Reading aloud ambiguous verbs in って form

A lot of verbs that are usually distinct in their dictionary form are hard to tell apart when conjugated to the って (or った) forms. How do you read aloud these ambiguous verbs?

To go (行く) and to perform (行う) are both 行って (いって or おこなって). The meanings of these verbs are quite different, so I think it’s usually possible to figure out which pronunciation is correct in the same sentence.

Then there is 通う (to commute/go back and forth) and 通る (to pass through), which are both 通って (but pronounced かよって, とおって). Unfortunately, the meanings are pretty similar since they both deal with locations. If I am (mis)understanding correctly, it might require more sentences/context to figure out which one is intended.

Here’s my example sentence:

If I understand it correctly, it can mean either one of:

  • “It is the school I commute to.” (かよって)
  • “It is the school I pass through.” (とおって)

How do you handle this ambiguity when reading aloud? Do you constantly look ahead? Do you pause? Do you backtrack and revise your prior pronunciations?


I can’t imagine that とおっている学校 would have many general case usages. Who passes physically through a school on a regular basis if they’re not attending the school? In the case where it’s a one-time thing (thus being the progressive form of ている and not the habitual), then it would be clear from the context in that moment.

Though I guess it could be a different nuance of とおる, such as just passing by. Still, I think if you know anything about the person, it should be clear.


通う (かよう) is used to indicate commuting. You often see this when talking about a place that people use to travel frequently, like the way to school or work.

通る (とおる) is used to indicate movement. You see this more so when talking about a one time thing. Like you are going pass through a new street in a new town.

There are quite a lot of kanji that doesn’t even have a spelling difference, but you have to figure out given the connotations of the words and usage in the sentence which reading they are using. A good example is 寂しい (さびしい) and 寂しい (さみしい) (which I still have trouble telling the difference). You just have to get used to the words and the different contexts in order to figure out which one is being used where.


Dont さびしい and さみしい mean the same thing doe?

I’m not sure it really matters in that case, though, does it? As far as I’m aware there’s no real difference (though according to my dictionary さびしい used to be thought of as a stronger emotion, but has since ended up being basically the same as さみしい).

Usually it doesn’t come up. If I’m reading a visual novel and the MC just woke up and is getting ready to go to school, I already know which reading I expect. Even if I do have to backtrack, its not like its interrupting some gracefully coherent flow of thoughts anyways :stuck_out_tongue:


According to this Japanese stack exchange, さみしい refers to more emotional loneliness and さびしい refers to a more objective kind of loneliness. Like, you could use さびしい to indicate a place’s loneliness, but it would be unnusual to use さみしい to describe that place. At least, that’s my impression.

Edit: Of course, it also lists them as being used almost identically nowadays, so that difference might be really subtle and mostly ignored nowadays.


Yeah, it was that way at a certain point, though now dictionaries list the two as definitions for the other.

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Thanks for the responses.

For the most part, the sentences are coming from WaniKani lessons, where there’s pretty much no context (other than provided English translation). I haven’t had as much of a problem on NHK Easy or Yotsuba, but my worry is that this sort of ambiguity will crop up as I tackle more complex texts.

Mistakes with pronunciation won’t matter much when I’m practicing on my own, but I do hope to achieve a noteworthy amount of fluency in Japanese. :slight_smile:

The existence of adjective ambiguity in 寂しい (さみしい or さびしい) is troubling, but at least they’ve more or less converged in meaning.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Honestly I doubt any native Japanese speaker will care if you use either one in a situation.

The main point was to indicate that you have to get used to words in order to find which contexts best suits them. That way you can understand which the writer is using when.

I think you’re more likely to have trouble determining if 開く is あく or ひらく, because it’s based mostly on how things open, and to Japanese people the difference is intuitive, but we learners have to memorize it.


Yeah, this one you have to watch out for. A lot of beginners have trouble with this pair and alot of N4-N3 level material test you on this difference.

Here’s a link if you want to study it by the way.


Oh boy, I just looked that up. 開く (Both あく and ひらく are “to open”.). Oh dear.

Thanks for the references, I definitely want to study this. WaniKani doesn’t teach ひらく.

EDIT: To summarize the link above, あく and あける deal with the concept of space opening up, being connected, or being created, while ひらく is more about movement.

I just heard 口座を開きます (as “open a bank account”), so physical motion may not be required.

A bit late to the discussion, but the one I have the most trouble with is 避ける (さける) vs 避ける (よける)

One is about physically avoiding something, while the other is more metaphorical. One thing that doesn’t help is that sometimes both meanings may be correct (e.g “avoiding someone”).

That seems less directly related to this and more like the synonyms thread.

But I was recently talking about those and feel like I have it pretty much sorted now.

Err, they aren’t synonymous though. It’s basically the same problem than with 開く and 開くfrom a few posts above.

Do you have a good mnemonic to remember which 避ける is which, by the way?

They share the same English translation.

I don’t have a mnemonic or anything.

This topic was about not knowing which reading a word that is written the same is, though I see how you could make the connection to the meaning of 開く issue.

Edit: nevermind, for some reason the kanji slipped my mind.

I don’t see how the context wouldn’t clarify it, but maybe you have an example.

Haha, yeah, maybe I should have only posted one 避ける with both readings. That might have avoided the confusion :slight_smile: I was about to say “if you want, I can put both in the て form to match exactly the original question”.

My problem mostly happen when BOTH meanings are valid. E.g. 車を避ける。水溜りを避ける。
Do I avoid cars in general (as in, I’d rather be in a place with no car around, then さける) or do I just cycle through traffic zigzagging through cars (よける).

Sometimes, the relevant context may be far enough to make it really confusing.

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