I was told that 日曜朝 was prounced as にちようあさ, but then it seems that something like 今学期 is pronounced as こんがっき. So now I'm confused, as to whether I should be using the kun or on reading when multiple kanji words are put together? Is there some rule to follow?


1 Answer 1


In short, you can't. The way Kanji compound are read is never certain, also one who is well-versed in Japanese could have a basic idea, but one could never know if two Kanji's when put together, would be read as:

  • on-on like 日{にち}曜{よう} 習{しゅう}慣{かん} 現{げん}在{ざい}
  • kun-kun like 街{まち}角{かど} 片{かた}隅{すみ} 隙{すき}間{ま}
  • on-kun like 大{だい}好{す}き 両{りょう}手{て}
  • kun-on like 湯{ゆ}桶{とう} 片{かた}方{ほう}
  • a special reading for the two kanji's together 今日{きょう} 昨日{きのう} 欠片{かけら}

Sometimes same kanji's, when in different contexts and meaning different things, will be read differently as well: 人間{にんげん} human and 人間{じんかん} the human world. So, you just have to know them one by one.

However, there are patterns, and quite a lot of patterns. For example, the pair 日曜 is always read as にちよう coming from 日曜日, and then 朝 on its own, is always read as あさ. So intuitively anyone who speak Japanese, even if seeing this word for the first time, would read にちようあさ. 朝 is rarely read as ちょう, which is its on-reading.

For 今学期, you have to note first that 今, when read as いま, means now. But when read as こん, it means "this" or "the current" like 今週{こんしゅう} this week and 今月{こんげつ} this month. 今年 is this year, and it's not こんねん, but read as ことし.(Yeah, that's why I say you cannot know for sure. Just gotta see enough of them to know by rote.) 学期 just means school term and is read as がっき, and since "this current term" makes much more sense than "now-term", 今学期 is read as こんがっき and not いまがっき.

TL;DR A general rule does not exist for reading Kanji compounds. However, the majority of compounds will be read as on-on, and some Kanji's like 片 are almost never read in its on-yomi, but kun-yomi. One has to just know them.

  • 片 is not a good example. There are common words like 破片 and 断片. I recently came across a kanji that is not kokuji yet whose on'yomi I didn't know. It's 闇.
    – aguijonazo
    Apr 9, 2023 at 3:31
  • Thanks for pointing out! でも「闇」の音読み「あん」は常用だと思ってますよ?「闇黒」とか「闇夜」とか、確かに「暗」でも書けるそうだけど。ところで、中国では「闇」を「暗」の異体字として廃止して、いつでも「暗」の方が正しいとされています。台湾はね、「闇」と「暗」は違う漢字として区別されてます。その使い分けは日本語と同じ、「闇」は「やみ」で「暗」は「くらい」です。とにかく、闇も暗も中国も台湾も「àn」と読むのですね。
    – dvx2718
    Apr 9, 2023 at 14:50
  • 「あんこく」は普通「暗黒」と書きます。「闇夜」はほぼ全員が「やみよ」と読みます。
    – aguijonazo
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:36
  • あっ、そうなの?ごめんなさい、勉強になりました。
    – dvx2718
    Apr 9, 2023 at 15:38

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