I'll elaborate the title with a scenario. If I was, say, in a scenario where I was talking about my favorite kanji, and said "Oh, my favorite kanji is 悪" how do I pronounce 悪 in that scenario? あく? わる? Any of its other on or kun'yomi readings?

In short, I'm asking...when referring to some kanji character by itself in a conversation, which reading is most appropriate?

1 Answer 1


You should use the most distinguishable reading, and the kun-reading is usually better for this purpose, although there can be exceptions. In your case, saying わるい can safely specify which kanji you are referring to, but the on-reading あく is shared by another easy kanji (握). Many on-readings are worse (e.g., ひょう = 表, 票, 評, 豹, 標, 雹, ...). Note that even kun-readings can have homophones (e.g., はな = 花, 鼻; はなす = 話, 離, 放).

When you cannot think of a distinct reading (which is very common), you can give a compound or a set phrase as an example using の meaning "as in". For example, you can say 善悪の悪 to refer to 悪, or say 握手の握 to refer to 握 over the phone.

See this answer for alternative methods to convey kanji in speech: Japanese don't learn kanji meaning only readings? Does it make sense for a kanji to have a key meaning to identify it?

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