help on kanji:on and kun readings

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help on kanji:on and kun readings

Post by randomperson » Mon 05.09.2005 7:56 pm

i read the kun reading is use when the kanji is alone and the on reading is use when it use to make compound words and i have seen compound words use the kun reading like in 四級 - yon kyuu - 4th grade(yon is the kun) and i was wondering if someone could tell me what would count as a compound word or what counts as a alone word or even clear this up for me.

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RE: help on kanji:on and kun readings

Post by InsanityRanch » Mon 05.09.2005 10:22 pm

Hehehe. Confusing, isn't it?

Kun readings are usually (but not invariably) used when the kanji is seen alone. Even "alone" is a relative term. If it's a noun, it stands alone, but if a verb or adjective, it generally takes what is called okurigana (kana that come after and tell how to conjugate it.) However, some kanji have only an on reading, or the kun reading is seldom used for whatever reason, and those use the on reading even when standing alone.

Words that consist of two kanji stuck together, called jukugo, USUALLY (but not invariably) use the on reading of each kanji. Comparatively few words use the kun reading of both, and there are a few words that mix readings. Worse, there are a few words where the pronunciation bears no relation whatsoever to the kanji that make it up. (But these last are SO few, it's pretty easy to memorize 'em.)

So, the $65000 question: How do you know the pronunciation when you encounter a new word? (You need the pronunciation to look the meaning up in the dictionary!)

If there are okurigana, or if the kanji is standing alone, you look up the kanji and check the kun readings. Usually, it's clear which one you want.

If there are two kanji together, check each kanji's on readings and put 'em together. (Sometimes this may require some trial and error.) The good news is that kanji dictionaries contain lists of jukugo that begin with any given kanji, and you are likely to find the word you are looking for there, if it is exceptional in some way. However, for commonly used kanji, the dictionaries I have seen certainly do not have every jukugo for that kanji listed... there would be hundreds. Thus, sometimes words that are really common can be hard to find the first time you hit them!

If your initial search strategy fails... well, my choice is to go online, put the two kanji into a Japanese word processor and look 'em up that way. And last choice is to ask a Japanese person! I fall back on that one every few months!

If you are just getting started with this, relax. Take a deep breath. The Japanese writing system takes some getting used to, but you WILL get the hang of it if you persist. You will even get to the point where you can guess a fair number of words based on context and knowing one or both of the kanji.

Ganbatte, ne? <g>

"Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself." -- Vilfredo Pareto

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RE: help on kanji:on and kun readings

Post by battousai » Tue 05.10.2005 8:48 am

If you just look a bit on the forums, you'll find an exact post of this kind literally 5 or 6 down from this one and other similar ones from other forums. Again..I refer you to.. ... ?f=7&t=462

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RE: help on kanji:on and kun readings

Post by Shibakoen » Thu 05.12.2005 10:32 pm

I recommend buying a Kodansha kanji dictionary.

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RE: help on kanji:on and kun readings

Post by xdj220 » Fri 05.13.2005 7:00 pm

Honestly, this is a problem even for native Japanese speakers. I've seen many a Japanese person puzzle over the correct reading of a kanja in a certain compound. It's also a particularly annoying problem in names, where people often randomly choose the reading.

Really the only fully reliable way to do it is to memorize all the compounds, but if you learn the readings, and the general situation they are used in, you can usually make a decent guess. Fortunately, as you get farther into the more complicated Kanji, there are generally less readings to memorize as the Kanji are more specialized.
\"Nonsense, I don\'t think one evil step ahead. I think FIVE evil steps ahead.\"

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