I wanted to know the correct way to spell a compound word in Japanese, and was wondering if there is a verb that correlates to "to spell" in the Japanese language. I found 綴る, but was told this is used only for foreign languages; as I was told, it may be used in a linguistic context to speak of spelling in Japanese, but in common usage it is used mainly to refer to the spelling of foreign words. To sum it up, if I want to know the kana spelling of a word or compound word (for instance 1件)what would be a few ways to ask this? Is the word 綴る used primarily in linguistic contexts? If I want to ask friends or acquaintances, are there other terms besides 書く, スペル or 読む to use? Would 仮名遣い be okay to use in this context? (I wanted to avoid saying something like そのスペルを教えてください。/そのスペルは? as this seemed too easy)

  • The different ways to say "to spell" (or their equivalent in Japanese).
    – yadokari
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 17:43
  • sorry for the sloppy question, I posted it before going to sleep.
    – yadokari
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 17:44
  • You can see many examples goo.gl/YrWJP and goo.gl/d2u8C
    – oldergod
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 0:06
  • 3
    @oldergod i see 綴る used a lot there but it is not clear if it is used when asking general kana spelling. I was told by two Japanese people not to use it with japanese words so I asked the question.
    – yadokari
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 0:24
  • When I looked up the definition of "spell", it most commonly refers to "giving letters in a certain order". Since the morphemes of Japanese are syllables, can you really apply "spell" to this language?
    – Chris
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 1:27

4 Answers 4


The best way to request anything in Japanese (in Japan, to Japanese) is to say as little as possible and to leave as much wiggle room as possible.

I think you want [読]{よ}み[方]{かた} 'way of reading' when you have kanji to point at, and [書]{か}き方 'way of writing' when you have sound. 'Spelling' is not safe to use because there are so many ways to be wrong with kanji.

Of course always start with the usual self deprecating set-pieces about how stupid you are and how difficult Japanese is. You may think you don't have to do this with friends and colleagues, but this is part of friendliness and good manners.

  • I edited and separated your answer. The second paragraph after the edit seems to be on a good line. 読み might be a slightly better term than 読み方. I have no idea how the other paragraphs are relevant to the question, and what they mean.
    – user458
    Commented Jun 12, 2012 at 23:45
  • @sawa thanks for your work here. "tart" should be "start." Actually 読み方 is correct. JDIC lists it as (n) way of reading, how to read, (P). 話 (はなし) is 'a story', 話し方 is 'way of talking' and 作り方 can mean a recipe. 音読み (おんよみ) is a good use of the noun 'reading'. As for the rest of my answer, it sounded like yadokari is living in Japan and feels his Japanese isn't working because of vocabulary. My experience there was that body language, social conventions, and pronunciation were often the true culprits.
    – medmal
    Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 5:41

The generally used word in Japanese for "spelling" is certainly 「スペル」, but I don't think this helps. In English "spelling" applies to latin letter languages, particularly with irregular orthography, like English and French; it also obviously applies to languages like Russian with a different alphabet. I think it is also reasonable to use it for cases like the Japanese title of the Ghibli film "Only yesterday" where the old "spelling" おもひで is used for ''omoide''. But for all other cases, I think it is best to avoid the word "spell(ing)" in English too.

If you are asking about how to write a word: どういう[書]{か}き[方]{かた}ですか? or perhaps asking which kanji to use: どんな[字]{じ}ですか? If someone introduces herself as 「けいこです」 you might ask, 「どんな字ですか」 and expect something like 「めぐみのケイ、こどものコ」. Of course if you don't understand which 「ケイ」 is meant by 「めぐみ」 you may have to ask for more help: 「ちょっと、[書]{か}いてくれますか?」 assuming you have paper and pen available.

Remember that there are other questions: for example, 「[鳥]{とり}の[書]{か}き[順]{じゅん}は、どんなでしょうか?」 to ask about stroke order. There are also other answers: if you are on the stage, and have just learned that 「どんちょう」 means the main front curtain, you might ask 「どんちょうというのは、どんな字ですか?」 but you should also be prepared for answers like 「カタカナでいいでしょう?」

(This isn't strictly the equivalent of "spelling" but...) If you have something written, and can't read it: 「これは、[何]{なん}と[読]{よ}みますか?」


I've just always asked...

書いてくれませんか? (Could you please write it down for me?)

入力してくれませんか? (Could you please type it out for me?)

この言葉をゆっくり話してください。(Please say this word slowly.)

ひらがなで書いてくれませんか? (Could you please write it in hiragana for me?)

I agree with everyone here in that 綴る seems a bit unnatural to use for Japanese itself. I asked my one friend how they "spell" in Japanese and he looked at me like I had five heads. Haha. So, it seems more common to just sound out words slowly or just write them down.

EDIT: I found if you want the word in Roman letters, just ask...

ローマ字で書いてくれませんか? (Could you please write it in Roomaji for me?)

I imagine if you ask them to say it in Roomaji that they'd start spelling with the A, B, C, stuff. Try it. Hah.


You can just say 'なんて書くの?'? or ’どうやって書くの?’ - it's like 'hows it written? / how do you write it?'

You don't really 'spell' kanji.

  • 4
    なんて書くの? means "What do I/you write?" (You probably meant to say どう書くの?)
    – chocolate
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 7:46
  • なんて書くの is a perfectly natural phrasing of 'how do I write?'. どう書く sounds a little awkward, どうやって書く is a more natural phrasing in that scenario. detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1325471108 There's even a book called それって漢字でなんて書くの? on Amazon. Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 5:30
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    あのぉ~・・・1)「なんて書くの?」って、普通、「何を書くんですか?」って意味ですけど・・・。同様に、「なんて書いてあるの?」は「なにが書いてあるの?」って意味ですし・・・。2)「どうやって書くの?」も意味は分かりますけど、私たち日本人は普段、「どう書くの?」「どういうふうに書くの?」って言いますので、「どう書く sounds a little awkward」とは思いませんが・・・
    – chocolate
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 6:56

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