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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Hiroko here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher where I’ll answer some of *your* most common Japanese questions.
The question for this lesson is…
Should I use the ON or KUN reading?
Learners of kanji are often confused about the usage of on-reading and kun-reading.
Which should you use, and when?
First of all, let’s take a look at what the ON and KUN readings actually are.
Do you know this kanji? (山) It means “mountain”, and it’s read as やま and サン. Japanese people had been calling mountains ‘やま’ long before this kanji was introduced from China. After the kanji arrived in Japan, it was given the reading of やま. That’s its KUN-reading -- which is its Japanese reading. But what about the Chinese reading? This kanji in China is read ‘シャン’. This sound was adapted to サン. So that’s its ON-reading -- its Chinese reading.
But how do you know which one to use when you’re reading? There’s a general rule.
When a word is made up of just one kanji, the kun-reading is used. For example,
花 meaning “flower” is read はな.
雨 meaning “rain” is read あめ.
When a single word is made up of one kanji with hiragana like as in verbs or i-adjectives, the kun-reading is also used. For example,
聞く(Ki-ku) is a verb that means ‘listen’:
新しい (atarashii) is an i-adjective that means “new”
On the other hand, when you have compounds of more than one kanji, the on-reading should be used. For example, 新聞 (シンブン) which means ‘newspaper.’ シン and ブン are the on-readings of each kanji, 新 (シン) and 聞 (ブン).
But, as I explained before, 新(シン) also has a kun-reading, as in 新しい (あたら-しい). And 聞(ブン) has a kun-reading, as in 聞く(き-く) .
As you continue to study, you'll find some exceptions to this rule, but stick to the general rule as you begin to study kanji.
Here’s one more example:
Try to read this word. (食事) It’s a kanji compound, isn’t it? Therefore, you should use the on-readings: ショク and ジ. So it’s read しょくじ which means ‘meal.’
On the other hand, what if this kanji (食) is used in a verb meaning “to eat”? (食べる) You should notice that it’s comprised of kanji and kana, so you should use the kun-reading and read it as たべる.
I hope this makes sense to you.
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!


Please to leave a comment.
😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

JapanesePod101.com Verified
April 19th, 2016 at 06:30 PM
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What Japanese learning question do you have?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
March 6th, 2021 at 10:13 AM
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こんにちは Karan,

Thank you so much for your positive message! 😇❤️️

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

We wish you good luck with your language studies.

Kind regards,

レヴェンテ (Levente)

Team JapanesePod101.com

March 4th, 2021 at 12:06 AM
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Thank you . Just started kanji and 1st confusion I got is this.

finally got some motivation after understanding this 😁

JapanesePod101.com Verified
May 8th, 2020 at 08:52 PM
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こんにちは vickyさん

コメントありがとうございます。Thank you for your comment. 😇

Let us know if you have any questions.

Wishing you good luck with your Japanese,

レヴェンテ (Levente)

Team JapanesePod101.com

May 8th, 2020 at 11:00 AM
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ARIGATOU!!!! now I can go through 1500 kanji PDF. This video was very helpful❤️️

JapanesePod101.com Verified
July 17th, 2019 at 07:05 AM
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I'm glad to hear this lesson was very helpful to you!

Keep up the good work and good luck reading more kanji!


Miki H

Team JapanesePod101.com

July 7th, 2019 at 04:38 AM
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I was always confused about when to use kanji as "on" or "kun." This simple video was so helpful! I can't wait to practice reading more kanji.


JapanesePod101.com Verified
December 24th, 2017 at 08:07 PM
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Hi Abdelmoumen,

Thank you for studying with us!

Let us know if you have any questions.


Cristiane (クリスチアネ)

Team Japanesepod101.com

December 22nd, 2017 at 07:32 PM
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Arigatou Hiroko Sensei! I finally got a clear and practical answer for this tricky question?

JapanesePod101.com Verified
December 8th, 2017 at 11:31 AM
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Hi Carlos,

Thank you for your comment!

Please note that ~な is a form of adjective verbs. Those are read in on-reading or kun-reading.

静かな 朝 (shizuka na asa) = a quiet morning -> "shizuka na" is kun-reading

親切な 人 (shinsetsu na hito)= a kind person ->"shinsetsu" is on-reading

Keep studying with JapanesePod101.com



Team JapanesePod101.com

Japanesepod101.com Verified
October 12th, 2017 at 07:39 PM
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Hi Danielle,

Thank you for posting.

We're glad that the video was helpful! Please also check out https://www.japanesepod101.com/kanji to get your FREE PDF book to easily master 1500 Kanji with the most efficient approach. You'll learn the meanings, readings, stroke order, and words for each radical. You'll also get native audio pronunciation for all examples.

Should you have any questions, please let us know.


Our team will soon give you a reply.


Cristiane (クリスチアネ)

Team Japanesepod101.com