Wednesday, October 12, 2016

人 - Hito, Nin, Jin

Did you know that the word hito 人, the sword nin 人 and the word jin 人 all have the same kanji in Japanese but different, related meanings? If you didn't know that, now you do. But do you know what their meanings and differences are?

The kanji for person, people or human in Japanese, 人, and its readings hito, nin and jin

(don't mistake the kanji 人 with the kanji 入火大犬水木本夫矢天来美奏欒爨, none of which have anything to do with it)

Meaning of Hito

To begin with, the word hito 人 means "person," and it's often used with all sorts of things related to a person or people, things like:
  • hito 人
  • hitobito 人々
    People. Persons.
  • hitosama 人様
    Other people.
    (act respectfully toward "other people", etc.)
  • kobito 小人
    Little people. Little person.
    Edward Elric.
  • koibito 恋人
    Lover. (koi 恋 means "love")
  • hitojichi 人質
    Hostage. (shichi 質 means "collateral")
  • hitogoroshi 人殺し
  • hitochigai 人違い
    Mistaking a person for another.
  • hitomae 人前
    Public. In public.
    In front of people.

And of course, it's often paired with the pronouns kono, sono, ano, dono to say stuff like:
  • kono hito この人
    This person.
  • sono hito その人
    That person you're talking about.
  • ano hito あの人
    That person over there.
  • dono hito? どの人?
    What kind of person?

So, as you can see, the hito 人 word using the kun'yomi of the kanji is pretty much all about people. But what about the other readings, then?

Meaning of Nin

The word nin 人 is used in plenty of human-related words, like:
  • ningen 人間
  • ningyou 人形
    (literally human-shape)
  • ninki 人気
    (like a manga or clothes, check moteru for being popular with girls)
  • ninjou 人情
    Human feelings.
  • ningyo 人魚
    (literally human-fish)
  • ninzuu 人数
    Number of people.

When it's at the start of the word, it's pretty much impossible to tell it apart form jin, but when it's at the end, it's usually related to what the person does.
  • shiyounin 使用人
    (shiyou is to use, shiyounin is a person who's used)
  • shihainin 支配人
    (shihai is to manage, shihainin is a person who manages)
  • hoshounin 保証人
    The guarantor. He who guarantees.
    (hoshou is guarantee)
  • uketorinin 受取人
    The recipient. He who receives.
    (uketoru is to receive)
  • zashidashinin 差出人
    The sender. He who sends.
    (zashidasu is to send)

Meaning of Jin

The word jin 人 is used in plenty of human-related words, just like nin 人, and they can't be told apart when they're at the start. In these cases, just memorize the words and that's about it. See:
  • jinsei 人生
    Human life.
  • jinkou 人口
  • jinkou 人工
  • jinshu 人種
    Human race.
  • jinkaku 人格
  • jintai 人体
    Human body.
  • jinrui 人類
    Human kind.
  • jinbutsu 人物
  • jinken 人権
    Human rights.

When at the end of the word, however, jin 人 often relates to an attribute of a person, and not to what the person does or the .
  • bijin 美人
    Pretty woman.
    Pretty person.
  • shinjin 新人
  • roujin 老人
    Old person.
  • ajin 亜人
  • tishikijin 知識人
  • shakaijin 社会人
    A member of the society.
    (antonym of NEET)
  • yuumeijin 有名人
    Famous person.

There are exceptions, of course. But that's about it.

Using Jin for Nationalities

Another thing is that jin 人 and only jin 人 is used after nationalities of people:
  • nihonjin 日本人
    Japanese person.
  • amerikajin アメリカ人
    American person.
  • eikokujin 英国人
    British person.
  • mekishikojin メキシコ人
    Mexican person
  • kanadajin カナダ人
    Canadian person.
  • oosutorariajin オーストラリア人
    Australian person.
  • doitsujin ドイツ人
    German person.

And, of course:
  • tikyuujin 地球人
    Earthling person.
  • kaseijin 火星人
    Martian person.
  • uchuujin 宇宙人
    Space person.

Counting People

Another note is that when you're counting people in Japanese, the reading becomes ri 人 for "one person" and "two people."
  • hitori 一人
    One person.
    (from hitotsu 一つ, "one")
  • futari 二人
    Two people.
    A couple.
    (from futatsu 二つ, "two")

However, from 3 people onward the reading becomes nin 人, and the numbers also change in reading, from kun'yomi to on'yomi. (what is kun'yomi and on'yomi)
  • san'nin 三人
    Three people.
  • yon'nin 四人
    Four people.
  • gonin 五人
    Five people.
  • rokunin 六人
    Six people.
  • shichinin 七人
    Seven people.
  • hachinin 八人
    Eight people.
  • kyuunin 九人
    Nine people.
  • juunin 十人
    Ten people.

That's about it, folks.


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  1. I want to get a kanji tattoo saying Jupiter person Jin. I don't know Japanese, what say you? Email my username at hotmail dot com.

    1. Mokusei 木星 is how you say "Jupiter" in Japanese. So "Jupiter-ian" (someone from Jupiter) should be mokusei-jin 木星人.

      Here's a large image of the word with different fonts

      I wouldn't advise it, though. Getting a kanji tattoo when you don't know Japanese sounds like a bad idea.

  2. Just pointing out that 人数 is read as "ninzuu", not "ninsuu".