Could someone please explain why someone would use hiragana instead of the regular kanji?

For instance, we have a character for nagai - 長い, but examples using ながい can also be found in dictionaries and on the internet. Is the hiragana used for emphasis, or is it just the author's taste?

Example (Tanaka Corpus):


Social unrest may come about as a result of this long recession.

Another example found: おさない instead of 幼い


  • 2
    Note on the Tanaka Corpus. These are probably more likely to be errors in the original input than a deliberate choice.
    – nkjt
    Jul 3, 2012 at 19:28
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    Basically every "Yamato kotoba" can be written in hiragana. We can answer questions like "why do you think the author used hiragana?" But no one but the author knows the actual reason.
    – Gradius
    Jul 3, 2012 at 20:18
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    「幼い子供はおさないときに母をしゃぶり、大きくなって父親をしゃぶる。」??What a weird sentence...What does it mean...?
    – user1016
    Jul 4, 2012 at 5:17
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    @Gradius I agree. It's not off-topic but if it's not really answerable it would be nice to have an answer like yours. That way questions like these can be directed (closed) here. Jul 4, 2012 at 6:18
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    @Chocolate All web pages that have this sentence that I could find were somehow related to learning Japanese and were written in English, and I found meigennavi.net/word/011/011273.htm, according to which it is a (bad) translation from a British proverb. The latter part should be translated as すねをかじる.
    – user458
    Jul 4, 2012 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


For the first example ながい, I can think of a two reasons why: 1) The person who entered the text didn't really think about it or didn't care, or 2) There are two versions 永い and 長い, and the author didn't know which one to use (this probably isn't the case, but you never know). However, there could be other reasons, and as mentioned in the comments "no one but the author knows the actual reason".

For おさない, did you know there are two readings for 幼い? There is いとけない and おさない, I don't know if that played a role in the author using hiragana, but it is something to think about (いとけない is generally not used very much any more, but you will still see it on occasion).

Also, it is good to know that in some situations, 漢字 are prohibited. For example, [常用外漢字]{じょうようがいかんじ} will generally not be used in newspapers because they are not part of the official set of characters to be taught. Also, words like 障害 are usually written as 障がい recently because has a negative meaning. Also, 子供 is written as 子ども and there is some controversy over this, but I will leave the reason behind that a mystery.

  • Usually 永い is used only special contexts, and actually 長い is used in almost all cases. So, I don't agree that the author didn't know which one he/she should use. Moreover, いとけない is completely a obsolete word and never used in modern Japanese. Neither 長い nor 幼い has any controversial problem.
    – Gradius
    Jul 4, 2012 at 6:05
  • @Gradius: I mainly agree with your comments (I'll edit for clarity). However, I have known and met people firsthand that didn't know the difference between 永い/長い, although I would agree that this isn't common.
    – Jesse Good
    Jul 4, 2012 at 6:32
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    You are partly correct about the reason 障害 is written as 障がい, but actually, 障害 is not correct in the first place. The real character for がい, 碍, is 常用外漢字, and if we follow the rule, it should be written in hiragana, so 障がい is the correct way. However, especially elder/conservative people do not prefer mixing kanji and hiragana within a word, so a sort of ateji was invented to assign 害 for がい, which became wide spread, but is not correct.
    – user458
    Jul 4, 2012 at 9:18
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    @sawa It is widely believed that 障害 wasn't used before World War II and was 障碍. However, some people reported that 障害 appeared quite a many times in documents and even laws written in the Meiji era. There is a detailed research about this. Considering the meanings of both the kanji and their usages in Chinese, 障碍 is more proper and should be correct, but really both 障碍 and 障害 were used even before the war.
    – Gradius
    Jul 4, 2012 at 18:32

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