Things WaniKani doesn't teach you #1: 空 (そら) as a prefix

Occasionally I stumble on things that WK doesn’t cover at all that are interesting or useful, so I figured I’d start a little series.

空 is a kanji that is taught in level 5, and it (currently) only has the meaning of “sky,” with no synonyms by default.

But it does have some other meanings, such as “empty,” which is seen in some other WK vocab like 空席 (くうせき empty seat) and 空車 (くうしゃ open taxi). Though I just realized that WK doesn’t teach 空手. Go ahead and see if you can figure out what that one means if it’s new for you. Answer: (からて karate)

But today I want to focus on another use of 空, where it is used as a prefix meaning “fake,” and is read そら.

The following words are relatively common and should be usable in conversations with natives

空耳 (そらみみ) - mishearing; hearing something that isn’t actually there
空目 (そらめ) - seeing something that isn’t actually there
空似 (そらに) - coincidental resemblance between unrelated people (usually as 他人の空似)
空事 (そらごと) - fake; fabrication (often in 絵空事 えそらごと meaning the same thing, or extended to “pipe dream” and the like)
空恐ろしい (そらおそろしい) - having vague fears
空返事 (そらへんじ, からへんじ) - absent-minded response [both readings exist in the dictionary, but からへんじ seems to be more common]

These other words are in the dictionary, and were kind of understood by natives I asked, but don’t seem to be as common. They are included because some are amusing.

空泣き (そらなき) - fake crying; crocodile tears [a more common word is 嘘泣き]
空涙 (そらなみだ) - fake crying; crocodile tears
空寝 (そらね) - feigned sleep; playing possum [a more common word is 狸寝入り]
空言 (そらごと) - falsehood, lie
空頼み (そらだのみ) - vain hope
空箸 (そらばし) - touching food with one’s chopsticks, then removing them without taking it (a breach of etiquette)​ [a related, seemingly more common word is 迷い箸]
空うそぶく - to feign ignorance or unconcern
空とぼける - to feign ignorance; to play dumb
空恥ずかしい - embarrassed without knowing why


Thanks for the info! How many more of these/how often do you plan on posting this kind of thing? I’m all for it.

Also, care to elaborate a bit on karate? “Sky hand” or “fake hand” doesn’t make much sense.

EDIT: It means empty hand, duh :expressionless: no weapons!


I don’t have any off the top of my head, and I haven’t posted a video to Youtube in a month so I should probably be using this kind of material for that, lol, but we’ll see. I guess I could combine the the topics and videos.

As noted earlier in that paragraph, one of the meanings of 空 is empty. Empty handed.

@Leebo you are a gem! thanks for making this post, I’ve book marked it and I can’t wait to see what else you come up with.

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Thank you Leebo, very cool

Also, can you link you Youtube channel so that i may promptly subscribe?


This is great info! I like that the “fake” meaning loosely ties to the “empty” meaning, at least in my mind. For example, 空目 - you see something but your eyes or what’s in front of you are actually empty. Does that make any sense? :sweat_smile:

Can you explain 空恐ろしい a little/give an example? I’m not really sure what is meant by “vague fears”.


It just means that you are afraid of something you can’t really put your finger on. A dictionary example is

From now until then, the future (my future, my path) is scary.

You could just say 恐ろしい, but 空恐ろしい implies that you don’t know what could happen and that in itself is scary.


That’s much clearer, thank you! :smile:


thanks Leebo for taking the extra time to do this!

probably my fave :rofl:

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Oooo, this is really cool! Definitely going to keep an eye on this thread.

I can add one more そら prefix word that I’ve heard on occasion (though it’s unrelated to Leebo’s reference to words where 空 means fake and also it’s usually written in kana): 空豆(そらまめ/ソラマメ) means broad bean or fava bean.


Awesome! I knew some of these, but never actually made a connection with 空.
Also I subscribed to your channel and am looking forward to more content and more threads like these:smile:


Thank you for clarifying空目 for me! I understand it in conversation but would’ve gotten stuck while reading if you hadn’t mentioned it. This was super interesting! Cheers!

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Wow! Thanks, very interesting and an easy add to known vocab. :heartpulse: U !

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Five minutes after I read this post I encountered 空恐ろしい in a book. I would normally have skimmed over it for speed, but I immediately understood it thanks to you! I love reading about little extra things like this. Thanks for posting it!


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