank you both!


Did you like my post?


So, if I said the word ‘water’ out loud, would I say みず or すい?


because すい could be pancreas, acid, cone, etc

“word” here is always “vocab word” = purple card in WaniKani. So that’s what you always use as reading if you find that exact kanji or combination of kanji in a text or if you want to use a word with that meaning in spoken language.
The pink “kanji” cards are just there to help you learn (think of them as a stepping stone) but they are just building blocks, nothing more. You can learn the actual vocab more easily once you learned the kanji, but there is not necessarily a direct relation between the kanji and the words in the spoken or written language. For the actual words, always make sure to check out the purple cards (or a dictionary, like Jisho).

You’d say みず because みず is how it’s said, not because すい might be ambiguous.


Thank you everyone. Your help is wanted and helpful.

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