How to Use Radicals (and Character Components) to Master Chinese

For all those times when the components of a character seem to have no relation to the meaning, nothing will be more helpful to you than creativity. Use the components and their meanings to make up your own story.

From personal experience, the less sense the story makes, the more likely you’ll remember it.

For example:

  • means “I; me”

(shǒu) means “hand” and has three horizontal strokes and one vertical stroke.

(gē) means “spear” and has two horizontal(ish) strokes and one vertical stroke.

The second stroke of “hand” and the first stroke of “spear” combine when writing the character 我. Your story could be as simple as, “I have a spear going through my hand.” The meaning of the character (I), the two character components (spear and hand) and a clue about how to draw the character (through) are all combined in one sentence.

 

Once you remember how to draw and recognize the character, you won’t need the story anymore, so don’t invest too much in it. Just let it serve its purpose.

Another easy way to memorize characters is to use FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

 

And Now for the Radicals Themselves…

The chart below has a complete list of Kang Xi radicals to help you on your way.

Regarding this chart, please note: Most radical charts use example characters to help you look up words in a dictionary. That’s not the purpose of this chart. The examples in this chart are to help you see how radicals and character components appear in different forms within a character.

*only used in traditional characters

Radical English Pinyin Example Char.
one 不 (bù) — no
line shù; gǔn 个 (gè) — measure word for people or objects in general
dot zhǔ; diǎn 门 (mén) — door
丿

Variant: 乀 乁

slash piě 人 (rén) — person

Variant: 乚 乛

second 吃 (chī) — to eat
hook jué; gōu 可 (kě) — may; can; -able
two èr 仁 (rén) — benevolence
lid tóu 高 (gāo) — high; tall

Variant: 亻

person rén 坐 (zuò) — to sit
son; child ér 兄 (xiōng) — older brother
enter 内 (nèi) — inner

Variant: 丷

eight 公 (gōng) — fairness
wide jiǒng 用 (yòng) — to use
cover 写 (xiě) — to write
ice bīng 冷 (léng) — cold
small table; several jī, jǐ 风 (fēng) — wind
receptacle qiǎn; kǎn 出 (chū) — to go out

Variant: 刂

knife dāo 到 (dào) — to arrive
power 男 (nán) — man; male
wrap bāo 包 (bāo) — package
ladle bǐ; pìn 它 (tā) — it, as a third person pronoun
box fāng 区 (qū) — area
conceal 忙 (máng) — busy
ten shí 早 (zǎo) — early
divination 下 (xià) — under; down; next
seal jié 命 (mìng) — life
cliff hàn 厅 (tīng) — hall; room
private 去 (qù) — to go
again yòu 友 (yǒu) — friend
mouth kǒu 口 (jiào) — to shout
enclosure wéi 国 (guó) — country; nation
earth 走 (zǒu) — to walk
scholar shì 喜 (xǐ — to like
go zhī 路 (lù) — road
go slowly suī 夏 (xià) — summer
night 多 (duō) — many
big 天 (tiān) — sky; heaven; celestial
woman 安 (ān) — peace
child 学 (xué) — to study; to learn
roof gài 家 (jiā) — home; family
inch cùn 对 (duì) — correct
small xiǎo 原 (yuán) — origin

Variant: 尣

lame wāng 无 (wú) — negative; no; not
corpse shī 尾 (wěi) — tail
sprout chè 纯 (chún) — pure; clean; simple
mountain shān 岁 (suì) — year; age; harvest

Variant: 巛 巜

river chuān 训 (xùn) — to train; to teach
work gōng 红 (hóng) — red
oneself 起 (qǐ) — to rise; to stand up
towel jīn 帮 (bāng) — to help
dry gān 平 (píng) — level; peaceful
thread yāo 系 (xì) — line; link; connection
广 wide guǎng 床 (chuáng) — bed
stride yǐn 建 (jiàn) — to build
hands joined gǒng 开 (kāi) — to open; to start
shoot with a bow 代 (dài) — generation
bow gōng 引 (yǐn) — to attract; to pull

