What does 回, the kanji for "turn", mean in 回答 "answer"?

1 Answer 1


In Chinese, this kanji (or hanzi) originally contains a notion of "returning" (both transitive and intransitive); for example, 回来 "to come back", 回家 "to go back home", etc.

Although in Japan this kanji seems to mean more of "rotating" than "returning", in this case, the original meaning has been carried over into Japanese.

So 回答 is about "returning an answer."

[Edit] More precise answer is provided below by Broccoli forest. Please don't miss it!

  • 2
    Strictly speaking, 回答 is a synonymous compound: 回 "to reply" + 答 "to answer". Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 14:43
  • Oh, I didn't know 回 could mean "to reply"... Do you know any instance of a dictionary describing about this? Thank you. > broccoli forest
    – isayamag
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 15:53
  • I believe this sense is already inherent in 回's overall definition of "turn back", but sure, dictionaries recognize it as a noteworthy meaning: 答复;回报 (现代汉语词典); <动>答复。 (古汉语小字典). Aside from it, that reminds me of a very confusing false friends, 回復 (which means "reply" in Chinese while "restore" in Japanese). Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 5:32
  • So actually 回答 is of "verb + verb" compound, not "verb + object"... I see. And 回復 is "verb + adverb" maybe? That seems to make much sense. Thanks for your insight and information again!
    – isayamag
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 9:59
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    In fact, 回復 is also a "verb-verb". Old Chinese is incredibly loose at parts of speech, so the almost only reliable clue is the meaning itself. If I had to make a "verb-adverb" compound, I'd choose more semantically distant kanjis. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 17:47

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