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Significance Of Radicals

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Hey, I've been studying Chinese (Mandarin) for awhile now and I am just getting into the process of writing and memorizing characters, this seems to be more of a challenge than I thought it would. I have looked online at some websites that list the radicals such as http://www.zhongwen.com/

The only problem is, I cannot seem to find the significance of the radicals in any of these characters. For example, the chinese character for the number five, Wu(3) has the radical of yi(1) in it, yet I do not understand how this has any purpose.

Another example is with the character bu(4) http://zhongwen.com/d/164/x163.htm

This character has yi(1) in it as well, but I do not understand how the chinese character for one, has anything to do with the character for no or not.

Long story short, what are the significance of radicals and how do they relate to the whole character itself, please give some examples too.

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There are dozens of posts on radicals in this forum and elsewhere that answer this question in full. My brief answer is that sometimes radicals are associated with a character's meaning, sometimes not. Modern characters (particularly simplified characters - sometimes visual meaning is lost in the process) are not the same as the originals, and in some cases radicals have seemed to me (non-expert alert) to be an after-the-fact method of organizing an otherwise unruly group of objects. In many cases, radicals are very useful; say you know 女 means woman. Then, while you may not know exactly who 孟姜女 is, you can sure bet this person is female. I suggest you might check out some of the online dictionaries such as you mention and see if there isn't a correlation. There are also books on etymology that give explanations as to the meaning of many interesting characters such as 然.

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You've learned the most important lesson -- that there are no hard and perfect rules when it comes to Chinese characters. Sometimes, the radical's only meaning is for indexing purpose -- especially with extremely simple and pictographic characters.

But in most other cases, the radical will classify the meaning of the character into one of many categories, which can help you narrow down the meaning (but not always).

Example: Water (水) is written as 氵 when on the left side of a character. Characters with this radical often have something to do with water. Examples: 池 - pond, 海 - ocean, 汤 - soup, 汁 - juice, 游泳 - to swim, etc.

Fire (火) is written as 灬 when on the bottom of a character. Characters with this radical usually have something to do with heat or fire. Examples: 熬 - cook, 焦 - burn, 热 - hot, 煮 - to boil, 照 - to shine, etc.

Heart (心) is written as 忄 when on the left side of a character, 心 on the bottom of a character. Characters with this radical often describe an emotion, or thought. Examples: 想 - to wish/think, 意 - idea/wish, 感 - to feel, 思 - to think/consider, 怕 - to fear, 懂 - to understand.

Of course, there are always some exceptions, or characters where the original meaning was supplanted by a more modern one, or where the connection isn't as obvious as it was in the antique times.

It's interesting, and can be a useful tool for learning characters, but don't rely on them too much.

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Bah, I knew I should have searched harder for the answer to my radicals, and thank you very much for that explanation Renzhe, that is exactly what I needed to see.

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The key point to Radicals, is to use them when you look at a character.

When you see a character it should look like 2-4 radicals not like a bunch of lines. You mind can remember these much more easily than 6-16 strokes.

Practicing breaking down the characters into they parts and learning characters and words is helpful.

As some of the radicals are there for the sounds, or have been simplified away from their original shapes somewhat you may want to make up stories about them to make the characters meaningful.

The difference between the drop down to minors and majors in Chinese (other than the huaren overseas chinese) comes down to using radicals to learn Chinese and not be overwhelmed by it.

Good luck,


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