Variant: 彑

snout 很 (hén) — very
hair; bristle shān 影 (yǐng) — shadow; image; photograph
step chì 行 (xíng) — to go; to walk; okay

Variant: 忄

heart xīn 态 (tài) — attitude
spear 我 (wǒ) — I; me
door 护 (hù) — to protect

Variant: 扌

hand shǒu 打 (dǎ) — to hit
branch zhī 枝 (zhī) — branch; limb

Variant: 攵

tap 敲 (qiāo) — to strike; to beat; to pound
script wén 蚊 (wén) — mosquito
peck (unit of measurement) dǒu 科 (kè) — science
axe jīn 听 (tīng) — to hear
square fāng 房 (fáng) — house
not 芜 (wú) — luxuriant growth of weeds
sun 易 (yì) — easy
say yuē 更 (gèng) — even more
moon yuè 期 (qī) — time period
tree 种 (zhǒng) — seed; type
lack; be deficient qiàn 欢 (huān) — happy; pleased
stop zhǐ 步 (bù) — step
wicked dǎi 死 (sǐ) — death
weapon shū 没 (méi) — not; have not

Variant: 毋

mother 每 (měi) — each
compare 批 (pī) — to criticize
fur máo 笔 (bǐ) — writing brush; pen
clan shì 纸 (zhǐ) — paper
steam 氧 (yǎng) — oxygen

Variant: 氵

water shuǐ 冰 (bīng) — ice; ice-cold

Variant: 灬

fire huǒ 灯 (dēng) — lamp; lantern

Variant: 爫

claw zhǎo 抓 (zhuā) — to clutch; to grab
father 爸 (bà) — father; papa
lines on a trigram yáo 爽 (shuǎng) — refreshing
half of a tree trunk qiáng 装 (zhuāng) — to dress up
slice piàn 版 (bǎn) — edition; version
tooth 邪 (xié) — evil

Variant: 牜

cow niú 特 (tè) — special; unique

Variant: 犬

dog quǎn 犯 (fàn) — to commit a crime
profound xuán 畜 (chù) — livestock

Variant: 王

jade 宝 (bǎo) — treasure; valuable; precious
melon guā 狐 (hú) — fox
tile; baked clay 瓶 (píng) — bottle
sweet gān 甜 (tián) — sweet
life shēng 星 (xīng) — star; planet
use yòng 通 (tōng) — pass through; to communicate
field tián 果 (guǒ) — fruit
cloth 楚 (chǔ) — clear; distinct
ill bìng 疗 (liáo) — cured; healed; recovered
legs 登 (dēng) — to rise; to ascend
white bái 怕 (pà) — to fear
skin 玻 (bō) — glass
dish mǐn 盘 (pán) — plate; tray
eye 眼 (yǎn) — eye
spear máo 柔 (róu) — soft
arrow shǐ 知 (zhī) — to know
stone shí 确 (què) — certain; sure

Variant: 礻

spirit shì 标 (biāo) — mark; symbol
track róu 遇 (yù) — come across
grain 香 (xiāng) — fragrant
cave xuè 空 (kōng) — hollow; empty
stand 位 (wèi) — position; rank
bamboo zhú 笔 (bǐ) — writing brush; pen
rice 数 (shù) — to count

Traditional: 糸

silk 给 (gěi) — to give
jar fǒu 淘 (táo) — to weed out

Variant: 罒

net wǎng 罪 (zuì) — crime
sheep yáng 样 (yàng) — style; pattern
feather 翻 (fān) — to flip over
old lǎo 姥 (lǎo) — maternal grandmother
and ér 需 (xū) — to need
plow lěi 耕 (gēng) — to cultivate
ear ěr 联 (lián) — to connect
brush 建 (jiàn) — to build
meat ròu 腐 (fǔ) — to rot
minister chén 藏 (cáng) — to hide
oneself 息 (xi) — to rest
arrive zhì 到 (dào) — to arrive
mortar jiù 插 (chā) — to plug in
tongue shé 话 (huà) — to speak
contrary chuǎn 舞 (wǔ) — to dance
boat zhōu 搬 (bān) — to move
mountain gèn 很 (hén) — very
color 绝 (jué) — to cut off
grass cǎo 花 (huā) — flower
tiger 虑 (lü) — anxiety
insect chóng 虽 (suī) — although
blood xuě 恤 (xù) — to show pity
walk xíng 街 (jiē) — street

