Sorry if this has been answered before, but I couldn't find it.

I understand that when the on'yomi reading is used, this is associated with words with a more "literary" feeling or with written usage. However, I don't know if this is a relatively safe way to differentiate which usage is preferred of if it's just applied in some cases.

Thanks in advance!

  • 2
    Please beware that questions asking for tools and resources are considered off-topic here. Therefore, at least a part of your question is out of the scope of this site. However, I still think that your question can be reframed to fit here (e.g. "How to differentiate between a word used in spoken language and a word used in written language" or such). Would you mind to rephrase it? Thank you!
    – jarmanso7
    Sep 12, 2019 at 3:14
  • Possible duplicate of Are 漢語 always more formal than 和語?
    – naruto
    Sep 12, 2019 at 9:53
  • Provide some examples!
    – Jack Bosma
    Sep 15, 2019 at 17:05
  • I can't think of anything from the top of my head, but usually, in Japanese class, when we had to do a small composition, I would have to look up a couple of words I didn't know, and sometimes the teacher would say "OK, I understand the meaning but that word is mostly for spoken language", or vice-versa. So I don't know if it is directly linked to formality, and thus solvable with kango/wago, or if it's something you just learn with practice.
    – JPB
    Sep 16, 2019 at 0:52

1 Answer 1


I'm not an expert myself, but I asked a few Japanese people about this, and the answer I got is that there is no actual rule. You either have to check in a dictionary or try using the word and watch if people are surprised by what you said. There seems to be a general trend, that the less hiragana and the more strokes in a kanji, it's usually not a word for casual conversation, though keep in mind, it's just a hint, and not a rule.

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