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TE or SHU?


This is the kanji which means “hand.” You will meet this kanji in many contexts—both figurative and literal. This is not a difficult kanji to memorize; even beginners can learn to write it fairly quickly. However, when you see in a compound word, you may be unsure of whether to pronounce it with the on-yomi (SHU) or the kun-yomi (te).  The split of on-yomi vs. kun-yomi compounds is about fifty-fifty. Therefore, you have to memorize the high-frequency examples. 

Here is what I mean, starting with words that begin with. What follows are two lists: first a list of words that begin with SHU, and then a list of words that begin with te:


SHU-beginning words: 

手術 (しゅじゅつ)surgery

手芸 (しゅげい)  handicraft

手動 (しゅどう) manual

手話 (しゅわ) sign language

手段 (しゅだん) means, method

手腕 (しゅわん) skill; ability


te-beginning words:

手間 (てま) time; labor; effort

手不足 (てぶそく) shorthanded

手形 (てがた)promissory note

手帳 (てちょう) pocket notebook

手袋 (てぶくろ) gloves


Similarly, words that end with are about evenly split between the on-yomi and the kun-yomi:

SHU-ending words: 

選手 (せんしゅ) athlete

歌手 (かしゅ) singer

騎手 (きしゅ) jockey

着手 (ちゃくしゅ) beginning; commencement


te-ending words: 

大手企業 (おおて)major company; big company

熊手 (くまで) rake

相手 (あいて) partner;  opponent

片手 (かたて) one hand; one-handed


There are also two irregular readings of , ta and zu. Listed below are the only words where you are likely to encounter these irregular readings: 

手綱 (たづな) reins

下手(へた)  bad at

上手(じょうず) good at