Mandarin grammar: Radicals

What are radicals in Mandarin?

Take a look at the following Mandarin characters:

  • listen shù - tree

  • listen qiáo - bridge

  • listen lín - forest

They all contain the component ‘’.

There is a set group of recurring components of characters, like , which are called radicals.

Mandarin radicals with Burt Bessington

What are radicals used for in Mandarin?

Radicals are used to group Mandarin characters in Chinese dictionaries, but they can also sometimes help you to guess the meaning of those characters.

The examples of ‘tree’, ‘bridge’ and ‘forest’ can all be related to wood (listen ) in some way.

Here are some other examples where the radical can hint towards the meaning of the character:

RadicalMandarin ExampleEnglish
(female) listen 妹妹 mèi mei younger sister 
(mouth) listen chī eat 
(related to body parts)listen 肚子 dù zi stomach 
(clothes) listen 裙子 qún zi skirt 
(roof) listen jiā home 
(animal) listen gǒu dog 
(water) listen hǎi sea 

How do you spot the radical in Mandarin characters?

There are more than 200 radicals in total, but each Mandarin character only has one radical.

The radical may appear anywhere in a character but it is most commonly found on the left, and also at the top or the bottom.

Once you get to know the most frequent radicals, you will spot them very easily.

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