For those who’re learning the Chinese language, Chinese radicals are not a new concept. Many Chinese learners acknowledge the power of radicals in helping them learn Chinese characters more efficiently. And I bet you will too!
A radical is the main element in a character, and it hints at the meaning of the character. Mastering Chinese radicals will ease your learning journey and save you time and effort. In today’s article, let’s find out more about radicals, including looking at a list of the 214 must-know Chinese radicals, and how they help learners improve their study. Also, we’ll introduce the learning method of using mnemonics and discuss why they’re considered the best way to learn both radicals and characters.
What are Chinese radicals?
First things first, let’s have a brief introduction to Chinese radicals. Chinese radicals are characters that help classify other characters into various groups based on these key pieces and these radicals serve as a semantic indicator, which means radicals can either stand as a single unit or combine with other Chinese components to form radical compounds.
Chinese radicals are somewhat similar to prefixes and suffixes in English. Instead of creating thousands of new characters, Chinese people pair two or more radicals together to form a radical compound character. When a radical is placed next to a component, it’ll add more context to the whole character. If you’re still not sure what we mean, read on for examples!
An example of how radicals work
Let’s see what Chinese radicals can bring to the table! A radical has several functions: it hints at the character’s meaning and may even suggest the pronunciation. If a radical serves as a semantic function, it provides part or all of the meaning. If a radical serves as a phonetic (pronunciation) function, it indicates the sound to the character (or something very close to it).
Let’s study an example below.
爸 bà, which means dad, is made of 2 radicals:
父 fù (father), is the semantic radical and also the key element
巴 bā (to wish), is the phonetics radical, i.e. most of the characters which contains 巴 are pronounced similar to “ba”.
Why does learning Chinese radicals benefit you?
All in all, learning radicals will ease your Chinese learning progress. Radical let you understand the relationships between components of a character. You can learn more characters if you know many radicals. Also, you can guess the meaning or pronunciation of a character if you know what the radical implies.
List of 214 official Chinese radicals
Well, what’s next after knowing about radicals and their benefits? It’s time for you to explore this comprehensive list of 214 Chinese radicals.
Each radical will be displayed along with its pinyin (romanized spelling for Chinese) and its meaning in English. It’s easy to follow and starts with characters with the least number of strokes. You can download the table, store it on your computer or print it out so you can reach for it whenever you need it.
|4||丿 乀 乁||fú||oblique|
|5||乙 乚 乛||yǐ||sickle|
|12||八 丷||bā||eight, separate|
|18||刂 刁 刀 ク||dāo||knife|
|21||匕||bǐ||spoon, man overthrown|
|29||又 ヌ||yòu||still, hand|
|42||小 ⺌ ⺍||xiǎo||small|
|64||手 扌 才||shǒu||hand|
|66||攴 攵||pū||to bump, hand|
|69||斤||jīn||ax, 500 grams|
|80||母 毋 毌||mǔ||mother|
|85||水 氵 氺||shuǐ||water|
|93||牛 牜 ⺧||niú||beef|
|103||疋 ⺪||pǐ||roll, piece of cloth|
|105||癶||bō||to go up|
|113||示 礻||shì||to venerate, to show|
|116||穴||xué||cave, swing door|
|118||竹 ⺮ ケ||shì||bamboo|
|122||网 罒 罓 罓||wǎng||net|
|123||羊 ⺶ ⺷||yáng||sheep|
|149||言 讠||yán||speech (trad)|
|153||豸||zhì||feline, cat family|
|167||金 钅||jīn||gold, metal|
|181||页 頁||yè||head, leaf|
|184||食 饣||shí||to eat|
Why using mnemonics is the best method to learn radicals
The mnemonics method is not a new concept to language learners. More and more people are using mnemonic devices to increase their retention of information and improve their memory ability. The technique connects something you already know with something you’re trying to learn. Mnemonic devices have proven to be superior to other traditional learning techniques as it helps Chinese learners study radicals, characters, or vocabulary efficiently.
The Chinese language system is made of characters instead of words. If you use a rote memorization technique to learn Chinese vocabulary, you can get the hang of simple characters and phrases such as 好 hǎo “good,” 做 zuò “do,” 什么 shénme “what, “你身体好吗 nǐ shēntǐ hǎo ma “Are you doing good?”
However, complicated Chinese characters are another story. They have so many strokes, and if you keep learning everything by heart, chances are you can only retain what you learn for a short time. I bet you can’t learn these characters with rote memorization: 鱻 xiān “fresh/delicious,” 攀 pān “climb,” 尴尬 gāngà “awkward.”
That’s why learning characters and radicals with mnemonics works better than rote learning techniques. First, mnemonics helps you break down complex characters into parts. Then it uses memorable phrases as a story to connect character components to help you get the characters into your head. Simple but efficient!
Here’s an example. The character 越 yuè “to surpass/to exceed” consists of 2 components, the radical 走 zǒu “go” and the component. The component itself has another radical 戈 gē “halberd,” (if you’re not a medieval weapons fanatic, a halberd is a combined spear/battle axe). A mnemonic phrase to help you learn the character 越 is “If you want to surpass your competitors in a race, just run (走) with a halberd (戈), and everyone will back off!”
The article today should have given you some insight into Chinese radicals, and now you have the list of 214 official Chinese radicals. By mastering these 214 radicals, you are sure to get the most out of your Chinese learning effort. Make sure you choose the right learning technique so that you can nail the 214 basics effortlessly!
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