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I always have problems deciding if I must write a word in hiragana or in kanji.

For example, should I write こんばんは or 今晩は ?

I know children would rather write in hiragana but what about for adults ?

Is there any rule (of thumb) I can follow to decide it or is it just left to the writer's mood ?

Thanks in advance for your time,

Gilles

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    This will shock some users, but because 「こんばんは」 and 「今晩は」 mean different things, the two are pronounced differently as well. – l'électeur Nov 5 '19 at 16:07
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    Thanks for your answer but can you elaborate a bit more ? I am aware that [こんにちは』and[今日は」mean different things and are pronounced differently but I don't seem to remember it was the same for 「こんばんは」 and 「今晩は」which I pronounced the same and used to think they also mean the same thing. – Gilles Nov 5 '19 at 20:01
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    I just figured out what you meant ! [こんばんは!」as Good evening and「今晩は」as「今晩は、外食しよう!」. Am I correct ? – Gilles Nov 5 '19 at 20:30
  • @l'électeur, what is the difference in pronunciation between both? – jarmanso7 Nov 7 '19 at 17:55
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I know children would rather write in hiragana but what about for adults?

If 100% of your text consist of kana only without any kanji, that is 100% weird. Kanjis are used not only to help identify what meaning for for sound, but also kanjis work as visual dividers for text into small portions for better eye-brain parsing of text, because there is no spaces in Japanese text.

Is there any rule (of thumb) I can follow to decide it or is it just left to the writer's mood ?

There are cases, which are managed by some rule of thumb.

For example, here is a rule of thumb for two-rooted-verbs.

1) If the verb consists of two verbs and the first one is in -te form, the second verb is written in hiragana.
For example,
読んでみる [yon-de miru] not 読んで見る.

2) If the verb consists of two verbs and the first one is in -masu form, the second verb is written in kanji for its root and hiragana for its conjugation.
For example,
降り出す [fu-ri-da-su] not 降りだす and not ふりだす.

The real mastering of when to use kanji and when to use kana is a consequence of feeling it. After a year of dealing with Japanese language on daily basis, such feeling grows itself and there is no desire for any rules anymore.

For example, should I write こんばんは or 今晩は ?

To make a quick check:
go to Jisho.org.

For any word or phrase there is a mark "Usually written using kana alone". Using Jisho.org to check for [kanji or kana] is the "rule of thumb" for Japanese learners. But the final goal is to skip using Jisho.org and just feel it.

To make deeper checking:
go to tatoeba.org.

1) Type "今晩は" (use quotes to find exact match) to see examples of using with kanji and what phrases are used to translate this form (in your case it is [tonight], [this evening]).
2) Type "こんばんは" (use quotes to find exact match) to see examples of using with kana and what phrases are used to translate this form (in your case it is [Good evening!]).
3) Type "good evening", "tonight", "this evening" (use quotes to find exact match) to see examples of translation: kana or kanji (in your case: check if there is some usage of kana for [tonight], [this evening] and if there is some usage of kanji for [Good evening]).

Result of this deep checking for your case is:
1) They use kana to say [Good evening!]
2) They use kanji to say [tonight] or [this evening].

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While there are no rules set in stone, there are some generally followed rules, especially when it comes to business communications. One of those rules is that you generally don’t use the kanji form if it’s not that relevant to how it is actually being used today, or using the kanji results in undue gravitas.

For example, 「すみません」using kanji would be「済みません」, which is originally a shortened way of saying “I can’t feel satisfied with my apology to you” as an apology or “I feel bad because I can’t do enough to return what you’ve done for me” as thanks. Nowadays that expression is used much more casually, and using the kanji would not be entirely appropriate in most situations. Same thing with 「ありがとうございます」=「有難う御座います」.

So it’s safe to say that any of the commonly used phrases to say hello or farewell should be used in hiragana unless you are writing a rather formal letter.

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  • Thank you for you reply ! I understand ! I did see several times たくさん written in kanji 沢山 and was surprised the first time I saw it. I guess, it was used more formally or litterary. – Gilles Nov 5 '19 at 20:26
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Generally speaking, if there is kanji for a word you may prefer to use the kanji, it would be better. But when writing more casual words like こんばは I would use hiragana since as I said it is more casual and hiragana writing of this particular word is more frequent. And in some other cases the word may have kanji but its use is rare and only in some high academic papers or so, and in that case you may also write with hiragana as per my opinion.

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  • Thank you for your reply ! In Japanese, I often find myself looking for what follows an habit and what follows a rule. – Gilles Nov 5 '19 at 20:17

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