Why do I usually learn the On’yomi reading?

Hi all!

I’m new to WaniKani and loving it so far, I will definitely continue. I just had a question about learning the ‘primary’ reading of Kanji. I’ve just had my first batch of Kanji, which includes 口 for example. The readings I learn for it are the On’yomi readings こう and く but the mnemonic mostly focuses on こう. Yet when I look ahead what vocabulary I will learn that uses 口 the words seem to almost exclusively use the Kun’yomi reading くち instead. For example: 口 itself (mouth), 口笛, 早口, 出口 (slightly different with でぐち). Basically the only word I see that uses こう is 人口.

So my question is, why do I learn こう when くち seems to be used in more words? I understand that eventually all readings will be used in my vocab, but to me it seems more logical to learn the most used reading first (but correct me if I’m wrong).

Thanks in advance!

The general rule of thumb is the on’yomi reading is the one that comes with the kanji when it’s used in compound words, whereas the Kunyomi is used when the kanji is by itself. Take for example 悪。The onyomi is あくand the Kunyomi わる . Therefore, 悪い is read わるい but 最悪 is read さいあく。

The earlier levels will have (I believe, it’s the impression I get at least) the most exceptions to this rule of thumb.

I assume Wanikani teaches onyomi first because it works better as a ‘standalone’ reading based on these rules whereas readings that comes when there’s hiragana attached don’t work very well when just teaching the kanji by itself.

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Thanks for the clarification! Yea I also noticed that the very common Kanji like 上 have many readings in general, so I’ll just have to survive the early levels :stuck_out_tongue:

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I think it also has to do with memory reinforcement of lesser used readings. It would sound more intuitive to teach the most common readings first because you get the most value out of it right away, but you are more likely to forget the less common readings. For the common readings, all the vocabulary you learn that use these readings will be reinforcement enough, so reinforcing the lesser used reading right away may be beneficial in the long run. I think kou/kuchi is a good example for this.


Wanikani usually teaches the most common reading first.

It’s been a long time since I started, so I cannot really tell anything about the earlier levels anymore (bad memory :open_mouth: ).

However, as others have said, you usually have only a few words that ose the kun-reading but many combinations that use the on-reading, as you can have any number of combinations bewteen different kanji.

Now, “Kuchi” (or “口” // くち) might be one of the worse examples, because there are many combination words that use the kun reading:

入口 いりぐち Entrance
出口 でぐち Exit
悪口 わるぐち Bad-mouthing / insult
口癖 くちぐせ favorite phrase / manner of speaking

and so on, but it will be the opposite for most other Kanji.
体 (からだ // たい)

大体 だいたい generally
体育 たいいく physical education
体操 たいそう gymnastics

Therefore, while it may seem counter-intuitive for the moment, eventually you will see combinations of Kanji and think:
ahh, its “on-reading-Kanji1” + “on-reading-Kanji2”
and you will be right about 80-90% of the time :wink:

So bear with it and I hope you will eventually feel about it the same way I do :innocent:


Thank you so much! Makes sense since I’m learning the extremely common Kanji first, which are probably used in a lot of words.


As the reading notes to a lot of Wanikani items will point out over and over again as you will go on: vocabulary that uses kanji that describe body parts (like mouth) often use the kun’yomi reading even in combinations with other kanji where you would normally expect the on’yomi reading. That may be a reason why it’s such a misleading example!

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