One thing that has always confused me is how the word 叶【かな】う took on the meaning of for a (wish) to come true. I find this perplexing because in Chinese, the word has never had this meaning. 's ancient meaning was:

:古文字。 (Meaning the same as 協)

More recently, has become the character in simplified Chinese meaning because it has historically been mistakenly used as a replacement due to being similarly sounding.

However, neither of these meanings are at all close to a wish coming true.

Why/when/how did the kanji become associated with this meaning?


1 Answer 1


"Come true" isn't the literal translation of 叶{かな}う. The word かなう means "to fit; match; accord", in this sense in accord with 叶's meaning in Classical Chinese. So we are practically saying 願いが叶う "my wish matches it" as if a fixed phrase corresponds to "my wish comes true".

かなう once had tons of kanji transcriptions (see below), but most of them were culled out and only 適, 叶 and 敵 are left standardized. 叶, despite definitions in several dictionaries, is not only for "come true"; it can also be used where you can use 適, e.g. 「法に叶い、理に叶い、情に叶う」, which reflect more of its original meaning. That said, it's not vice versa; 適 can't be used where it means "come true". The actual process how 叶 becomes the only allowed kanji for "come true" is yet to be confirmed, but I guess it was chosen because it was a fallen-out-of-use character that was convenient for recycling. A similar example is 咲, which originally was an obsolete variant of 笑, but is only used for a different meaning today.

enter image description here (from 類聚名義抄仮名索引)

  • Maybe I'm wrong but is the whole left page all kanji for かなう? If so, wow that's so many options!
    – Ringil
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 13:10
  • When you "is yet to be confirmed" do you mean linguists don't know or you are not just sure?
    – Ringil
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 13:41
  • 1
    @Ringil (1) Yes, all lines come after カナフ (historic spelling) were kanji for it. They also extend to the next page (see the citation link). (2) At least I couldn't find one. These kind of reading strayed from kanji is called 国訓, and there are also many papers on specific 国訓, but not one referring かなう. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 20:28

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