Same meanings between Kanji and Jukugo

Hi Wanikanians,

I’ve noticed that we get introduced to Kanji that have certain a meaning, to which we add other Kanji to make the same meaning.

In case my sentence isn’t English enough here is an example.

才 means “genius”, yet 天才 means “genius” as well. So what’s the point? Maybe I am ignoring something, feel free to enlighten my “noobish” mind. The funny thing is this isn’t an exception, it actually happens quite often.

Thanks in advance!

It’s quite common. One of the two version will be more common than the other, or they have slightly different meanings or use. You will see it more and more as you progress.

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Would you have known that 天才 meant genius if you hadn’t gotten it as a lesson?


don’t forget 俊才 :wink:

A Japanese native on HiNative said that 天才 and 俊才 are the same thing but I guess there is always some small nuance to the words. In a J-J dictionary it (roughly) says:

A person with talent or ability greater than the average.

Person who possesses extreme talent since birth/naturally.

Refers to talent, genius, ability, etc. and not to a person.


There’s really no point, it’s just how it is.
Languages aren’t really all logical and “flawless”.
Take a look at english: night and knight, sward and sword. What’s happening here?


English does things like this as well, but you don’t recognize it because it’s just something you’ve always accepted. It’s hard for me to even think of examples since English is my native language as well, but consider something like ‘textbook’. Taken literally in English, it’s a book of text. Isn’t that redundant and describes every book? (manga/comics aside). But over time it’s taken on the meaning of a book for learning. In Japanese, you never call someone just a ‘genius’. They are a ‘heavenly genius’.

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The following are true of Japanese:

  1. It uses thousands of kanji.

  2. For kanji with similar meanings, there’s vocabulary for practically every combination of them, with largely similar meanings.

  3. You just have to roll with it and incorporate them into your passive vocabulary until you can eventually let exposure work out nuanced differences, if any.


Okay thanks a lot guys, I just wanted to know what you think, it’s fine if there are synonyms :wink:

This may actually be because of Kanji’s Chinese origins. When speaking Mandarin, using a kanji that’s one syllable can often be confusing considering that with different tones, one word can have a variety of different meanings. Speakers often prefer using coupled kanjis (two or more syllables) to make the meaning clearer or less likely to be misinterpreted. So you’ll find for almost every kanji with a one syllable reading, another Jukugo word exists which will hold the same meaning.


There may well be occasions when both characters appear to mean the same thing in English… but perhaps it’s because there isn’t an English word which reflects the subtle difference in meaning between the two, and thus we have to use the same word for both.

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In Old Chinese you generally had one character and one syllable per word.
This continued in the Literary Chinese that was used for writing until the 20th century.
But over time, the sounds had merged and you ended up with many many many homophones.
Classic example is this poem written entirely using different tones of “shi”.
In the spoken language people started combining synonymous words/characters to create fixed phrases that then became multicharacter words.

(A similar thing actually happened in English legal language because of the clash between Germanic and Romance terminology, which gives us phrases such as “null and void”, “law and order”, “terms and conditions”, etc. (see legal doublet on Wikipedia)).

Japanese often borrowed these multicharacter words. Wiktionary sometimes has some info on etymology.
For tensai it just lists that it was borrowed from Chinese:天才#Chinese


Now just imagine people that are learning both Japanese and Chinese…oh boy…

Apart from the Kanji, Chinese is way easier than Japanese :slight_smile:

is that true? I know Chinese have way more characters (8000+), but japanese has a lot of readings associated with each kanji (both on and kun [aswell as non readings but using the kanji anyway]). Doesn’t that make it kind of harder - to pretty much guessing in some aspects on the reading (if you couldnt make a calculated guess at the vocabulary of what its trying to say?)

I’ve never studied any chinese - so i cant really say but just asked out of curiosity…

I can’t speak for everyone, but I found that once I got over the difficulty of constructing sentences with tones, then Chinese grammar is wonderfully straightforward. They often don’t use prepositions or tenses if the meaning is clear. I never reached an advanced level so I can’t say how the language progresses but a basic sentence would go something like this:

Eg: I go eat restaurant tomorrow.
Mingtian, wo qu fandian chifan

Also, verbs don’t have varying levels of formality or conjugations which really makes a difference. Sometimes saying even basic sentences in Japanese can come out all wobbly.
Like the ‘potential’ or ‘must’ forms :slight_smile:

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