Most Kanji have multiple readings. For example 人 has got the readings:

  • ひと
  • ジン
  • ニン

Does the meaning change when the Kanji is read differently. I don't think that the meaning of this Kanji changes based on its reading but are there some Kanji that do?


1 Answer 1


The answer is a bit more complex than a simple yes or no. The reality is that meaning can change with the reading, it stay the same even though reading changes, or one reading can have multiple meanings based on context.

Case 1: Meaning changes with reading

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, neither should it be treated as such.

行{い}く -- to go
行{おこな}う -- to do/perform

本{ほん}-- book
本{もと} -- origin (note however, that this is usually written as 元)

Case 2: Meaning does not change with readings

As you have noted, 人 is one of these characters. Here's a few more examples.

日{にち}-- day
日々{ひび} -- daily

本歌{ほんか} -- original verse poem
本{もと}を正{ただ}す -- to go to the bottom of an affair; to inquire into the origin

Case 3: One reading has multiple meanings

You may have noticed from my previous examples that 本 is one of these characters.

本人{ほんにん} -- The person themselves; said person; the person in question
本棚{ほんだな} -- Bookshelf
本{ほん}-- counter for cylindrical shaped items, note that it is sometimes read as ぽん or ぼん depending on the number.

行動{こうどう} -- action; conduct; behavior
行程{こうてい}-- journey; course; distance; march; flight; drive (this word is somewhat uncommon)

For your reference, I will include links to the kanji listings in the dictionary for your further study (click the kanji for the link):


  • 1
    Not sure if this even makes sense, but rather than saying that the kanji meaning changes, isn't more accurate to say the kanji meaning remains the same, but it's used to write different words? What I mean is: kanji「本」 means both "book" and "origin", and you use it to write both 「ほん」 "book" and 「もと」 "origin"; it's not the kanji's meaning changing, since the kanji itself has both meaning, rather they are two words written with the same kanji (to a certain extent like English "right" meaning both "opposite of left"/右 and "not wrong"/正しい: different words, same writing).
    – Mauro
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 15:40
  • 1
    I'd say that's more technically correct, but I tried to gear this answer towards a beginning student who may not fully understand that concept.
    – ajsmart
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 15:44

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