So confused!

I already knew, before I started learning Kanji, that certain characters have multiple readings. But I’m confused.

How do I know when to use one reading in a certain context, and another reading in a different one? Is there a way to keep from getting them mixed up, apart from Furigana?

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Learning vocabulary is the best way. It’s basically memorization, but the mnemonics help.
In WaniKani, the first reading you learn with the kanji will be the most common one, so it’s a safe guess to make when you see this kanji in a word. However, as a general rule when a Kanji on its own is a word it will use a different reading.

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It feels super confusing for the first few weeks/months! Don’t worry too much. Just keep working at it and soon it will feel natural! And like you are saying, context will begin to guide you, the more you learn. Best of luck!

To give a simple comparison to English, how do you know the word meaning “not possible” is impossible, and not unpossible? Why does illegal use il, but irresponsible uses ir? It’s just something you get used to as you learn more words.


I know that it doesn’t seem like it’s possible, but just trust me that you begin to recognize patterns extremely easily. I’m only a couple months in and I can usually always tell how to pronounce any sentence using the kanji I’ve learned so far. It’s knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure.


I always thought memorizing the kanji characters was the hardest part of learning kanji, but then I started to learn kanji and I found out that that is the easy part and the actual hard part is remembering the readings.
But it gets easier as you learn more words, and WaniKani teaches you thousands of them. Even if you don’t need a particular word, learning it will help to reinforce the readings.

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The thing I don’t understand is, for example: When do I use “sui” instead of “mizu”, or “hi” instead of “nichi”?

“Sui” is used in words that have more than one kanji, “Mizu” is when the kanji on its own is being used as a word to describe water. Same with “hi” and “nichi” (and “jitsu”). “hi” is mostly just used when the kanji is a word on its own, “nichi” and “jitsu” are used in the other words. I think distinguishing between when to use “nichi” and “jitsu” is much harder. Very few kanji I’ve seen so far are as confusing as “nichi”/“jitsu”, the rest almost always just use one reading.


Think of kunyomi vs onyomi like Latin/Greek/French vs germanic/anglo-saxon words in English.

“car”: germanic word
“automobile”: latin compound word

if english used kanji, the kanji would be 車, the kunyomi would be “car”, and the onyomi might be “auto” or “mobile”.

you know from english that there’s a whole ton of latin/greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes that don’t get used in words on their own, but get combined with other roots to create compounds, whether it be “automobile” or “optometry” or “astronaut”. Like for example, you’d never say “opt”, you’d say “eye”. But you don’t say “eyeometry”, you say “optometry”.

japanese works almost exactly the same as english does here; there’s one language whose roots are used for compound words (Chinese) and another for non-compounds (Japanese). so you can basically apply the same kind of rules as a starting point. the only big difference is that kanji exist, so you have a single symbol that gets used for both the compound word (i.e. Chinese or Latin word) and also the non-compound word (i.e. Japanese or Germanic word). this analogy holds surprisingly well IMO – for example, kanji compounds tend to be seen as more formal or fancy, like (again) “automobile” vs “car” in english.

of course, there are exceptions to all of this! but english has those too. and wanikani will teach you those as you go along, too.


You’ll gradually pick up an intuition for it as you go, but there are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind:
KUN Yomi tends to be used for singular words (火 - , 山 - やま)
ON Yomi tends to be used for compounds (火事 - じ, 沢山 - たくさん)
KUN Yomi is also used when combined with verbs (山登り - やまのぼり)
Voiced consonants (が, ざ, だ, ば, ぱ etc.) usually follow Rendaku rules (you’ll have to look this up, it’s hard to explain but you’ll get a feel for it) (火山 - かざん)
Some follow patterns (二日 - ふつ, 三日 - みっ, 四日 - よっ)
And some you just need to memorize individually because they have an unintuitive reading
(明 - めい, 日 - にち, ひ, か, じつ, but 明日 - あした)


Okay, I kinda think that cleared things up a little. I just wish I could afford to go beyond the Free levels, because I have a feeling that I’m going to miss out on a lot of information.:pleading_face:

It’s not much different than having weird spelling or different sounds for the same letters in English… you just learn to remember them with experience. Sometime you guess if you are not familiar and many times you will guess correctly.

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It’s very important to remember the difference between kanji and words. Kanji are just the symbols used to write words. One kanji can have several meanings and readings. After learning the kanji you still need to learn each word. Even though there are patterns you will start to recognize after a while, you can never be 100% sure about the reading of a new word you see.
So for example even if you have learned the kanji 今 and 日, you won’t automatically know how to say 今日 without being taught the reading for that particular word.


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