In my time in Japan I've noticed a few kanji that can be used on their own commonly in various kinds of signs, yet I don't think they are also words in their own right:

Since all kanji have multiple readings, I keep wondering how native speakers read these, or talk about them.

In fact for 危 I'm also interested in what they read it semantically. Is it "dangerous", or "watch out" or "caution" - or does it not really matter until you try to put it into words?

  • 1
    男【おとこ】, 女【おんな】, and 酒【さけ】 have standard readings. (Unsurprising, because they're nouns.)
    – Zhen Lin
    May 10, 2014 at 10:31
  • 2
    I've never consciously though about it, but I usually read 押 as おす and 引 as ひく, but for some reason 開 as かい and 閉 as へい. Maye because [開閉]{かい・へい} exists as a 熟語, so it's easy to just split apart mentally.
    – istrasci
    Mar 23, 2017 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


Of course the signs are primarily meant to be seen & understood, rather than read.

I think the signs, if they had to be read (as in "It says X here"), would be read as literally as possible

押 おす
引 ひく
男 おとこ
女 おんな
危 あぶない きけん
開 あける あく ひらく
閉 しめる しまる とじる
酒 さけ

The only odd one out is 危, but 危険 and 危ない are practically interchangeable in most situations. (Depending on the train operator, you'll hear 危ないですから... or 危険ですから..., when being warned about an incoming train.) The word is sometimes written as [危険]{あぶない} at railway crossings. So, 危 allows you to choose according to context. (Of course, the main difference being that 危ない is more easily understood by small children and a tad less formal than 危険.)

  • Yes I've been wondering for a little while whether it's worth asking a question on the difference between 危ない and 危険 (-: May 10, 2014 at 11:23
  • So none of the readings would be "preferred"? Or does the order you've written them indicate how likely? Or do they all just pop into the mind at once for a native speaker? May 10, 2014 at 12:37

We don't particularly read, but just see them.

  • 4
    How do you describe those signs? For examples, if you want to say "Haven't you seen this "Danger!" sign?"
    – Szymon
    May 10, 2014 at 10:15
  • 8
    To say 「危【あぶ】ないという標識」 is usually enough, but if I really have to describe such sign precisely, and I want to avoid confusion because "き" is too short, I would say 「危険【きけん】の危【き】という字が入った黄色い標識」 「漢字1文字で危【あぶ】ないと書かれた看板」 etc.
    – naruto
    May 10, 2014 at 14:01

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