Variant: 衤

clothes 依 (yī) — to rely on
西

Variant: 覀

west 要 (yào) — to want

Traditional: 見

see jiàn 现 (xiàn) — to become visible
horn jiǎo 确 (què) — certain; sure

Traditional: 言

speech yán 话 (huà) — to speak
valley 容 (róng) — appearance
bean dòu 短 (duǎn) — short
pig shǐ 家 (jiā) — home; family
legless insects zhì 貌 (mào) — countenance

Traditional: 貝

shell bèi 员 (yuán) — worker; staff member
red chì 赫 (hè) — bright
walk zǒu 起 (qǐ) — to rise; to stand up
foot 促 (cù) — to urge
body shēn 谢 (xiè) — to thank

Traditional: 車

cart chē 较 (jiào) — to compare
bitter xīn 辩 (biàn) — to debate
morning chén 晨 (chén) — daybreak
walk chuò 这 (zhè) — this

Variant: 阝

city 唈 (yì) — to sob
wine yǒu 配 (pèi) — to mix; to be suited for
distinguish biàn 翻 (fān) — to flip over
village 理 (li) — logic; truth

Variant: 金

metal jīn 钱 (qián) — money

Traditional: 長

long cháng 账 (zhàng) — account

Traditional: 門

gate mén 问 (wèn) — to ask about

Variant: 阝

mound 埠 (bù) — port city
slave 康 (kāng) — health
short-tailed bird zhuī 谁 (shéi) — who, question form
rain 需 (xū) — to need
blue qīng 请 (qíng) — please
wrong fēi 罪 (zuì) — crime
face miàn 缅 (miǎn) — distant
leather 鞋 (xié) — shoe

Traditional: 韋

soft leather wěi 伟 (wěi) — extraordinary
leek jiǔ 韮 (jiǔ) — scallion
sound yīn 意 (yī) — thought

Traditional: 頁

page 题 (tí) — headline

Traditional: 風

wind fēng 疯 (fēng) — crazy

Traditional: 飛

fly fēi *

Variant: 飠 食

eat shí 饿 (è) — hungry
head shǒu 道 (dào) — path
fragrant xiāng 馥 (fù) — scent

Traditional: 馬

horse 妈 (mā) — mother
bone 滑 (huá) — to slip
high gāo 搞 (gǎo) — to clarify
long hair biāo 髦 (máo) — bangs
fight dòu *
sacrificial wine chàng *
cauldron 隔 (gé) — partition
ghost guǐ 魔 (mó) — devil

Traditional: 魚

fish 鲜 (xiān) — fresh

Traditional: 鳥

bird niǎo 鸡 (jī) — chicken
salty 鹾 (cuó) — salty
鹿 deer 漉 (lù) — to filter

Traditional: 麥

wheat mài 麸 (fū) — bran
hemp 磨 (mó) — to polish
yellow huáng 璜 (huáng) — a semicircular jade pendant
millet shǔ *
black hēi 墨 (mò) — ink
embroidery zhǐ *

Traditional: 黽

frog mǐn 绳 (shéng) — rope
tripod dǐng *
drum 瞽 (gǔ) — blind
rat shǔ 癙 (shǔ) — illness caused by worry
nose 鼾 (hān) — to snore loudly

Traditional: 齊

even 挤 (jǐ) —to squeeze out
齿

Traditional: 齒

tooth chǐ 龄 (líng) — age; duration of time

Traditional: 龍

dragon lóng 笼 (lóng) — cage; coop

Traditional: 龜

turtle guī 阄 (jiū) — to cast by lots
flute yuè 瀹 (yuè) — to boil

Hearing complaints about how complicated Chinese is will remind you of how much work it takes to master Mandarin.

But remember the flipside: There are ways to create shortcuts for yourself in learning Chinese, the same as there are with any other language.

With a good understanding of character components and the occasional dash of creativity, you’ll be reading and writing Chinese like a boss.