Trying to figure out how to best memorize when to use Kun'yomi / On'yomi for Wanikani's Kanji/Vocab Diferentials

Hello hello! I’m a new student who’s recently gotten to level 3, (will probably spend a bit more time as a free student here and then finally invest to wait for the proper yearly discount haha.)

I actually have a background in Chinese (American-born) so I’m technically okay-fluent in speaking, and kind of crappy at reading. I’m still recognizing a lot of characters, so a lot of the time I know the meaning, but the Chinese pronunciation is what’s popping up. So I do think this isn’t helping my confusion over kun’yomi and on’yomi…

So yeah, I’m having some trouble confusing on when to use kun’yomi and on’yomi for reviews.

For example the Single Kanji vs. Single Kanji Vocab. They both immediately appear the same and I get confused on which pronunciation(s) to use. I am also confusing whether the specific pronunciation is kun’yomi or on’yomi.

I was wondering if there was any tips or tricks to get this down? Ways to better keep the separation of the pronunciations so I don’t mistakenly use the wrong pronunciation for the wrong type of kanji/vocab?

Mnemonics on memorizing general rules like how compound words are on’yomi, kanji with hiragana are kun’yomi, etc. etc. ?

I’m happy that I seem to be making a lot more progress with Wanikani than my previous attempts at learning Japanese, but the aspect of different pronunciations was what had first stymied my attempt at learning.

(On an earlier attempt a few years back, I got hiragana and katakana down and then saw multiple readings of single characters and screamed lol. Chinese may have a Lot of characters, but generally there’s only one way to really read a character. Please don’t talk to me about city dialects though hahahaha.)

When the kanji is alone on a purple background, you typically use the reading of the word itself (this is why WK asks for the vocabulary reading), which is typically, but not limited to, kun’yomi. This is because in a sentence, when a kanji is all by itself as a simple vocabulary word, you normally use the kun’yomi. When the kanji is alone on a pink background, you type the on’yomi reading, which is the reading of the kanji itself. When the kanji is attached to hiragana, you typically use the kun’yomi reading. If the kanji is attached to another (or several kanji) then you typically use the on’yomi reading. There are exceptions, of course, but you will learn those as you go. Here’s an example:
The on’yomi for 女 is じょ, and the kun’yomi is おんな.
If we see this character by itself in a sentence, you’ll use おんな, but of this 女 character is attached to another kanji, like 子, you would use the on’yomi reading, meaning you would write じょし. This is rule does not apply when there is a hiragana between to kanji, then you would use the kun’yomi readings, like in 女の人, which is rad as おんなのひと. Here’s another example: the on’yomi for 大 is だい or たい, but if we see this word attached to hiragana, like in 大きい, we use the kun’yomi reading, which is おお, so the whole word is おおきい!
Did this help? If not, let me know so I can attempt to clarify! :+1:
Here’s a helpful link that goes more in depth:
Edit: Thank you @athomasm and @kewms for correcting some misinformation!


This is not strictly true. 本 is just one of a number of examples that contradict this.

To the OP, what will be more beneficial is learning words as words and not worrying so much about which reading is used. As has been brought up before, even Japanese students don’t really get taught the distinction in readings for years into their studies.


I did mention that there were exceptions, but thanks for catching that! I re-worded my post now. :+1:

Except if there are intervening hiragana: 女の人、女の子 =おんなのひと、おんなのこ。



Yes, but since that rule is full of so many exceptions, it hardly seems beneficial to use that wording. It just perpetuates the very confusion the OP is facing. It’s much better to say that purple is the reading of the single kanji as a word which can be either reading, but is often kun’yomi.

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funny thing, i worried about this a lot and tried to find all the answers…didn’t find them, and somehow i just don’t worry about it anymore. and i make progress. does this mean you will get used to it without realising? what a nice thougt!


Yeah, there are so many that seem to hyperfocus on this to the detriment of their studies. It’s not that learning it is bad or wrong, but it’s not necessarily the most useful thing to focus on when you are just beginning. Especially since it has lead to dozens of posts on the forum where people are frustrated that they got a item marked wrong but they were following these ‘purple = kun’yomi’ or other ‘x color = y reading’ “rules”.

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It might not be the answer you want to hear, but don’t worry about whether the reading is on’yomi or kun’yomi. Think more like, the reading for the kanji vs the reading for the word. Don’t worry about memorizing whether or not the reading is on’ or kun’ because eventually you’ll be able to figure it out without having to specifically look it up unless its a rare exception.


Thank you for all the thoughtful responses!! I really appreciate it!

I see that maybe it’s not a priority to learn straight up, which is a mild relief. Like I’m doing alright in terms of sheer repetition memorizing, (and again the Chinese really is giving me a heads up in terms of meaning, though I do try to also get the mnemonics in my head as well for future progression)

I thought it might be easier to have the general rules in place for the sake of future memorization, but if it’s more trouble to try to get it down before just studying vocab/kanji in general, then I’ll be happy to leave it as is :slight_smile:


Yeah, considering all there is to learn initially, I think you’ll find your time better spent prioritized on learning other things. :+1:


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