The Mandarin Learner’s Guide to All 214 Chinese Radicals
Radicals are small components of Chinese characters that make it easier to categorize them and look them up.
Since there’s no alphabet for Mandarin, radicals and character components help you mentally break down a character and make it easier to remember.
We’ll introduce you to all 214 Chinese radicals with usage examples, and then show you how they can aid you in your understanding of Mandarin writing.
- Complete List of Chinese Radicals
- The Difference Between Radicals and Character Components
- How to Use Radicals (and Character Components) to Learn Chinese
Complete List of Chinese Radicals
In Mandarin Chinese writing, radicals are components of characters that index them so you can look them up in dictionaries.
Every character in Chinese has one radical, usually on the left or top of the character.
The chart below has a complete list of radicals to help you on your way.
Please note: Most radical charts use example characters to help you look up words in a dictionary, but the examples in this chart are meant to help you see how radicals and character components appear in different forms within a character.
*only used in traditional characters
|一||one||yī||不 (bù) — no|
|丨||line||shù; gǔn||个 (gè) — measure word for people or objects in general|
|丶||dot||zhǔ; diǎn||门 (mén) — door|
Variant: 乀 乁
|slash||piě||人 (rén) — person|
Variant: 乚 乛
|second||yǐ||吃 (chī) — to eat|
|亅||hook||jué; gōu||可 (kě) — may; can; -able|
|二||two||èr||仁 (rén) — benevolence|
|亠||lid||tóu||高 (gāo) — high; tall|
|person||rén||坐 (zuò) — to sit|
|儿||son; child||ér||兄 (xiōng) — older brother|
|入||enter||rù||内 (nèi) — inner|
|eight||bā||公 (gōng) — fairness|
|冂||wide||jiǒng||用 (yòng) — to use|
|冖||cover||mì||写 (xiě) — to write|
|冫||ice||bīng||冷 (léng) — cold|
|几||small table; several||jī, jǐ||风 (fēng) — wind|
|凵||receptacle||qiǎn; kǎn||出 (chū) — to go out|
|knife||dāo||到 (dào) — to arrive|
|力||power||lì||男 (nán) — man; male|
|勹||wrap||bāo||包 (bāo) — package|
|匕||ladle||bǐ; pìn||它 (tā) — it, as a third person pronoun|
|匚||box||fāng||区 (qū) — area|
|匸||conceal||xì||忙 (máng) — busy|
|十||ten||shí||早 (zǎo) — early|
|卜||divination||bǔ||下 (xià) — under; down; next|
|卩||seal||jié||命 (mìng) — life|
|厂||cliff||hàn||厅 (tīng) — hall; room|
|厶||private||sī||去 (qù) — to go|
|又||again||yòu||友 (yǒu) — friend|
|口||mouth||kǒu||口 (jiào) — to shout|
|囗||enclosure||wéi||国 (guó) — country; nation|
|土||earth||tǔ||走 (zǒu) — to walk|
|士||scholar||shì||喜 (xǐ — to like|
|夂||go||zhī||路 (lù) — road|
|夊||go slowly||suī||夏 (xià) — summer|
|夕||night||xī||多 (duō) — many|
|大||big||dà||天 (tiān) — sky; heaven; celestial|
|女||woman||nǚ||安 (ān) — peace|
|子||child||zǐ||学 (xué) — to study; to learn|
|宀||roof||gài||家 (jiā) — home; family|
|寸||inch||cùn||对 (duì) — correct|
|小||small||xiǎo||原 (yuán) — origin|
|lame||wāng||无 (wú) — negative; no; not|
|尸||corpse||shī||尾 (wěi) — tail|
|屮||sprout||chè||纯 (chún) — pure; clean; simple|
|山||mountain||shān||岁 (suì) — year; age; harvest|
Variant: 巛 巜
|river||chuān||训 (xùn) — to train; to teach|
|工||work||gōng||红 (hóng) — red|
|己||oneself||jǐ||起 (qǐ) — to rise; to stand up|
