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Mastering Chinese Characters Through Radicals – Recognizing Chinese Characters by Their Radicals

This week, I have chosen a set of Chinese characters that beginners may easily confuse. In the picture below, you’ll see six pairs of characters. The symbols in the second and fourth columns differ from those in the first and third columns by an element called a radical.

Radicals are graphical components under which characters are listed in dictionaries. They often indicate general meaning and can provide clues to the character’s meaning. For example, the radical 讠 (yán) in the pairs below means “speech,” so characters with this radical are mostly related to verbal communication.

Chinese Characters by Radicals

Besides those listed in the picture, here are a few more examples:

  • 说 (shuō) – to speak, to talk
  • 语 (yǔ) – spoken language
  • 话 (huà) – words, expressions, phrases

Other elements of Chinese characters may be phonetic components. Notice how similar the pronunciations are in the following pairs of characters:

  • 人 (rén) – 认 (rèn)
  • 只 (zhǐ) – 识 (shí)

However, don’t completely rely on the resemblance. Many other characters look similar but sound completely different.

To memorize Chinese characters better and faster, it may be useful to create your own lists of characters that differ by their radicals. For example, many people have trouble distinguishing 八 and 人. Look at them closely and remember how they are written:


Radicals are very important in learning Chinese characters, and it’s best to memorize them to help you learn quickly. You’ll see a lot of repetition that will help you remember what the radical means, but remember that the meanings and the phonics aren’t always the same for each character. Take these tips into consideration and keep learning!

Explore additional resources and methods to deepen your understanding of Chinese characters and their components. Check out this comprehensive list of Chinese characters and learn about effective strategies for writing Chinese characters.

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Oksana Ermolaeva

Oxana Ermolaeva is a freelance writer, editor and translator from Russia. She loves studying new languages and cultures. Her special interest is Chinese language.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This article is especially helpful and encouraging to my goal of learning and remembering hanzi.
    How many radicals are there?

    1. Hope it helps! Although there is some variation – depending primarily on what secondary radicals are also indexed – there are 214 radicals of the Kangxi Dictionary still serving as the basis for most modern Chinese dictionaries.

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