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The Human Side of Kanji


 is another one of the basics. If you have your kanji dictionary handy, you will see that the two on readings for this kanji are JIN and NIN. This kanji means “human, person.” It appears in words like:


人間  にんげん    human

人称  にんしょう   person (in grammar)

人生  じんせい    human life


So how do you know whether or not you use JIN or NIN? In some cases, such as jinsei and ningen (above), it is simply a matter of rote memorization. There are, however, a couple of generalizations that you can rely on:


1. When is used to count people, the NIN reading is used:


·         五十人 ごじゅうにん  fifty people

·         三人  さんにん         three people


2. When is used to indicate nationality, use the JIN reading:


  • 日本人  にほんじん  Japanese person 
  • フランス人  フランスじん   French person
  • 中国人  ちゅうごくじん       Chinese person


Note: There two high-frequency exceptions to #1 above:


  • 一人   ひとり  one person
  • 二人   ふたり         two people


Why? There really is no “why.” All languages have certain irregular cases. In English, for example, birds is a standard English plural form. It would be grammatical to say “This morning I saw five birds on my lawn.” There are, however, irregular forms: “This morning I saw five deer on my lawn,” and “This morning I saw five geese on my lawn.” A foreigner who is learning English would rightly ask why those English-speakers say dogs, cats and birds—but they don’t say deers or gooses. Our irregular verbs also drive foreigner students of English bananas.

Practically every language on earth (at least all the ones I’ve studied so far) contains irregular cases. Rather than protesting, your best bet is to memorize the irregular rules and move on.