JLPT N5 Kanji – 三, san, three

This is 5 Minute Kanji, and today we are going to go over another simple kanji, the kanji for three.

Mnemonic:

SANta regularly MEETSU with his 3 most important elves, ME included.

Onyomi:

さん
san

Kunyomi:

み, みっ.
mi, mittsu

If you recall from our previous lesson on the kanji for one and two, the onyomi or Chinese pronunciation is used to count up in Japanese. However, みっつ, the kunyomi or Japanese pronunciation, is used as a generic counter for objects that don’t have a specific counter.

Mnemonic Factory

For the looks of the kanji, again it is as simple as the kanji for one or two. You can think of it as three swords, three fingers, or three slashes. Now, these of course aren’t simply three strokes of any size. You start at the top with a mid-length stroke, the second stroke is shorter, and the final bottom stroke is the longest. How I remember this is I think of a long-necked woman of Thailand. The three strokes are rings around her neck the bottommost being her shoulders, then her neck which is the shortest and finally her head which is slightly wider.

For the reading, there are a few ways you can use the onyomi さん. We can imagine the day of the week SANday, a three-layer SANdwich, or if you are a Game of Thrones fan – SANsa Stark. For the kunyomi or Japanese pronunciation, there are several words you can use. For MI, you can use the note MI as in DO RE MI, MEAt, or MIror. MITTSU only has a few candidates. You can only really say MEETS. He meets with his staff regularly.

Example Words

Let’s look at some examples where this kanji is used.

Onyomi
For onyomi, we have さん for three. Keep in mind though that the kanji is rarely used in everyday situations. You will most likely only see it on formal documents, awards, or price lists at old-fashion Japanese-style restaurants. You might also see it for March, 三月さんがつ on a decorative calendar for example.

To talk about one or two people, ひとり and ふたり we used the kunyomi, but to talk about 3 or more people, we use the onyomi, so for 3 people that’s 三人さんにん. From here on out, there are no more irregular pronunciations when counting people. You just need to add にん to the number.

One of the common jukugo that regularly use the kanji for three is 三角さんかく, or triangle. This won’t appear on the N5, but it’s a useful word nonetheless.

Kunyomi
For kunyomi, there is the generic counter みっ, that can be used to count objects that don’t have a specific counter or that you forgot which counter to use. Of course, try to use the counter for that particular kind of object, but when you get stuck, you can use this.

Irregular
If you’ve watched the videos for one and two, you can probably guess by now that the day of the month is slightly irregular as well. It’s not 三日さんにち, but rather 三日みっか. In other words, it uses a slightly different version of the kunyomi for three, and the kunyomi for day.

Story Review

Can you remember the story from the beginning? Let’s give it a try, and yell out the words that are missing.

___ta regularly ______ with his 3 most important elves, __ included.

Perfect? Let’s give it another try.

___ta regularly ______ with his 3 most important elves, __ included.

Word Review

Can you read these? I’ll give you the kanji and please yell out the reading for each word

三月

三人

三つ

三日

三角

That’s it for the kanji for three. Be sure to visit the Courses site to download the kanji practice sheet, which will walk you through how to remember this kanji’s reading and help you use it well.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. If you’d like to learn more kanji, hit the subscribe button and hit the bell mark to get a notification every time I send out a new video. Also be sure to check out my other 5 Minute Kanji videos.

Head over to the Courses site to download the kanji practice sheet and take a kanji quiz.

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