How do I know if Kanji reading is ON or KUN?


You know what reading is On yomi or reading Kun yomi? Have you ever wondered how the Japanese can read the text without misspelling or stumbling? If you have been studying Japanese for some time, you should know that kanji, or ideograms, are imported from Chinese, and have several pronunciations.

Japanese language Kanji is divided into 2 Readings:

  • On yomi (音読み) - Reading by sound - These are the readings of Chinese origin;
  • Kun yomi (訓読み) - Semantic reading   - Are readings of Japanese origin;

Because? When the Chinese ideograms were imported into Japan, the Japanese associated the words already used in Japanese with the ideograms, and also associated and converted the Chinese readings into the Japanese ideograms.

See the example of the ideogram east (東). In Chinese it is said dong, this   was converted to Japanese as I'm becoming a read ON. However, the Japanese already used higashi or azuma to refer to the east, then this ideogram ended up gaining these 3 and other pronunciations. Remember that reading ON will always be written in Katakana, while reading KUN in hiragana.

Tip on how to know when to pronounce ON and KUN

It is impossible to know precisely when to use ON or KUN reading in the word without knowing it. However, there is a tip that works in most words, but it is worth making it clear that it does not apply to 100% of cases.

To know the reading most of the times keep in mind the following:

  • ON - It is & nbsp; read when the Kanji is accompanied by another;
  • KUN - It is read when Kanji is accompanied by a hiragana;
  • The custom is to read every word using the on, but & nbsp; in some cases it can end with kun;

When ideograms are usually isolated, they are verbs or individual words that had their origin in ancient Japanese. The ON reading most of the time is when an ideogram is next to another, because the readings ON usually have & nbsp; 1 syllable, or as the name says, a sound.

Verbs, suffixes & prefixes usually read KUN. Remembering that a reading can also vary. please note that names of people they usually have other readings besides ON and KUN.

Examples with Kanji

Below see how knowing this will help us to identify the kanji reading. Also see how this tip doesn't work 100% at times.

  • 学 - on - gako / kun - mana (study, learn)
    • 学校 - gakkou - school (Used a variation of on, because it is accompanied by a kanji.)
    • 学ぶ - mannabu - to learn - used kun because it is accompanied by a hiragana (it is a verb);
  • 大 - on - so / kun - oo (Large)
    • 大好き -sosuki (Used the on, because it is accompanied by a kanji.)
    • 大き - ooki (Used the kun, because it is accompanied by a hiragana.)
  • 日 - on - nichi, jitsu / kun - hi, _bi, _ka & nbsp; (sun)
    • 日曜日 - nichiyoubi (He started using on. finished using kun even accompanying a kanji.)
  • 人 - on - Jin, Nin, / kun - _to, hito, _ri (Person)

For this reason it is important that we know the vocabulary, not all kanji are applied to this tip.

  • Whenever you find a kanji followed by a hiragana, remember that most times, you should read the kun.
  • And when you encounter & nbsp; several & kbs, most of the time you & nbsp; read & nbsp; o on but & nbsp; have cases ending with kun;

Knowing this makes us more confident in reading, it means that we are not lost when trying to discover how to read a word.

Why did I decide to write this article? To this day, I have never found this small and simple tip in any book or course. Knowing when reading is ON or KUN helps a lot in learning ideograms and pronouncing unknown words. What do you think of this tip? Have you realized that it is so? If you need more tips, we recommend reading the similar kanji.

Another tip that will help you discover the reading of unknown Japanese ideograms is the phonetic components, click here to read about them. 

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Read Comments

  1. Hi Kevin how are you? My family has 2 different names in Brazil and they always told us that the writing was the same and that reading could be interpreted in 2 ways. I was told that most proper names are made with Chinese reading, is that correct? how can I know which Oni and Kun readiura? Is there a dictionary for this? Thank you! Claudia

  2. It's a very practical tip, I had found a book that gives this tip, but it didn't give many application examples, so I found the site more complete, it was the "Japanese in Comics", it is old, but uses mangoes as a central way of learning, I think it's very good.

  3. Kevin, please correct the text in this excerpt: & # 8220; Remember that KUN reading will always be written in Katakana, while reading ON in Hiragana. & # 8221; It's inverted. ON appears in Katakana and KUN in Hiragana. Congratulations on the site! I always consult. The content is interesting and fresh.

  4. Hello, I was choosing my daughter's name until she decided on Yuna. I asked for a suggestion on how to write in kanji in a different way from the singer Yuna Ito. A Japanese (natural) friend showed me this shape 優愛. I've never seen the kanji “ Ai ” be used as “ Na ” ;. You know? It's just that I was embarrassed to question it and seem to be doubting it.

    • The _ means that a kanji or kana comes before. A simple example: 一人 (hitoRI or _RI) Which means that this reading happens most of the time when another kanji comes before.

      If you enter jisho you will see that there is a - り I put a _ I don’t know why, but it’s the same thing & # 8230; I think it would be better to understand than the little & # 8220; - & # 8221; since I used them for other purposes.

  5. Hey, good! You provided me with the greatest study time savings in the history of the whole game. Gódi blessy iú mai broder! thanks! thanks! valew messsssssssmo!

  6. I have a suggestion to further complement the post: we can compare words composed in Japanese with ours, from the West. There is a very interesting parallel, for example, when we say “ hydrography ” ;, which is a compound word, we use older words of origin, such as Greek or Latin. It is very similar to the relationship between Japanese and Chinese, where we use the oldest (Chinese) readings to read compound words. It would be interesting to address this point further, because this relationship makes things much clearer because we understand this concept with the words of our language.

  7. Well, this tip, I've read a lot about the Japanese language and I never found a book that gave this tip … I know it's not 100% of the cases but it helps a lot … thanks and keep it up …

    • Thanks, this idea came out of nowhere, I ended up noticing, I think everyone notices but never wrote just because there are some exceptions & # 8230;

      Glad I like it, thank you for reading. xD

  8. In fact your article helped a lot, I didn't know that the n was Chinese and Japanese kun … although I kind of already realized that reading is one way with a group of kanji and another with a separate letter or with haraganas, it is much more reliable to see this from a concrete source.
    Anyway thanks for the tip ^^


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