Vocabulary Confusion

I’m sure this has been answered somewhere before, but I don’t know/understand enough to be able to properly search for my answer!

I’m having a REALLY hard time understanding and remembering the vocabulary words.

For example: Why is the Kanji for “Person” pronounced “Nin”, but when the Kanji for “Person” appears in vocabulary, it’s not pronounced “Nin” anymore???

I hope that makes sense.

So far WaniKani has been great about providing mnemonics to remember, but if the characters have different pronunciations depending on where it is used… the mnemonics are pointless! In that case you just need to memorize everything, so why full my head with the pointless mnemonics?

I’m obviously missing something. Thanks in advance for your help!

Kanji are a bit like letters. They have many pronunciations depending on the word where they are used. Wanikani teaches the most frequent pronunciation with the kanji and teaches you the less frequent ones with the vocabulary where they are used.


Kanji are like building blocks and depending how you use them they can mean many things.

If you have 大 (big) and you add it to 人 (person) you get 大人 adult.

But then you take big 大 and add した and you get 大した “great”.

Do you kind of see what I mean?

Don’t think of Kanji as meaning one thing, but do remember the meanings WaniKani teaches you as they are the most common.

To answer your question specifically the “building blocks” that make up “person” just happen to be only 人. But that doesn’t mean the kanji can only mean person, it depends on it’s context.


Wanikani gives one a new mnemonics for each pronunciation. They are not pointless. There is just more of them.


Welcome to WK! I think this link here has all the answers to your questions and more!, Onyomi vs. Kunyomi: What's the Difference?


As others have said, Kanji are not words.
Person is a character that can appear in many words. If you were speaking to a Japanese person, and you wanted to say the word person, you would say “hito 人”, but if you wanted to say artificial, you would say “jinkou 人工” which is what you will learn from the vocabulary word artificial. The jin reading is taught to you, and here in this letter it is used. The compound word should make it clear that the meaning of the “Letter” is not lost. That is, “Man-Construction (man-made)” obviously does still mean artificial, and that [人工] is how it’s written. So, the word for person is “hito,” but when you learned the Kanji, you learned the most common reading first, hito is not the most common reading, although it does occur in some other words you will learn soon such as villager.


Thanks for your reply!

Right. But why is it pronounced differently between the two Kanji. That’s where I’m having trouble. Or is my misunderstanding just that the pronunciations are slightly different, so that’s why they seem to be different pronunciations?

Thanks for your reply!

I know they can’t be pointless… that’s why I was saying I must be missing something or not understanding. :slight_smile:

It sounds like it’s just going to be a lot more memorization, and less understanding of general rules to follow.

@Toyger i see you replying can you explain it so I don’t mess it up senpai

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Thanks for your reply!

I’ve read that article you’ve shared before, but I’m going to read it again. Thank you.

You know this is 1 one
yet this is 1.st first

Kanji are same. Sometimes one reading, other times a completely different one.
Most have very few readings to learn per kanji (2-3), but a few has more. Those with more are usually learner through context/vocab.
Usually one is used when two kanji are used in succession, while the other when alone/with kana.
This is a very oversimplified way of saying it, as there are so many exceptions and much more to it.
But it is a start =)


@KyoTokyOsaka If you’re wondering why it came to be that way, remember that Japanese people had spoken language before China introduced their writing system through foreign diplomacy. The oral tradition was not lost and so pronunciation is broken into two classes, “kun” and “on” yomi (reading 読み). on’yomi are Chinese readings for the character, although even these aren’t the same sounds that are made by Chinese people, at least not anymore. At any rate, they still had to write their own spoken language, and it generated a unique complexity that other civilizations haven’t rivaled in human history.

Still, the number of readings are incredibly finite and if you want a complete list of readings for a particular character, you can always go to jisho.org and search using romanji. This way you can also look through a list of other words and collocations of the character, to get an idea of what is the most common reading. WaniKani will always teach you the most common and useful readings, but not necessarily the most common and useful words. :wink:


Adding on to what @anewreturner said, in my experience so far the key to remembering which kanji pronunciation goes with which word it’s used in is to be cognizant of on’yomi and kun’yomi until it becomes instinctual. There are patterns, and once you internalize the patterns the exceptions are easier to deal with. If you keep reading the full explanations in the kanji and vocabulary reading mnemonics, you’ll get the patterns.


Something that helped me understand this was to realize that we have the same concept in English, but we don’t have to memorize how to pronounce everything.
For an example, take the concept of water. The word for just water by itself is “water” but we also have prefixes and suffixes for this concept, like “hydro” and “aqua”. When we see those prefixes in a word, we know that it has something to do with water, however, they have different etymologies and are pronounced differently.
Japanese is the same, except they represent the concept of water with the kanji 水. Water by itself is pronounced みず, but the word for underwater, 水中, is pronounced すいちゅう. These words have different origins (Japanese and Chinese) but the concept is represented with the same kanji.
Hopefully this made sense! I saw someone else on WaniKani make this comparison and I thought it was great. I’m not a linguist so if there’s any misinformation my apologies.


Thank you all VERY, VERY much for all your replies. It’s all very helpful! :heart: :brain:

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Sorry if I missed it, but did anyone mention that it does sometimes get read as にん? It’s just that it also has other readings. The first post makes it sound like the OP was worried it would never appear as にん.


That’s a very common feeling with the vocab at level 1, the kanji used in the first levels seem to have a lot of different and hard readings, like one, one thing, one day,… and all that when you are just starting makes you anxious, but as you advance through it gets much better in that regard.


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