Usage of 目 in compounds

Early on you learn that 目 means ‘eyes’.
But then it gets used in words like 目次、役目、丁目、一番目、科目 etc…
…which don’t really have anything to do with eyes as far as I can see (;D)
Is it random or is there a connection I’m missing?


One meaning of the kanji, probably what is happening in 役目 and 丁目, and maybe even in counting, if I had to guess is “a visually prominent feature.” So not literally “eye.”


As you can see in the Jisho Entry for 目 it carries quite a few different meanings.

For one example,


I don’t know the exact meanings they originally used, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s probably something along the lines of the insight or look meaning of 目, and the order or sequence meaning of 次. So 目次 can be seen as ‘insight in the order’ or as we would actually translate it, ‘table of contents’.

Another use we see is when 目 is used as a suffix to make something an ordinal number. So we see for example :

三日(みっか) The third day


三日 Three days

So, in short, yes 目 means eyes, but as with most of the Kanji, it has multiple meanings / uses and not all are always taught (directly) on here.


Right… I think the question was “how did it end up meaning that.”

Yeah this, while the exact historical context would be too much to ask, some intuition on what exactly 目 is doing there would probably help solidify the vocab a bit more in my mind.
In that sense, ‘insight in the order’ and ‘visually prominent feature’ are really helpful.
Of course, when that isn’t an option I guess you’d just have to accept kanji the way they are :frowning:

It’s worth keeping in mind that the reading of め for 目 is a kunyomi, so it existed in Japanese from before kanji were adopted. So in all likelihood, the expansion of the meaning into abstract ideas happened before kanji were brought into the language.


If that’s what you’re after, there’s quite a lot to be found on wiktionary , though I can’t figure out the origin of the ordinal meaning of 目. Might be just borrowing the 目 from 番目, but then… Why did they use 目 in that word?

Great point!

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