How Chinese Works (III) – Radicals

How Chinese Works (III) – Radicals


Chinese Character(汉字/漢字) is based on strokes 笔画/笔划(筆畫/筆劃)1. Strokes contributes radicals (偏旁部首 also AKA 偏旁 also AKA 部首), and radicals contributes characters.

Here are some very important radicals which have their own meanings in it.

氵三点水 sān diǎn shuǐ – things about water and fluid, i.e.: 江(River), 河(River) 湖(Lake) 海(Sea, Ocean), 洋(Sea, Ocean. Both meanings usually in form 海洋.)

冫两点水 liǎng diǎn shuǐ – also things about water, i.e.: 冷(cold), 凇(Ice on trees, formed by water gas desublimation), 冰(Ice)

火 火字旁 hǔo zì páng – things about fire (This character means fire), i.e.: 爆炸(Explode), 烧(Burn), 烤(Burn, Barbeque – Usually use in form: 烧烤)


木 木字旁 mù zì páng – things about plants and woods (This character means wood and tree), i.e.: 树(Tree), 桩(Long wooden or non-wooden piles), 桶(Bucket)

艹 草字头 cǎo zì tóu – things about plants, grass, and bush (However, bush is 灌木 in Chinese), i.e.: 草(Grass), 茶(Tee), 薯(Potato), and tens of hundreds more…… All kinds of plants’ names.

竹 竹字头 zhú zì tóu – things about plants, bamboo (This character means bamboo), and middle-size plants, i.e.: 篱笆(Fence. In ancient China, fences were made of Bamboo. There are still many fences made of bamboo now in China)

日 日字旁/日字头 rì zì páng/rì zì tóu – things about sun (This character means sun), i.e.: 明(Bright, tomorrow), 旱(Dry weather), 晒(Sun-bathing, put under sun), 晾(Put things under sun to make them dry, for example, hang clothes to make them dry)

钅金字旁 jīn zì páng – metals or things act like metals. All metals in Chinese are in this radical, except for 汞(Mercury, Hg. This is because mercury is fluid under room temperature, so the character wants to show the status more than the type of the element.), i.e.: 铁(Iron), 铜(Copper), 银(Silver), 钾(Potassium), 钠(Sodium). So, it is very easy for Chinese to recognize the status of elements under room temperature, as long as they can remember how to write the character of the element. 铵(ammonium) is not a medal, however, it acts like medal in chemistry reactions(It has a valence of +1, which is greater than zero in reactions, just like medals. -ium is the suffix of alkali metals such as Potassium and Sodium which have valence of +1, which is same as ammonium.)

月 月字旁 yùe zì páng – This character means Moon. However, this radical usually uses in characters about things related to lives and organic chemistry, because organic chemistry is chemistry about living things. i.e.: 脏(zāng: dirty; zàng: abdominal organs), 胺(amine), 脂肪(Fat in chemistry),肥胖(Fat, the adjective).

石 石字旁 shí zì páng – Things about rocks (This character means rock). This radical is also used in all solid, non-metal chemical elements in room temperature. i.e.: 砷(Arsenic), 硒(Selenium), 硫(Sulfur), 磷(Phosphorus), 碳(Carbon)

气 气字头 qì zì tóu – Things about gas (This character means gas, but can also means make somebody angry), and also includes all gases and gas chemical elements in room temperature. i.e.: 氢(Hydrogen), 氦(Helium), 氨(Ammonia), 氰(cyanogen), and so many more.

土 土字旁 tǔ zì páng – things about soil (This character means soil), i.e.: 块(a piece of solid), 坷垃(word used in Henan Province, a solid piece of soil)

and so on……

So, basicly, if people know the meaning of radical of a word, then they can understand half of the meaning of the word.

Chinese is not that hard. If you can remember some basic elements of characters, and put characters together to form words with some imagination, then you can read Chinese easily. So, the hard part is to remember characters and some words that cannot be understanded by separating them. So, find all Chinese radicals by yourself, and remember them all. Do it now.



1: Sometimes there are more than one right way to write a word in Chinese (though occasionally and very rare). This is an example. Also, the same word may have different ways to write in Chinese and Japanese, for example: 计划(计劃) – The common way in Simplified Chinese; 计画(计畫) – The common way in traditional Chinese and Japanese. I will talk about Chinese Characters in different locations and/or countries (P.R.C, R.O.C, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore) in the next chapter – Characters.

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