Seems like best translation of 仕 is "serve" but wanikani says "do"

Level 4 wanikanier here. I keep running into translations that seem to disagree with jisho, other online resources and frankly intuition. I try to remember the best translations that will help long term. 仕 is a leader next to a samurai. Seems like serve would be the best translation even by wanikani’s own logic. Is “do” the better translation? Is there a correct place to make this kind of suggestion to wanikani? (there have been a bunch so far)

I am creating a kanji - emoji - meaning - reading resource that I might share eventually so best translations would be helpful.

Kanji don´t really have a meaning per se. The meaning that get´s assigned to them is mainly based on it´´s usage in vocabulary. Sometimes the meaning you learn on WaniKani differs a little from other sources, most often because it´s easier to use it for mnemonics that way.
If you think serve works better for you, you could add it as a meaning


You can add meanings to wanikani?

If you go the page of any Item in WaniKani you can add synonyms. I sometimes do that when I find the word in my native language easier to remember or type


Kanji doesn’t necessarily have it’s translation based off how it looks, a leader next to a samurai is just a mnemonic. It can be a helpful tool but it’s not really all there is to it.

You’ll also notice Jisho lists “Doing” before “Serve”

At level 45 you’ll also come across 仕える, which means “To serve”


While I understand the nuance you are both trying to explain that there is no “direct” kanji translation and they are used in different contexts which can alter their “meaning”. And also the nuance that the names wanikani gives radicals are more for mnemonic purposes than meaning.

I think there is a lot of merit to getting the “best” meaning even though the “actual” meaning might be looser. I think there are very clear cut cases that kanji have a “best” meaning and that is what I’m asking for here. Sometimes that “best” meaning is best understood in terms of pictograph, history, radical, semantic+phonetic, combination, etc.

Also within a given logical framework (like wanikani and their radical names) consistency works best for everyone. Can you always be consistent? No. But you do the best you can.

If the “best” meaning of 仕 is “serve” then the mnemonic leader+samurai=serve makes more sense than leader+samurai=do.

Of course that makes sense, but is “Serve” actually the best definition?
I can’t say for sure, but I’d imagine if “Doing” is listed before “Serve”, it must be because it’s a better definition. Well I don’t use Jisho that often, so that’s just a guess.


つかえる (serve) is the meaning most closely associated with the kanji as it was originally formed in Chinese.

However, 仕 is also used as ateji (a kanji that is used only for its sound) to represent the し form that する (to do) takes in compounds.

So, for instance しごと (work) is formed from the し of する, but 仕 was used for the kanji compound just because it has an onyomi of し.
Other examples of this “ateji for する” usage include 仕方, 仕草, 仕様, and probably others.

So even if it doesn’t mean “do” as a kanji originally, it has taken on that role to some extent in some very common words. Whether you feel that that doesn’t “count” from your perspective, I can’t answer for you, I suppose.


Really useful info! And it makes sense that if its serving strictly as a phonetic component the meaning is unimportant. But I do find hints sometimes of meaning. (even when a kanji is being used phonetically)

One of the meanings of 仕草 is gesture. I think that’s the “serve” aspect bleeding in.
One of the meanings of 仕様 is remedy. I think that’s the “serve” aspect bleeding in.
Could be confirmation bias of course.
But for me the “best” meaning of a kanji helps me detect some of those fragrances of meaning better across a large set of data even though there are exceptions.

Edit: If the “serve” connection is unclear
gesture is something you do for someone else (in service)
remedy is something that does something for someone (in service)

The Japanese-origin words have their roots from before kanji were imported. You would need to do some serious diving into hundreds of years of old writings like someone who works for a major dictionary to be able to parse if the meanings were influenced by the kanji after the kanji got used.

If you just mean that it helps you remember the meanings or whatever, then I guess whatever works.

The definition of 仕草 that corresponds to “gesture” is

A small movement or position of the body when doing something.

It’s a small action, regardless of the context. Like “thumbs up is a gesture”. That’s what it means here.

The definition of 仕様 is

The way or method of doing something.

Remedy is just one possible word that can fit into that concept, again with no particular context.

EDIT: I realize the tone of my posts come across as trying to just shoot you down. That wasn’t the intent, so I apologize for that.


If you’re interested what a Japanese native child might be taught, my 小学漢字辞典 pretty much said the same thing as @Leebo.

つかえる is the original intention behind the kanji.

But “on the other hand, simply, the meaning する is used”

These are only quick little blurbs on kanji construction and history so of course many details are missing. yada yada yada with a grain of salt….


Definitely interested very cool.

@wildstern The user synonym suggestion is super helpful.
@HaseebYousfani Thanks for the info.
@Leebo Thanks for the info.

Given this info:

  1. Many Japanese meanings are serve (and is original intention of kanji)
  2. Chinese meaning is serve
  3. Korean meaning is serve
  4. Wanikani radical names makes leader+samurai=serve is easy to remember
  5. Wanikani has to choose 1 meaning for mnemonics

Do you guys think “serve” is better than “do” for 仕 in wanikani?
Do you guys think “do” is better than “serve” for 仕 in wanikani?
Do you think it doesn’t matter?
Do you think “serve” should at least be an allowed synonym in wanikani?

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I personally think doing fits better for most of the vocabulary learned.

I feel like both ways can be argued, so I can just leave it as, whatever works for you. Synonym couldn’t hurt, I guess.

For a low level kanji, and on a site that brings in non-native English speakers, I think “do” is fine. It’s a simple concept at least.

I don’t know what your language learning goals are, but assuming you want to consume native Japanese materials at some point, my vote is at the “end of it all” it doesn’t really matter.

I honestly don’t remember a good chunk of WK’s radical and Kanji names (and I only got to 60 a few months ago).

If “do” isn’t jiving for you, I would definitely add “serve” as a synonym.


Put me in the “just doesn’t matter” group.

Japanese is its own language. English equivalences are only a stepping stone, and are necessarily inexact. What you ultimately care about are the words that Japanese people construct from 仕, and how those words are used to construct meaningful communication.

If you study a dozen words using the character 仕 and still think “serve” is a better choice than “do,” then go ahead and define your own synonym.

FWIW, I consulted four different sources. One said “serve, do, work.” One said “do, serve.” The other two just gave me lists of words using the character.


In my mind, Kanji may have some meanings, but such meanings are actually composed vocabularies; in particular, but not limited to, single Kanji vocabularies.

Meanings would be mental image, not really English or any language. English is just proxy for affirmation or typing in. But it’s nice that you get to bring up (つか)える, anyway.

There can be multiple meanings (feels) that are vastly different from each other, but maybe that doesn’t matter. It’s pretty rare to see Kanji as a standalone, with no sentence, no Okurigana, no anything. So, knowing vocabularies would be more important; and indeed, a vocabulary bearing the Kanji can be extrapolated to unseen vocabularies too.

In short, Kanji may have meanings, but may not be worthy of remembering. Also, a single concept explaining a Kanji may not cut it.


Just for grins, I checked my English (print) dictionary.

There are nearly 30 different senses for 'do," covering almost 4 column inches in small type. ‘Serve’ has eight different senses. ‘Work’ beats them both, though, with nearly 50 different senses, plus a column inch or so of synonyms.

I wouldn’t care to guess how many of these are also captured by the character 仕, but my Nelson dictionary lists three columns of words with that character.

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