When to read a kanji in Onyomi or Kunyomi?

Do you have doubts as to when the reading is a kanji in Onyomi or Kunyomi? This article can help you!

The purpose of this article is not to show you a rule of thumb for when and how to read a kanji. As with all languages, the Japanese language also has exceptions.

So this article will serve as a guide to avoid reading problems and also as a way to deepen our knowledge about the fantastic Japanese ideograms.

What is Onyomi and Kunyomi?

In introductory articles about the Japanese language, we learned that the symbols used in Japan were imported from China and that, because of this, kanji have at least two readings (pronunciation forms).

These two readings are known as Kunyomi (訓読み) and Onyomi (音読み).

The kunyomi reading is the Japanese reading and the onyomi is the Chinese reading. onyomi was developed from its Chinese origin and has also been adapted over the years to become part of the japanese language.

kunyomi is the native japan pronunciation and that it was already in use before the Chinese alphabet was imported.

For example, 川 (river in Japanese) can be pronounced as SEN (onyomi) or as kawa (kunyomi).

Kawa is the Japanese word for river. So, when kanji川 was imported from China, both pronunciation and meaning were associated with the symbol川.

An important tip about dictionaries

In many dictionaries you will find the romanized reading of a kanji in two ways. One in capital letters (capital letters) and the other in small letters.

Normally the uppercase reading represents the onyomi reading and the lowercase reading the kunyomi reading.

So we can distinguish the two readings while researching the meaning of a kanji.

When to use onyomi and kunyomi reading?

As a general and simplified rule, we can say that kunyomi reading is used for simple and single kanji, while onyomi is used for kanji composed of two or more symbols..

Shall we see more examples?

Examples of reading kunyomi (simple kanji)
人 – ひと(hito) – Person
口 – くち(kuchi) – Mouth

Examples of reading onyomi (compound kanji)
人口 – じんこう(jinkou) – Population

Note that じん is the Chinese reading of 人 and こう is the Chinese reading of 口. So, to form the word population we join the two symbols (人 and口) with their Chinese readings.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are exceptions to this rule. But these exceptions will be clarified at other times.

Nevertheless, this article serves as a starting point for us to know when to use kunyomi and onyomi reading.

Until later.