|巾||towel||jīn||帮 (bāng) — to help|
|干||dry||gān||平 (píng) — level; peaceful|
|幺||thread||yāo||系 (xì) — line; link; connection|
|广||wide||guǎng||床 (chuáng) — bed|
|廴||stride||yǐn||建 (jiàn) — to build|
|廾||hands joined||gǒng||开 (kāi) — to open; to start|
|弋||shoot with a bow||yì||代 (dài) — generation|
|弓||bow||gōng||引 (yǐn) — to attract; to pull|
|snout||jì||很 (hén) — very|
|彡||hair; bristle||shān||影 (yǐng) — shadow; image; photograph|
|彳||step||chì||行 (xíng) — to go; to walk; okay|
|heart||xīn||态 (tài) — attitude|
|戈||spear||gē||我 (wǒ) — I; me|
|户||door||hù||护 (hù) — to protect|
|hand||shǒu||打 (dǎ) — to hit|
|支||branch||zhī||枝 (zhī) — branch; limb|
|tap||pū||敲 (qiāo) — to strike; to beat; to pound|
|文||script||wén||蚊 (wén) — mosquito|
|斗||peck (unit of measurement)||dǒu||科 (kè) — science|
|斤||axe||jīn||听 (tīng) — to hear|
|方||square||fāng||房 (fáng) — house|
|无||not||wú||芜 (wú) — luxuriant growth of weeds|
|日||sun||rì||易 (yì) — easy|
|曰||say||yuē||更 (gèng) — even more|
|月||moon||yuè||期 (qī) — time period|
|木||tree||mù||种 (zhǒng) — seed; type|
|欠||lack; be deficient||qiàn||欢 (huān) — happy; pleased|
|止||stop||zhǐ||步 (bù) — step|
|歹||wicked||dǎi||死 (sǐ) — death|
|殳||weapon||shū||没 (méi) — not; have not|
|mother||mǔ||每 (měi) — each|
|比||compare||bǐ||批 (pī) — to criticize|
|毛||fur||máo||笔 (bǐ) — writing brush; pen|
|氏||clan||shì||纸 (zhǐ) — paper|
|气||steam||qì||氧 (yǎng) — oxygen|
|water||shuǐ||冰 (bīng) — ice; ice-cold|
|fire||huǒ||灯 (dēng) — lamp; lantern|
|claw||zhǎo||抓 (zhuā) — to clutch; to grab|
|父||father||fù||爸 (bà) — father; papa|
|爻||lines on a trigram||yáo||爽 (shuǎng) — refreshing|
|爿||half of a tree trunk||qiáng||装 (zhuāng) — to dress up|
|片||slice||piàn||版 (bǎn) — edition; version|
|牙||tooth||yá||邪 (xié) — evil|
|cow||niú||特 (tè) — special; unique|
|dog||quǎn||犯 (fàn) — to commit a crime|
|玄||profound||xuán||畜 (chù) — livestock|
|jade||yù||宝 (bǎo) — treasure; valuable; precious|
|瓜||melon||guā||狐 (hú) — fox|
|瓦||tile; baked clay||wǎ||瓶 (píng) — bottle|
|甘||sweet||gān||甜 (tián) — sweet|
|生||life||shēng||星 (xīng) — star; planet|
|用||use||yòng||通 (tōng) — pass through; to communicate|
|田||field||tián||果 (guǒ) — fruit|
|疋||cloth||pǐ||楚 (chǔ) — clear; distinct|
|疒||ill||bìng||疗 (liáo) — cured; healed; recovered|
|癶||legs||bō||登 (dēng) — to rise; to ascend|
|白||white||bái||怕 (pà) — to fear|
|皮||skin||pí||玻 (bō) — glass|
|皿||dish||mǐn||盘 (pán) — plate; tray|
|目||eye||mù||眼 (yǎn) — eye|
|矛||spear||máo||柔 (róu) — soft|
|矢||arrow||shǐ||知 (zhī) — to know|
|石||stone||shí||确 (què) — certain; sure|
|spirit||shì||标 (biāo) — mark; symbol|
|禸||track||róu||遇 (yù) — come across|
|禾||grain||hé||香 (xiāng) — fragrant|
|穴||cave||xuè||空 (kōng) — hollow; empty|
|立||stand||lì||位 (wèi) — position; rank|
|竹||bamboo||zhú||笔 (bǐ) — writing brush; pen|
|米||rice||mǐ||数 (shù) — to count|
|silk||sī||给 (gěi) — to give|
|缶||jar||fǒu||淘 (táo) — to weed out|
|net||wǎng||罪 (zuì) — crime|
|羊||sheep||yáng||样 (yàng) — style; pattern|
|羽||feather||yǔ||翻 (fān) — to flip over|
|老||old||lǎo||姥 (lǎo) — maternal grandmother|
|而||and||ér||需 (xū) — to need|
|耒||plow||lěi||耕 (gēng) — to cultivate|
