I know several Chinese characters but am a relative beginner at Japanese.

I am having trouble, in a dictionary, when I input a sequence of characters, determining where the letters for one set of syllables are absorbed by one kanji and which ones are absorbed by the others. For example, take the word "ukemi" (rear):

ukemi in dictionary

  • うけみ
  • 受け身
  • 受身

How do I know which of the following hooks true:

  • 受 = う
  • 受 = うけ
  • 身 = け
  • 身 = けみ

How can I tell, from the dictionary, especially from this single dictionary entry, which one of these substitutions holds?

Also, how do I know whether these representations are ON'YOMI or KUN'YOMI? Do some "(kun/on)yomi" have both long and abbreviated forms or something?

  • 3
    You can't tell from this single dictionary entry (especially this dictionary), having no other information. You need to research. And as such it's far too broad question for StackExchange. In this case it's うけ・み split.
    – macraf
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 3:27
  • 3
    I can't quite understand the question. What do you mean by a "done yomi"?
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 4:30
  • Updated my post. Can you at least tell me why the け can both be included or omitted between those two kanji? When would you include it and when would you omit it in writing? Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:03
  • Then if 受 = うけ, and 身 = け, why write 受け身 instead of 受身? Wouldn't the former read "ukekemi" with a repeated "ke"? I'm a novice and still confused. Thanks. Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 21:12
  • 1
    @JackMaddington you might want to look at this japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/6242/…
    – user1624
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


Unless you're in a situation involving jukuji-kun readings (where the characters are wholly disconnected from their pronunciation), you can tell by knowing the readings of the individual characters:

受: う・ける (among others), keeping in mind that it's an ichidan verb so the verb stem is うけ-, not う-

身: み (among others)

So, if you know even that 身 is み, you then know that 受+身 can't be う+けみ. (Also, adding kana in front of kanji is basically unheard of in Japanese outside of the お- honorific, so if you see both 受け身 and 受身, you can be sure the け is part of the left side, not the right.)

You can't know from a single dictionary entry. But you can know from the entry for the word and then the entries for its component kanji (again, excepting jukuji-kun readings, where there's no connection between the two at all). You'll be able to tell on'yomi versus kun'yomi in the individual kanji's entries.

  • 1
    Unless you're in a situation involving ateji (where the characters are wholly disconnected from their pronunciation) You're thinking of [熟字訓]{じゅく・じ・くん} (like [昨日]{«きのう»} or [火傷]{«やけど»}, not 当て字. 当て字 is giving the sound a corresponding character (like 出来る or 滅茶苦茶), so they're not disconnected at all.
    – istrasci
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 3:19
  • @istrasci Ah, yeah. I seem to use 'ateji' to mean 'any unpredictable character-sound-meaning association'; I don't know if that's a more general definition or just wrong.
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 4:01
  • 1
    熟字訓 are often considered a kind of 当て字 (see Wikipedia: 「日本語の熟字訓も含まれる。」), and the general term 当て字 is more common, so I don't think it's wrong to use it here.
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 4:07
  • @istrasci 出来る is not ateji, it's a normal kun-yomi.
    – user4092
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 4:31
  • @user4092: 「出来る」 is listed as an 当て字 in Wikipedia. Besides, being "able" to do something is not related to going out (出) or coming (来) at all, so it has to be.
    – istrasci
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 16:05

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