Why does it matter which kun-yomi reading I use

That’s it…I’m saying “river horse” instead of “hippopotamus” from now on.

That’s a much cooler name, and all my fellow English speakers will laugh at me.


If you’re struggling to separate the readings and really absorb the information presented here on WaniKani, maybe the approach I took would be beneficial for your learning journey too. I took a detour from learning kanji on WaniKani and started learning more vocabulary in context (learning grammar), and reading/writing only in hiragana. I slowly started to add kanji for things that were easy to pick out like numbers, cardinal directions, etc. Then I came back to WaniKani to improve my kanji recognition, and I noticed that it wasn’t as difficult anymore.

For example, now when I look at 上, I know several words that use that kanji, and can decide on the reading based on what it appears with:
上手 (じょうず) = to be good at. Since it’s with other kanji, it’s likely to use the Onyomi reading.
上 (うえ) = up. No accompanying kanji or okurigana, so it’s a noun/preposition word, and it takes the regular Kunyomi reading that comes to my mind first.
上がる (あがる) = to rise. I’ll think about a sentence that uses it, like “The sun will rise,” and judge if the way I said it sounded correct.
上る (のぼる) = to climb. Again, I think of a sentence like “The cat climbed the tree.”

If I were to mistakenly read the last one as ある because I picked the wrong Kunyomi reading, I would think of other words I know and my brain goes something like, “ある = to exist, so that’s not the right reading for the word I’m trying to make.”

In short, you’ll develop a sense for it. There are some written and unwritten rules for what kind of reading goes with certain parts of speech, etc., but knowing all that isn’t necessarily going to help you read the sentence. Experience is the best teacher, imo.


I had this question, so here is how it was explained to me.

Japanese was a spoken language before it was written.
They took many kanji from Chinese and applied it to Japanese.

For that reason, kanji doesn’t spell out the word like Hiragana does, but rather hints at the meaning of the word.

In other words, it replaces a hiragana or two and takes its reading, not necessarily for the purpose of sounding out the word, but so that you could guess the word’s meaning by seeing that kanji.

A good example of this is looking at Chinese after you know Japanese kanji; you will likely get the reading wrong, but you can probably guess at the meaning because the kanji is quite similar.

This helped me process what was happening— hopefully it helps you as well. I’m also open to correction if any of this is incorrect; as with kanji, I can only pass on what I’ve learned from others.


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