Question about Onyomi and Kunyomi in speaking

Hello I am confused about onyomi and kunyomi. I know what they are in terms of reading, but I don’t know when to speak them out loud. For example, 弱 is pronounced “jaku” in onyomi, and “yowai” in kunyomi. But when speaking, when would I know when to say jaku or yowai???

Typically, it’s kunyomi when it’s only one kanji, onyomi when it’s several. But you’ll learn the difference eventually.

Those are just different words. They would be said in different contexts.

But if it’s just 弱, it can’t be よわい, because that is written as 弱い.

弱い means weak, frail.

弱いチーム a weak team
弱い酒 weak alcohol
摩擦に弱い布 cloth that is weak to abrasion

弱 is usually used as a suffix

500人弱 slightly less than 500 people (there are actually people who use it to mean slightly more, but this is mostly younger people, perhaps it will shift with time)
震度6弱 lower 6 strength (earthquake)


Huh… Did not know that, thanks ^^

You say じゃく when the word you’re saying contains じゃく, and you say よわ when the word you say contains よわ.

That sounds facetious, but it’s not. Kanji aren’t words, kanji are just some of the building blocks for words. You say よわ in 弱い because the word is read よわい. You say よわ in 弱虫 because the word is よわむし. You say じゃく in 弱点 because the word is じゃくてん.

You’ll learn this as you learn vocabulary. You won’t be worrying about how to pronounce which kanji when speaking, because you’re not saying kanji, you’re saying words. Kanji are a writing thing.


Yea i hope i learn this soon. But let me word this in another way. San and yama means mountain and share the same kanji, but people call Mount Fuji “fuji-san” and not “fuji-yama”. How do they know to say san instead of yama?

The same way they learn any word. They hear people say ふじさん and they learn that that’s the name of that mountain.

This is probably more relevant for less famous things, like villages, where ちょう and まち are both possible for 町, and the names won’t be famous. Same goes for if they see the name of a less famous mountain.

What do they do? They ask. Or check. Or make a mistake and get corrected. There’s no magical recipe for knowing.

It’s not that different from seeing a person’s name with multiple possible pronunciations and having to ask them which they use. You can’t just know by looking, you have to find out. And there isn’t really anything wrong with that.


Extending this:

There’s a pretty good chance you will have a similar question when it comes to 人’s にん vs じん reading or 大’s だい vs たい reading. There are some general patterns that get you guessing correctly more often, but at the end of the day you know which one to use by learning the word. You know which one to say by learning which one is correct. Same way you just read “one” in the last sentence correctly rather than reading it as “own”.


Oh so its this kind of thing… guess i’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. Thanks for your time

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Ah alright i see, although i am kind of sad there isn’t a way to tell which one it is

Yeah, it would certainly make our life easier if it was one strict pattern. According to one of my friends from hong kong, in chinese most characters only have one reading and apparently they’re usually one syllable(?), so maybe its just japanese being difficult. I don’t know too much about that though, so maybe @Jonapedia can confirm


Yeah, it has to do with the Kanji coming over in waves and from different regions of China, as well as the mapping of pre-existing words to those Kanji that makes the wonderful mess that we have today ^^

For a more in-depth answer, the first answer on this post goes into quite a bit of nice details :smile_cat:


Yes and yes. Mostly one reading – though I can think of one common one (着) that has at least four – and all one syllable, albeit there are diphthongs in Chinese (true for all dialects, probably), unlike in Japanese, where you’re supposed to pronounce one vowel at a time.

More importantly though, at least in Mandarin, most readings are associated with a specific meaning or nuance, whereas in Japanese (probably because readings of various origins exist), there are multiple readings with the same meaning. In other words, I think kanji readings in Japanese are far more usage-dependent than in Chinese. It’s not always clear though: I’ve recently become aware of another difference between the two possible tones for 当 in Mandarin (beyond the split relying on the ‘suitable/appropriate’ nuance vs everything else), and I haven’t had the time to sit down and work out how the heck those other nuances are different. It means I might have been pronouncing certain things wrong my entire life though. :rofl: Still, such things aside, as you can see from how I’m agonising over nuance, differentiating readings is generally more consistent (and meaning-based) in Chinese, with just a few exceptions at most. In Japanese, there are general rules, but sometimes, you just have to let usage guide you.


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