I'm not sure how 前 is supposed to be read in constructs like these. Is it safe to assume that because 十年{じゅうねん} is 音読み then I should use the whole thing as じゅうんえんぜん (IME is returning both じゅうねんぜん じゅうねんまえ as 十年前). Am I completely wrong? This is probably very basic knowledge but somehow the answer eludes me.

I've never (yet) heard or seen 前 used with さき 音 but my Japanese experience is miniscule and it's included in dictionaries so I included it here just to be safe.


  • 2
    I can't explain the rule but it's definitely じゅうねんまえ. For the same reason I can't explain why 十年後 is じゅうねんご Mar 16, 2015 at 19:11
  • Excellent! This solves a lot of my headache already :D I'll keep this question up if anyone is interested in answering the whole "what to use when" as it may circumvent a lot of future pestering (by me).
    – cirno
    Mar 16, 2015 at 19:26
  • さき is not listed as a reading for 前 on the official jōyō kanji chart.
    – user1478
    Mar 16, 2015 at 19:28
  • @snailboat dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/jn2/86612/m0u
    – cirno
    Mar 16, 2015 at 19:30
  • I wonder what it means? I've only listed it here because I've seen it listed in entries like these but I'm completely clueless about its relevance.
    – cirno
    Mar 16, 2015 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


十年前 is じゅうねんまえ.

The reading 前【さき】 is rather rare and not used much these days. Also, some newer dictionaries such as the 明鏡国語辞典 do not even list this reading. Just because a fancy kanji is used for a word does not necessarily imply any significant change in meaning. 言う, 云う, 曰う, 謂う, and 道う are all いう and mean pretty much almost the same, but 言う is a lot more common.

enter image description here Sake Koimari: Saki Series

前【ぜん】 is used mainly in compound words 前進, 事前, 前代. As as a prefix it means "former" or "previous": 前局長, 前世紀.

前【まえ】 is used on its own, such as in テレビの前に座る. And like a suffix for nouns meaning "earlier" (一時間前) or "in front of" (駅前, 広場前).

Part of a dictionary entry:


《名》 (=noun)

①体・顔・目・物の正面 が向いている方向。




まえ has got several derived senses, but I omit them here as this question is not about the meaning of まえ. It is used in the expressions 一人前【いちにんまえ】 and 半人前【はんにんまえ】 as well.

Concerning the combination of different readings:

The rule of thumb that words are read either ON-ON or KUN-KUN applies mainly to individual words. And it's at most a tendency for compound words. It's got many exceptions as well.

I don't think you should think of 十年前 as one word. It works almost like a suffix, you can add it to many other words: (X)(Y)前, with X some number and Y some unit. You can also talk about 3日前, 6ヶ月前, or 2秒前. In fact, you can use these "suffixes" with all kinds of words:

(N=native Japanese word, K=katakana/imported word, O=ON reading)

  • O+N: 技術では一歩【いっぽ】先【さき】を行く
  • N+N: 一月【ひとつき】前【まえ】までは想像もしていなかった
  • K+N: 元町【もとまち】中華街【ちゅうかがい】駅【えき】徒歩【とほ】[1分]{いっぷん}★元町【もとまち】メインストリート沿【ぞ】い店舗【てんぽ】

[先 ("in front of"), 前【まえ】 ("ago"), and 沿い【ぞい】 ("alongside")]

The same goes for ON readings. When an ON reading gains enough popularity that people productively start to form new words with it, you could potentially get all sorts of ON/KUN combinations:

With 以外 ("other than"):

  • N+O: 氷【こおり】以外【いがい】のものは入れないでください
  • K+O: コーヒー以外【いがい】の眠気を覚ます飲み物についてご紹介します
  • O+O: 未成年が飛行機【ひこうき】以外【いがい】で海外に行く方法

Or with 派【は】 ("faction"):

  • N+O: 猫派【ねこは】とは猫好きの人を意味します。 自由奔放な猫の性格は、私たちの憧れかもしれませんね。
  • O+O: “貴族派【きぞくは】”と“革新派【かくしんは】”の衝突で揺れるエレボニア帝国の向かう先とは?
  • K+O: 銀魂【ぎんたま】が好きな人に質問!!あなたは【マヨ派【は】】or【サド派【は】】

This works with prefixes as well, they are not limited to ON/KUN either:

  • 再【さい】: 再確認 再チェック, 再はまり※
  • 超【ちょう】: 超ラッキー, 超すごい, 超格好いい, 超美人
  • 新【しん】: 新型【がた】兵器, 新バージョン, 新登場, 新発売
  • 御【お】: お手洗い, お肉, おタバコ
  • 真【ま】: 真新しい, 真鯛【まだい】, 真人間
  • 小【こ】: 小細工, 小雨【こさめ】, 小パニック
  • ど: ど派手, どえらい

※ as in 「ポケットモンスター・ルビーに再嵌【はま】りしました」

Note that there are some restrictions to how you can combine these words/prefixes/suffixes. You will probably need to get a feeling for how they combine. As a rule of thumb, expect ON/ON and KUN/KUN combinations and be prepared otherwise.


Everything's pretty much been answered, but I just wanted to add that to the average Japanese speaker, 「さき」would refer to 「先【さき】」(ahead). So saying 十年先【じゅうねんさき】would mean "10 years from now".

Note: 先【さき】 is confusing because saying when used alone it means "before" but when combined with time it means "ahead", but I'll leave it at that since it's off-topic.

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