Why is it that in words like '草花' the kun reading is used even though it is a compound word?

Is this one of the exceptions when it comes to the on and kun reading or is it something that I’m just missing entirely? Thanks in advance!

There are lots of compound words where the kunyomi is used.

Speaking anecdotally, it generally seems like the more nature-themed a word is, the more likely it is to use kun’yomi even when it’s a compound word. My reasoning for this is that nature already existed in Japan before they had kanji, so they would have already had words for them.

Similar words: 川口 (river mouth), 石山 (stony mountain), 野原 (field, plain)


The rule about compound words using on’yomi is definitely not universal. There are compound words that only use kun’yomi and words that use a mix of both. There are also words with pronunciations that aren’t related to either, like 煙草.
You pretty much just have to memorize these things. There’s no easy way around it.

Right. Remember that kanji were grafted onto a pre-existing language fairly late in the game. Concepts that already existed kept whatever names they already had, and the kanji were hammered into that box.


It’s not really an exception, because there’s no actual rule that compounds have to use on’yomi. You have to remember that Japanese words for things existed long before kanji was incorporated into the language. And many of them simply had kanji bolted on after the fact. That’s why you also end up with words that also use neither kun or on readings such as 今日, 昨日, 明日, etc.

This is why it’s often much better to learn words as words, not mashed together readings.


Imagine if English had the same writing system and you encountered the characters for “under” and “write” next to each other. What word would that be? Well, it could be “subscribe” from Latin, or it could be “underwrite” from English/Germanic. You’d be able to tell from context, and it would be completely natural for a native English speaker to figure it out.

Japanese is the same; it’s just…well, “obvious” why you read it one way versus the other, simply because that’s what the word is. It makes it tough for us non-native speakers, but with practice and increased vocabulary we start learning which reading is used when. It just happens that most compounds are on-yomi, some are kun-yomi, and a few are mixed, so you can make logical guesses based on that.


There’s probably a complicated and fascinating explanation involving the specific etymological history of the word, but it seems like the answer usually comes down to “there aren’t any shortcuts, you’re just gonna have to memorize them.”


This is how I’ve been thinking of it too, along with most of the body parts I’ve learned so far.

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It’s actually very similar to English! English has on’yomi compounds (ex: “astronomy”, astro + nomy), and also has kun’yomi compounds (ex: “highway”, high + way). or “stomachache” vs “gastroenteritis”.

the kun-style compounds tend to be more everyday words, hence their anglo-saxon roots, but there’s no absolute rule, much like in Japanese. you’ll also notice that certain kanji tend to get kun-compounds more often, or use the kun-reading for certain contexts – again, much like English. for example, English has “ear” (kun equivalent) and “oto” (on equivalent), but oto is almost never used outside of highly technical terminology.


helico + pter

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because it do be like that?

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There were a lot of words that already had kun’yomi readings that transformed into on’yomi. Most of this happened around the same time. I forget my history of when exactly… But it was meant to be done as a way of making the way words were read more consistent/logical in matching the characters that were used.

I do know that it was usually associated with men/masculinity to use on’yomi over kun’yomi also. So perhaps certain words that fell more into a feminine category were more likely to keep their kun’yomi readings?

Is this the one after WWII? Though I thought that one was basically focused on kana…

Oh no much further back. More like heian period (but I really don’t remember sorry)

Kinda like when the elite in England started using French words for stuff.

To be precise, the elite in England were French. Normans, to be precise. There was a little thing that happened in 1066. I’ve always been amused that Richard the Lionheart is the only English king so well-loved that he’s only known by his epithet rather than his number, but he didn’t speak a lick of English, and only actually entered the country twice.

But yeah, it’s why we farm “cows” but eat “beef”.


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