While doing introductionary courses of Japanese, I stumble on a fact that affrights me about the difficulty of the language.

When congratulating each other around a drink: 乾杯 the Kanji is pronounced かん Kan, which I think is directly coming from Chinese for 干杯 GanBei .

But when dealing with the fact of being dry: 乾いてます , then is pronounced かわい Kawai.

Is it common for Kanjis to have several pronunciations ? Or is it some kind of rare exception ?

In case it is common for Kanjis to have several pronunciations, what is a common way for learners to remember those differences ?

  • 3
    My schoolmate's family name is 「乾」 and it is read 「いぬい」.
    – user4032
    Jan 28, 2019 at 13:14
  • @l'électeur do you mean that even with a "kun" origin, omiting the "on" pronunciation from chinese, kanji can have several pronouciations ? I don't see any resemblence between かわい and いぬい ;-) Jan 28, 2019 at 16:12
  • 1
    @MathieuBouville Please try to avoid answering questions in the comment section.
    – user1478
    Jan 28, 2019 at 18:56
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    You're almost right when you say it comes from Chinese ganbei, but not quite. More precisely, both Mandarin gān​bēi and Japanese kanpai come from Middle Chinese kan pwoj (Baxter-Sagart transcriptions). These morphemes were borrowed into Japanese many centuries ago. There are relatively few loanwords from modern Chinese languages, but there are some, like 炒飯{チャーハン} or 姑娘{クーニャン}.
    – user1478
    Jan 29, 2019 at 10:43

1 Answer 1


Yes, it is very common. You can tell from the context: on-yomi is most often used in combinations of Kanji ; kun-yomi is most often used when Kanji is followed by Hiragana. There are exceptions ; you have to remember all the most common cases. There might sometimes also be some ambiguous cases.
Finally I'd add that for people name (given names), you often cannot know how to pronounce their name if you only see it written in Kanji, since a name Kanji can have several pronunciations parents choose from when naming the children.

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