|耳||ear||ěr||联 (lián) — to connect|
|聿||brush||yù||建 (jiàn) — to build|
|肉||meat||ròu||腐 (fǔ) — to rot|
|臣||minister||chén||藏 (cáng) — to hide|
|自||oneself||zì||息 (xi) — to rest|
|至||arrive||zhì||到 (dào) — to arrive|
|臼||mortar||jiù||插 (chā) — to plug in|
|舌||tongue||shé||话 (huà) — to speak|
|舛||contrary||chuǎn||舞 (wǔ) — to dance|
|舟||boat||zhōu||搬 (bān) — to move|
|艮||mountain||gèn||很 (hén) — very|
|色||color||sè||绝 (jué) — to cut off|
|艹||grass||cǎo||花 (huā) — flower|
|虍||tiger||hǔ||虑 (lü) — anxiety|
|虫||insect||chóng||虽 (suī) — although|
|血||blood||xuě||恤 (xù) — to show pity|
|行||walk||xíng||街 (jiē) — street|
|clothes||yī||依 (yī) — to rely on|
|west||xī||要 (yào) — to want|
|see||jiàn||现 (xiàn) — to become visible|
|角||horn||jiǎo||确 (què) — certain; sure|
|speech||yán||话 (huà) — to speak
|谷||valley||gǔ||容 (róng) — appearance|
|豆||bean||dòu||短 (duǎn) — short|
|豕||pig||shǐ||家 (jiā) — home; family|
|豸||legless insects||zhì||貌 (mào) — countenance|
|shell||bèi||员 (yuán) — worker; staff member|
|赤||red||chì||赫 (hè) — bright|
|走||walk||zǒu||起 (qǐ) — to rise; to stand up|
|足||foot||zú||促 (cù) — to urge|
|身||body||shēn||谢 (xiè) — to thank|
|cart||chē||较 (jiào) — to compare|
|辛||bitter||xīn||辩 (biàn) — to debate|
|辰||morning||chén||晨 (chén) — daybreak|
|辶||walk||chuò||这 (zhè) — this|
|city||yì||唈 (yì) — to sob
|酉||wine||yǒu||配 (pèi) — to mix; to be suited for|
|釆||distinguish||biàn||翻 (fān) — to flip over|
|里||village||lǐ||理 (li) — logic; truth|
|metal||jīn||钱 (qián) — money|
|long||cháng||账 (zhàng) — account|
|gate||mén||问 (wèn) — to ask about
|mound||fù||埠 (bù) — port city|
|隶||slave||lì||康 (kāng) — health|
|隹||short-tailed bird||zhuī||谁 (shéi) — who, question form|
|雨||rain||yǔ||需 (xū) — to need|
|青||blue||qīng||请 (qíng) — please|
|非||wrong||fēi||罪 (zuì) — crime|
|面||face||miàn||缅 (miǎn) — distant|
|革||leather||gé||鞋 (xié) — shoe|
|soft leather||wěi||伟 (wěi) — extraordinary|
|韭||leek||jiǔ||韮 (jiǔ) — scallion|
|音||sound||yīn||意 (yī) — thought|
|page||yè||题 (tí) — headline|
|wind||fēng||疯 (fēng) — crazy|
Variant: 飠 食
|eat||shí||饿 (è) — hungry|
|首||head||shǒu||道 (dào) — path|
|香||fragrant||xiāng||馥 (fù) — scent|
|horse||mǎ||妈 (mā) — mother|
|骨||bone||gǔ||滑 (huá) — to slip|
|高||high||gāo||搞 (gǎo) — to clarify|
|髟||long hair||biāo||髦 (máo) — bangs
|鬲||cauldron||lì||隔 (gé) — partition|
|鬼||ghost||guǐ||魔 (mó) — devil|
|fish||yú||鲜 (xiān) — fresh|
|bird||niǎo||鸡 (jī) — chicken
|卤||salty||lǔ||鹾 (cuó) — salty|
|鹿||deer||lù||漉 (lù) — to filter|
|wheat||mài||麸 (fū) — bran|
|麻||hemp||má||磨 (mó) — to polish
|黄||yellow||huáng||璜 (huáng) — a semicircular jade pendant|
|黑||black||hēi||墨 (mò) — ink|
|frog||mǐn||绳 (shéng) — rope|
|鼓||drum||gǔ||瞽 (gǔ) — blind|
|鼠||rat||shǔ||癙 (shǔ) — illness caused by worry|
|鼻||nose||bí||鼾 (hān) — to snore loudly|
|even||qí||挤 (jǐ) —to squeeze out|
|tooth||chǐ||龄 (líng) — age; duration of time
|dragon||lóng||笼 (lóng) — cage; coop|
|turtle||guī||阄 (jiū) — to cast by lots
|龠||flute||yuè||瀹 (yuè) — to boil|
The Difference Between Radicals and Character Components
Chinese character components can be broken up into three categories: radicals, semantic components and phonetic components.
