Strategies for dealing with continually confusing kanji pairs

Hi everyone! I’m on level 14 of Wanikani currently. I really enjoy it, but recently I have been feeling frustrated by certain words or kanji I continually confuse even after months of seeing them show up again and again in my reviews. I’m thinking of situations with similar-looking kanji that have similar meanings, or the pairs of transitive-intransitive verbs. For example, after five months I consistently still confuse 祖 and 相, which look very similar, have almost identical readings (そ vs. そう), and have meanings that overlap in my mind (group or mutual, can’t remember which is which). Another example has been 上げる vs. 上がる and 下げる vs. 下がる (and I just saw 下る show up in my new lessons so that will confuse me too). I feel like the straight SRS system kinda breaks down with these sorts of situations because the correct answer doesn’t really have time to take root before it gets confused with another very similar one. Does anyone have strategies for dealing with these sorts of pairs effectively? Should I consider using Anki or something else for additional practice differentiating confusing pairs?

In your example “祖” is actually ancestor, not group or mutual, while 相 is in fact mutual. You probably meant 組 actually for “group”.

The very first thing you should do in these situations is acknowledge the issue. If you look at the 2 items and tell yourself, “yes, I need to pay more attention to these, because I mix these up all the time”, you brain will usually help you by paying more attention to it, and you will also be primed for differentiating these the next time you see either.

Besides that, you should really try to look at them side by side, blown up, if possible, compare the differences, and, if you can, make mnemonics for them. “Why are they different? What are the small differences you can see? etc etc”.

As for 上がる and 上げる, those are transitive-intransitive verbs. They will be confusing, because they are basically the same thing with slight differences. For these it’s best to look at other transitive-intransitive pairings and notice the pattern in them. For example a very easy one to spot is that in す-る pairs, す is the transitive, る is the intransitive (離れる/離す - to be separated/to separate something).

In practice, this isn’t such a big issue, context helps a ton when reading Japanese.


Personally around your level I started having the same issue, confusing similar (or even sometimes not so similar) kanji. My solution was to learn to write them and not merely recognize them. That’s a huge time commitment, mind you.

At any rate I think that the problem will solve itself eventually, when you see the kanji in context it’ll be harder to get confused.

Would you mistake 相手 for 祖手, whatever that would even mean?

For transitive pairs I agree fully with @Gorbit99 , don’t worry to much about it, it’ll be a lot easier to learn in meaningful context and it’s unlikely to hurt comprehension anyway.


I actually meant that part in general

Yeah it just particularly resonated with me for transitivity pairs that I would struggle immensely to memorize on WK but didn’t end up being a significant issue in practice so far.

I also find that often one verb is significantly more common that the other IRL, so you end up becoming more familiar with that one and you remember the other by contrast.

For instance あげる is used all over the place so I don’t have any issue to remember it, then if I meet あがる I know that it has to be “the other one”.

1 Like

I have this book called Kanji Pict-O-Graphix
(ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0962813702 ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0962813702)

which honestly I’ve had for many many years and didn’t find it super useful. BUT…

I dusted it off recently and it helped me fix a couple of these since I started WK. It is a reference books of mnemonics with lots of pictures. Since it’s like a dictionary, beware of using it on kindle - might be annoying.


I found the way this was handled for 曲げる/曲がる and 交ぜる/交じる/交わる really useful, as the mnemonics included the hiragana (曲げる is to bend, because you bend a gentleman (げ) over; 交じる is to be mixed, because jesus (じ) did the mixing; 交わる is to intersect, because you walk (わ) across an intersection). I would really love something similar for the 上 and 下 verbs because it’s impossible to remember at the moment.


These times are hard because the instinct is to skip and rush out of frustration, but you should slow down and ask what’s in fact different. In context it is obvious which one you are looking at because if I read something like, 祖父と祖母は中学生時代に同じ組でした。

This thread may help you out:

In terms of knowing/remember if the particular verb is the transitive or intransitive form, there are some patterns (“rules”) that can be used to determine the answer. Of course, there are exceptions so it is not foolproof, but it is useful. At least it was for me, as once I understood these patterns I rarely had problems.

Forgot to mention, I have seen some quite comprehensive discussions about this and patterns that are inherent and can be used. Once such article even included a list of about 300 transitive/intransitive verb pairs showing the patterns, and some of the exceptions. I cannot recall where I saw it and could not find it just now.

1 Like

This is called interference is is a major issue for most in language learning, not just Japanese, but for us focusing on kanji it’s a returning issue for sure.

There are some tools that might help you work with this, as you might need to do some extra cramming to keep kanji apart in your head. Because, this issue, is an accumulative one. It’s easier when knowing less kanji, and the more you learn, the more only have one radical difference between them = easy to confuse.

Scripts that have helped me a lot is

You can hover over kanji in the list and it shows up visually similar kanji for quick access to this info and quick extra learning.

During lessons, you’ll see other kanji listed related semantic-phonetically, which essentially means they use the same radicals = visually similar. So, when learning kanji for the first time, you can become aware early on, that there will appear contenders for similar appearance, that means something else.

Finally, the Item Inspector has a quiz mode that throws visually similar items at you, allowing you to learn in more diverse ways and challenge yourself to recognize the differences, small as they might seem at first, to nail those pesky kanji! ^>^

it’s similar to what @rosshendry’s created for the Shin WaniKani Leech Trainer which you can find here Shin WaniKani Leech Trainer . it’s a quiz mode exclusively focused on leeches and visually similar items. :slight_smile:

Good luck with your studies!


1 Like