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Some words have kanji for them, but the hiragana version is used instead. I come across some words that I'm unsure if they are most commonly used with kanji or hiragana. Is there any website to check if a word should be written with kanji?

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    Jisho.org will tell you if a word is usually written in kana
    – user11589
    Jan 25 '16 at 2:55
  • Oh nice, I haven't noticed that until now. If I type for example する, it will show me 為る, but then after the meaning it says "Usually written using kana alone". So that answers my question, thank you! Jan 25 '16 at 13:08
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There's no absolute rule on this, but there are several rules of thumb:

Grammatical constructs use hiragana, semantic constructs use kanji.

The word 来る・くる is used both semantically to mean "to arrive", and grammatically, in a general sense of arrival or completion.

Consider: 東京に来た。 versus そろそろいい天気になってきた。

Since the grammatical sense is used; hiragana is used.

Animal, fruit, and plant names are written with kana.

While most animals and plants native to traditional Chinese sphere of influence have kanji, they are rarely used in Japanese. (There are some exceptions, such as 梅{うめ}, but the use of kana, especially katakana, is exceedingly common.) This likely stems from the fact that a great many animal, fruit and plant name kanji are obscenely complicated, such as 蝶{チョウ}, 鰐{ワニ}, or 鶴{ツル}.

Simple and commonly used words tend towards kana.

良{い}い, 為{す}る, 居{い}る and 有{あ}る, to name a few. Reasons for this are twofold: They are words that are used a lot, and even if replacing the strictly grammatical uses with kana, that still leaves a fair few of them on any given page. Not only were the standards for what is written in kana and what is written in kanji solidified well before the advent of computers, leaving writing them a chore, plastering the same kanji all over any given page leads to semantic satiation, and just makes the text harder to read.

As an additional complication, some of these words have a lot of subtleties and multiple candidates for the correct kanji, so at some point it's easier to slap the kana on there and call it a day. (有る vs. 在る, anyone?)

The names of other countries are written using kana.

Almost all country names have some manner of [当て字]{あてじ} alternative available, but these are hardly ever used. They will sometimes be used in newspaper headlines by first character alone, but in general there are only 6 exceptions to this of which I am aware: Japan, Koreas North and South, China, England and America. 日本, 韓国, 北朝鮮, and 中国 aren't 当て字, and short of spelling them out, don't really have a kana alternative. For England and America, however, 英国{えいこく} and 米国{べいこく} are seen with some regularity, at least when compared to 仏国{フランス}, 独国{ドイツ} or 西国{スペイン}; go right ahead and forget about seeing stuff like 諾国{ノールウェー}, 玖瑪{キューバ} or 阿富汗斯{アフガニスタン}.

([Girls'] given) names are ultimately arbitrary.

When it comes to people's given names, whether they are written one way or the other is completely arbitrary, and down to the personal opinion of the name holder, or, as is more often the case, the name giver.

This is particularly the case with girls names. There are some historical reasons for this, and it mostly affects girl's names; for boys names kanji is usually a safe bet. (This is particularly caused by girls up until somewhat recently only learning hiragana, so girls' names using hiragana has become something of a tradition.)

Small wonder business cards are popular in Japan.

Set phrase? Hiragana.

There are a number of set phrases that defy the general rules: いってきます, ありがとう and おめでとう spring to mind.

These very much have kanji alternatives, but they are hardly ever used outside of period pieces, because they are only rarely written down. (行って来ます, 有難う and 御目出度う for the above, by the way.)

For set phrases, hiragana is the way to go.

Still in doubt? Use kana.

If you don't know if you're using a verb grammatically or semantically as part of a set phrase, use hiragana. If, when a word sounds like it'd use the 訓読み{くんよみ} and you don't know what kanji to use, use hiragana. If it's a girl's name, you don't know the kanji, and you can't ask, use hiragana. Is it a fruit, plant or animal, and you've not seen it written using kanji outside of scholarly contexts? Use katakana.

Form your own style of writing.

There are not a lot of hard and fast rules, and it's difficult to make your writing unreadable, so long as you don't do stuff like ALL KATAKANA ALL THE TIME or write Chinesque "loan" words with kana. If you know 有る from 在る, there's no harm in using the kanji; and it can lend a personal touch to your writing, so long as it's used consciously, consistently and judiciously.

Personally, I like using kanji for animal names. It's a quirk. (ニコニコ)

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