214 Must-Know Chinese Radicals for Every Learner

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. 

Number Key Pinyin English
1 one
2 gǔn line
3 zhǔ stroke
4 丿 乀 乁 oblique
5 乙 乚 乛 sickle
6 jué hook
7 èr two
8 tóu shelter, head
9 人 亻 rén man
10 er child
11 to enter
12 八 丷 eight, separate
13 jiōng scope
14 to cover
15 bīng ice
16 table
17 qiǎn container
18 刂 刁 刀 ク dāo knife
19 force
20 bāo to wrap
21 spoon, man overthrown
22 fāng open box
23 to hide
24 shí ten
25 bo divination
26 jié seal
27 chǎng production facility
28 secret
29 又 ヌ yòu still, hand
30 kǒu mouth
31 wéi enclosure
32 earth
33 shì scholar
34 zhǐ to go
35 suī go slowly
36 evening
37 big
38 woman
39 zi child
40 mián roof
41 cùn thumb
42 小 ⺌ ⺍ xiǎo small
43 yóu weak
44 shī dead body
45 chè germ
46 shān mountain
47 川 巛 chuān river
48 gōng work
49 personal
50 jīn turban
51 gàn dry
52 yāo tiny
53 广 guǎng shelter
54 yǐn great, stride
55 gǒng two, hands
56 arrow-grapin
57 gōng bow
58 彐 彑 snout
59 shān beard, brush
60 chì walk around
61 心 忄 xīn heart
62 halberd
63 戶 户 gate
64 手 扌 才 shǒu hand
65 zhī branch
66 攴 攵 to bump, hand
67 wén writing
68 dòu measurer
69 jīn ax, 500 grams
70 fāng square, direction
71 without
72 sun
73 yuē to say
74 yuè moon
75 木 朩 tree
76 qiàn tired
77 zhǐ to stop
78 dǎi death
79 shū weapon
80 母 毋 毌 mother
81 to confront
82 máo fur
83 shì clan
84 air
85 水 氵 氺 shuǐ water
86 火 灬 huǒ fire
87 爪 爫 zhǎo claw
88 father
89 yáo double
90 pán splitted, wood
91 piàn slice
92 tooth, ivory
93 牛 牜 ⺧ niú beef
94 犬 犭 quǎn dog
95 xuán deep
96 王 玉 jade
97 guā melon
98 tile
99 gān sweet
100 shēng be born
101 yòng to use
102 tián field
103 疋 ⺪ roll, piece of cloth
104 disease
105 to go up
106 bái white
107 skin
108 mǐn container
109 eye
110 máo spear
111 shǐ arrow
112 shí stone
113 示 礻 shì to venerate, to show
114 róu get away
115 grain
116 xué cave, swing door
117 standing up
118 竹 ⺮ ケ shì bamboo
119 rice
120 糸 纟 silk
121 fǒu jar
122 网 罒 罓 罓 wǎng net
123 羊 ⺶ ⺷ yáng sheep
124 feather
125 老 耂 lǎo old
126 ér and
127 lěi plow
128 ěr ear
129 brush
130 肉 月 ròu meat
131 chén minister
132 personal
133 zhì to reach
134 jiù mortar
135 shé tongue
136 chuǎn to oppose
137 zhōu boat
138 gěn decided
139 color
140 cao vegetable
141 tiger
142 chóng insect
143 xuè blood
144 xíng circulate
145 衣 衤 cloth
146 西 覀 xi lid
147 jiàn to see
148 jiǎo horn
149 言 讠 yán speech (trad)
150 valley
151 dòu pea
152 chù pig
153 zhì feline, cat family
154 bèi shell, money
155 chì red
156 zǒu to walk
157 foot
158 shēn body
159 chē car
160 xīn bitter
161 chén morning
162 chuò brisk walking
163 阝 (邑) city
164 yǒu alcohol
165 biàn to distinguish
166 neighborhood
167 金 钅 jīn gold, metal
168 zhǎng long
169 mén gate
170 阝(阜) mound
171 servant
172 zhuī short-tailed bird
173 rain
174 qīng blue/green
175 fēi false
176 miàn face
177 leather
178 wéi tanned leather
179 jiǔ leek
180 yīn sound
181 页 頁 head, leaf
182 fēng wind
183 fēi to fly
184 食 饣 shí to eat
185 shǒu head
186 xiāng perfume
187 horse
188 bone
189 gāo high
190 biāo hair
191 dòu fight
192 chàng sacrificial wine
193 cauldron
194 guǐ ghost
195 fish
196 niǎo bird
197 salt
198 鹿 deer
199 mài corn
200 hemp
201 huáng yellow
202 shǔ millet
203 hēi black
204 zhǐ embroidery
205 miǎn frog
206 dǐng tripod
207 drum
208 shǔ rat
209 nose
210 regular
211 齿 chǐ tooth, engrenage
212 lóng dragon
213 guī tortoise
214 yuè flute

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!

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