Tips for Reading Kanji: Part 2

If you missed part one of this article, you can find it here. It explained how to find the radical a kanji and the information that it can give you. Part two will look at the rest of the kanji and what it can tell you.

Once you have found the radical as explained in part one, have another look at the kanji. Is there any part of the kanji that occurs frequently in other kanji? This part may give you some information as well. While the radical can tell you about the meaning of the kanji, the other parts can give you hints about how the kanji is pronounced. This only applies for the on-yomi (Chinese reading) of the kanji, and there are a lot of exceptions, but this can still be a useful tool to use when learning kanji.

Here are some examples:

The following kanji are all pronounced hou, bou or pou:

So are these ones:

These are all pronounced shi:

These are pronounced seki:

These are pronounced ka:

There are too many groups to list them all, but I’m sure you can find them for yourselves with a bit of practice.

By looking at the radical, as well as the rest of a kanji, you should be able to get a vague idea of what the kanji means and how it is pronounced. It’s not at all precise but it makes learning kanji a little bit easier.

Try to apply your knowledge to the kanji compounds below. They are all 1kyu or 2kyu level so with a bit of luck you won’t have seen them before. Work out what you can about what they mean and how they are pronounced. Answers are provided below.

1. 紡績

2. 大砲

3. 脂肪

4. 花粉


1. You will notice both kanji have the same radical, which means ‘string’ or ‘connection’. Other parts of both kanji are listed above. According to this, the first kanji is pronounced hou or bou and the second is pronounced seki. It means ‘to spin yarn’, and it is pronounced bouseki.

2. The first kanji is obvious. It means ‘big’ and is pronounced dai or tai. The second one is listed above and is pronounced hou, bou or pou. It has the radical that means stone, so it has something to do with stones or hard objects. In fact, it is pronounced taihou and means ‘canon’.

3. Both of these have the moon radical which actually represents body parts or internal organs. The second kanji is listed above and is pronounced hou or bou. The first kanji isn’t listed above but the right hand side indicates that it is pronounced shi. In fact, it is pronounced shibou and means ‘fat’.

4. The first kanji is easy and means flower. If you were to deconstruct it, you would find that the top shows it is related to small plants and the bottom shows that it is pronounced ka. The second kanji has the rice radical which actually doesn’t tell us much. The other half isn’t listed above, but it is pronounced the same as 分 and 紛 (fun). This tells us that it is pronounced kafun and has something to do with flowers and possibly rice. The second kanji actually means powder and the compound means ‘pollen’.