Some people will refer to all three categories as “radicals.” Or, specifically as “key radicals,” “semantic radicals” and “phonetic radicals.”
That’s because “radical” is used by some to describe the various components of a character, as in “this character has three radicals.”
This isn’t the way we’re using the term “radical” here, but just know that you may see the term being used in more than one way.
Radicals (部首 — bù shǒu) are for looking up a word in a dictionary, just like the first letter of a word in English. Every one of the 85,000+ characters technically has one (and only one) radical.
Although learning to use radicals for this purpose can be helpful, most online dictionaries and dictionary apps these days only need pinyin or a drawing of the character.
Semantic components relate to the meaning of the character. For example, the character 爸 (bà — father) is a vertical character, written top to bottom. The top component 父 (fù) is the semantic component, which means “father.”
Phonetic components give you an idea of how to pronounce the character. Reusing the character 爸 (bà — father) as an example, the bottom component 巴 (bā) clues you in to the pronunciation.
How to Use Radicals (and Character Components) to Learn Chinese
Invent memorable stories about radicals and characters
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.
- 我 means “I; me”
手 (shǒu) means “hand” and has three horizontal strokes and one vertical stroke.
戈 (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.”
This combines the meaning of the character (I), the two character components (spear and hand) and a clue about how to draw the character (through) all 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.
Learn the historical origins of radicals and characters
A character may have a connection to ancient culture or to an ancient form of writing.
One example of a character with a connection to ancient culture is 家 (jiā — home).
This character is made up of 宀 (mián — roof) and 豕 (shǐ — swine).
Animal husbandry had already been developed by the time Chinese writing was developed, and pigs were kept indoors. If a home had a pig, it meant people lived there, so that house was someone’s home. So, a pig under a roof means “home.”
Learn about older Chinese writing systems
The Chinese writing system dates back more than 3,000 years, but the characters have changed a lot over that time.
So some characters that once looked a lot like pictograms (meaning they looked the object they represented) evolved into a completely different forms over all that time of continued use.
A classic example is the character for “sun,” which is 日 (rì). Today, it looks like a nightstand. But the original form was a circle with a dot in the middle, which looks more like a sun.
Find out how pop culture (and the internet) affect Chinese writing
The internet has had a large effect on how we use language, and Chinese is no exception.
The Chinese character 赞 (zàn — to praise) is the Chinese word for “like,” which is used extensively on WeChat moments.
汗 (hàn — to perspire) is a slang word for being speechless because of embarrassment or exasperation.
大神 (dà shén — deity; god) is a common word for someone who’s a guru (as in an expert in something, not the religious type). If you call someone 面 (miàn — noodle), it means they have no backbone.
Learn about the past meanings of characters
An example of a recycled character is 我 (wǒ — I; me).
我 is made up of 手 (shǒu) and 戈 (gē).
手 means “hand” and 戈 means “spear.”
So how did that character end up meaning “I” or “me”? There are a few different explanations for what the original meaning was, but it was a tool or weapon of some kind.
Eventually, that tool or weapon was phased out with newer tools or weapons, so the character was borrowed and came to mean what it does today.
It takes a lot of work to master Mandarin. But 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 able to reading and writing Chinese like a pro.