What am I missing in this example?

This is my first post here, so hello to you all officially. This has been a lingering question on my mind for awhile and I was hoping somebody can shed some light on it. I think the best way I could describe my question would be an example. So here it is…

Let’s say a friend and myself are walking down an alley and we look over to see (月) spray painted on the side of a building. My friend asks me what it means, and I respond “It means moon.” He then ask me “How do you say it?” and I respond with “getsu.”

Days later that friend meets up with a Japanese friend and he says "Oh, I learned how to say the word moon. げつ. The Japanese friend then responds “You mean つき.”

What exactly is the confusion here? Does the concept of onyomi and kunyomi have to be understood by the person asking what something means to avoid this? Would this be my mistake because a random kanji (a tattoo for example) should always be pronounced as kunyomi to avoid confusion? This is probably a real simple answer that I am making complicated so any insight would be amazing. Thank you all in advance.

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The vocabulary word ‘moon’ is a noun. つき is the pronunciation of the noun, ‘moon.’ げつ would probably be taken to mean ‘Monday.’


Your mistake would be saying げつ instead of つき. げつ is a possible pronunciation of the kanji 月 in a compound word, but unless you explain otherwise, it’s natural that the person you are talking to will think that you are talking about the word 月 (which would be pronounced つき).

It’s kind of like if you taught someone that “man” is pronounced “min/men” like in fireman. It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s not really right either.


So is this a context problem? I once worked with a guy that had 力 tattooed on his neck. so did he want りょく (strength) or ちから (power)?

Okay, so first, remember we’re talking about a spoken language here. The spoken language came before the writing system (borrowed Chinese characters). The characters were mapped onto vocabulary words that already existed. つき means moon (in the original Japanese pronunciation). げつ is the onyomi borrowed from the Chinese reading. Thus, different readings of 月 are born.

It seems like you’re having difficulty distinguishing between kanji and vocabulary words. They are different things, even though some vocabulary words are written using a single kanji.

(edit bc i explained slightly wrong)


I think I understand. So, because the kanji was by itself it’s pronunciation cannot be onyomi since it would only make sense to be the word “moon” in that example. I think the way wanikani was presenting kanji was confusing me. When a review would be for 月 I took it to mean “how do you pronounce this when you see it?”

For many kanji (although there are exceptions), the on reading cannot stand on its own as a word. For many kanji, the kun reading can stand on its own as a word. This is true of 月 and 力 - げつ and りょく are not words by themselves, つき and ちから are. But if you try to understand this as the ironclad way all kanji work, you will run into problems.


I forgot how speaking and reading/writing can be two completely different things and don’t always easily mesh. It’s natural to look for patterns and set rules, but sometimes things are way more complex than that. thanks.

Could this be a way to understand kanji vs vocab a bit better? Take an arrow symbol. We could call it a symbol to represent the concept of direction but depending on how its used and which context it is used in, it could mean different words. Like up/above :arrow_up: or down/below :arrow_down:.

I like to think of it this way.
Imagine that English imported a few kanji. Like 月, maybe. Maybe 月 would be pronounced “luna” or “lunar” in words/phrases like “lunacy” and “lunar cycle.” But it would also have the pronunciation of “moon.” And you would have to rely on your own knowledge of the spoken language to know that “月 cycle” is “lunar cycle” but “月 walk” is “moonwalk.”


TIL the words “lunatic” and “lunacy” refer to the concept of being “moonstruck” which comes from the belief madness was linked to the phases of the moon. :exploding_head:


WaniKani teaches the “most useful” reading for each kanji, where “most useful” usually means “most likely to be correct if you encounter the kanji in a word you haven’t seen before.” It’s not necessarily the reading you would use if you saw the kanji by itself. That’s why 月 has separate kanji and vocab entries with different readings.

Your arrow symbol example is basically right; I think you’re getting it. If :arrow_down: :ocean: meant submarine, you probably wouldn’t say that :arrow_down: on its own is pronounced “sub.”


Why does this example sound not entirely hypothetical? :stuck_out_tongue:

I want to expand on this, because there’s a fair bit of “cannot” being thrown around in this thread when it comes to stand-alone on’yomi: 月 on its own could also be an abbreviation of 月曜日, in which case it would be read as げつ.

However! You’d only read it like that if the context it appears in makes it clear that it’s intended to be an abbreviation for 月曜日. For example, like this:

Spraypainted onto the side of a building, though? You should go for つき.


Lol yeah, I think that’s what we were trying to say. There’s obviously always exceptions and weirdnesses in language.

Onyomi can be used as individual words. It’s just the case that it doesn’t work that way for the word “moon.”

For instance, “book” uses onyomi. 本 is ほん when it means book.


It’s very important to remember that the pink “readings” are not words. The are one possible way the word COULD be pronounced, this could be alone, with another another kanji, or with hiragana. The purple vocab words are actually words.


It’s very important to remember that the pink “readings” are not words. The are one possible way the word kanji (character) COULD be pronounced, this could be

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Exactly, thank you.