Radicals

Radicals are 214 combinations of well-defined sets of strokes that have a ‘basic’ meaning. For example:


radical



meaning
one
two
man, human


radical



meaning
power
rice field
rain



Every kanji has one radical that gives it its general meaning. Thus, we can classify any kanji according to this one radical it has. Actually, radicals were originally selected to classify and index the kanjis in the kangxi dictionary, published in 1716. Still today, some Japanese and Chinese dictionaries are organized by radicals.

Besides being able to use radical-based dictionaries, learning radicals is useful because they are a basic blocks of all kanjis. We can view kanjis as a random set of meaningless strokes, and learn them the hard way, by repetition, or we can view them as an organized set of meaningful radicals, each one adding some meaning to the kanji. The second way is much easier.

We often refer to the radicals by number. In the tables below, the number of a radical in a given row and column, i.e., (row, column), is

$$\mbox{radical No.} = (\mbox{row} \times 10) + \mbox{column}$$

Thus, for example, the radical for ‘mountain’, , is in (4,6), i.e., row 4, column 6, so it is radical 46, and the radical for ‘water’, , is radical 85, so we will find it in (8,5), i.e., row 8, column 5.

Without further ado, the following are the 214 kangxi radicals, ordered by their number of strokes (wikipedia, unicode):

Overwhelming? Of course… at first sight. However, they are a huge help in understanding and writing kanjis and, unlike the kanas, there is no good reason to learn them all at once. Let’s see them again, more carefully, and get to know them a bit better.

The first thing to know about radicals is that although there are only 214 of them, many appear in different forms, although they often resemble each other. For example, we can find the radical #5 written as ⼄, 乚, ⺄, or 乛; the last three variations are fragments from the first one so, of course, they resemble each other. Likewise, both ⼈ and ⺅ are variations of the radical #9. Thus, a better table of reference for radicals would include these variations:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 丿

𠂉
1

2
3
4



5 广
6
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
7
8


9
10
11
12




13
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
14
⺿


15
16

17
18
19 鹿
20
21



0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9