Quirks in reading Japanese

Reading a book this morning it struck me that there are some unique quirks in reading Japanese compared to - say - Spanish (for a native English speaker).

Obviously the kanji mainly makes it more difficult in that you can know a word - one I just came across - 辛い. I knew one reading - からい but the meaning didn’t fit. Although I knew the word つらい I didn’t know it shared the same kanji. So was lost until I looked it up.

Many languages have incorporated English words into the vocabulary. Japanese has loads but they have been twisted sufficiently that I often struggle working out what they are. レジャーシ-ト one that just caught me out. Couldn’t work out that it was supposed to be “leisure sheet” and that that meant something you sit on in the park.

Sometimes it does work in the other direction though in that there are words I can work out the meaning without knowing how to pronounce eg 敷く。I knew it meant to spread but didn’t know how to read it.

I think the quirks make reading Japanese interesting and frustrating in equal measures.


はいる vs いる for 入る still trips me up. Many times the context can help but sometimes it’s just a guess. They’re both godan/intransitive too.


Totally this. When I started learning and could read Katakana, my brain would still give up on English-derived words, because they sounded so off. I still can’t deal with アルバム. Why is it not アルブム? Phonetically it makes more sense.

But there are others like アルバイト from German, which I’m somehow okay with :p.

Isn’t it almost always はいる on its own and いる in compounds?


Huh I never noticed that. Gotta read more. :wink::+1:

I think the one that tripped me up was 手に入る. I thought it was いる because of 気に入る. It may also be that 手に入る can be read either way?

My phone dictionary says いる and Jisho says はいる. :man_shrugging:

It also has an entry for てにいる? Or it doesn’t have an entry for てにはいる?

If it’s the latter, might need a new dictionary.

It has both and lists 手にはいる in the definition for 手に入る

It’s the スーパー大辞林 but I don’t know enough dictionaries to know how good it is and Jisho only lists the はいる reading when searching.

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That tracks with other dictionaries, yeah. Jisho (EMDict) is obviously not authoritative, but the way you had worded it sounded like they were not overlapping at all.

My understanding though is that てにいる is not used almost at all anymore. I imagine you might see it in older written works or something.

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That’s good to know. It pops up after every battle on FF6 so I’m seeing it a lot and I wasn’t sure which way to go with pronouncing it.


That’s a different verb though. れる, which is a transitive verb.


Ah, my confusion is explained then. lol

Sorry about that all.

And while reading it as てにはいれる (potential of はいる) superficially seems possible, rules against using potential with inanimate subjects (usually you would not use this verb with something animate being “gotten”) eliminate it as a possibility.


I think that is a good explanation in that case, but then I come across something like “button” = ボタン. What? In which accent of English is the “u” in “button” closer to /o/ than it is to /a/? バタン would make much more sense to me.

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I understand the explanation, thanks :slight_smile:

I have a similar issue with キングダム (the manga), but as you wrote, it’s not a 1:1 transcription.

The rarely heard Portuguese accent of English.


So the word was imported much earlier? That might make some sense, especially since the final ン would probably match the Portuguese nasalised vowel, too.

Yes. When exactly it was imported isn’t super clear. But the name came to be in use by the mid Edo period.

Not only that, but 11/22 is ボタンの日

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Interesting, especially since I thought that during that time the country was mostly closed off to Europeans, except for some Dutch merchants.