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214 Must-Know Chinese Radicals for Every Learner

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.

bà, which means dad, is made of 2 radicals:

fù (father), is the semantic radical and also the key element

bā (to wish), is the phonetics radical, i.e. most of the characters which contains 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. 

NumberKeyPinyinEnglish
1one
2gǔnline
3zhǔstroke
4丿 乀 乁oblique
5乙 乚 乛sickle
6juéhook
7èrtwo
8tóushelter, head
9人 亻rénman
10erchild
11to enter
12八 丷eight, separate
13jiōngscope
14to cover
15bīngice
16table
17qiǎncontainer
18刂 刁 刀 クdāoknife
19force
20bāoto wrap
21spoon, man overthrown
22fāngopen box
23to hide
24shíten
25bodivination
26jiéseal
27chǎngproduction facility
28secret
29又 ヌyòustill, hand
30kǒumouth
31wéienclosure
32earth
33shìscholar
34zhǐto go
35suīgo slowly
36evening
37big
38woman
39zichild
40miánroof
41cùnthumb
42小 ⺌ ⺍xiǎosmall
43yóuweak
44shīdead body
45chègerm
46shānmountain
47川 巛chuānriver
48gōngwork
49personal
50jīnturban
51gàndry
52yāotiny
53广guǎngshelter
54yǐngreat, stride
55gǒngtwo, hands
56arrow-grapin
57gōngbow
58彐 彑snout
59shānbeard, brush
60chìwalk around
61心 忄xīnheart
62halberd
63戶 户gate
64手 扌 才shǒuhand
65zhībranch
66攴 攵to bump, hand
67wénwriting
68dòumeasurer
69jīnax, 500 grams
70fāngsquare, direction
71without
72sun
73yuēto say
74yuèmoon
75木 朩tree
76qiàntired
77zhǐto stop
78dǎideath
79shūweapon
80母 毋 毌mother
81to confront
82máofur
83shìclan
84air
85水 氵 氺shuǐwater
86火 灬huǒfire
87爪 爫zhǎoclaw
88father
89yáodouble
90pánsplitted, wood
91piànslice
92tooth, ivory
93牛 牜 ⺧niúbeef
94犬 犭quǎndog
95xuándeep
96王 玉jade
97guāmelon
98tile
99gānsweet
100shēngbe born
101yòngto use
102tiánfield
103疋 ⺪roll, piece of cloth
104disease
105to go up
106báiwhite
107skin
108mǐncontainer
109eye
110máospear
111shǐarrow
112shístone
113示 礻shìto venerate, to show
114róuget away
115grain
116xuécave, swing door
117standing up
118竹 ⺮ ケshìbamboo
119rice
120糸 纟silk
121fǒujar
122网 罒 罓 罓wǎngnet
123羊 ⺶ ⺷yángsheep
124feather
125老 耂lǎoold
126érand
127lěiplow
128ěrear
129brush
130肉 月ròumeat
131chénminister
132personal
133zhìto reach
134jiùmortar
135shétongue
136chuǎnto oppose
137zhōuboat
138gěndecided
139color
140caovegetable
141tiger
142chónginsect
143xuèblood
144xíngcirculate
145衣 衤cloth
146西 覀xilid
147jiànto see
148jiǎohorn
149言 讠yánspeech (trad)
150valley
151dòupea
152chùpig
153zhìfeline, cat family
154bèishell, money
155chìred
156zǒuto walk
157foot
158shēnbody
159chēcar
160xīnbitter
161chénmorning
162chuòbrisk walking
163阝 (邑)city
164yǒualcohol
165biànto distinguish
166neighborhood
167金 钅jīngold, metal
168zhǎnglong
169méngate
170阝(阜)mound
171servant
172zhuīshort-tailed bird
173rain
174qīngblue/green
175fēifalse
176miànface
177leather
178wéitanned leather
179jiǔleek
180yīnsound
181页 頁head, leaf
182fēngwind
183fēito fly
184食 饣shíto eat
185shǒuhead
186xiāngperfume
187horse
188bone
189gāohigh
190biāohair
191dòufight
192chàngsacrificial wine
193cauldron
194guǐghost
195fish
196niǎobird
197salt
198鹿deer
199màicorn
200hemp
201huángyellow
202shǔmillet
203hēiblack
204zhǐembroidery
205miǎnfrog
206dǐngtripod
207drum
208shǔrat
209nose
210regular
211齿chǐtooth, engrenage
212lóngdragon
213guītortoise
214yuèflute

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 hǎo “good,” 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:   xiān “fresh/delicious,” 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 yuè “to surpass/to exceed” consists of 2 components, the radical zǒu “go” and the component. The component itself has another radical 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 is “If you want to surpass your competitors in a race, just run () with a halberd (), and everyone will back off!”

Final thoughts

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!

Pandanese is a Chinese app designed for people who want to master the language efficiently and fast. Pandanese integrates mnemonics method and gamification to teach you over 6,000 Mandarin vocabulary and hanzi in as little as one year. Let Pandanese show you a new-and-improve way to learn Chinese!

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