Chinese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Chinese language. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm curious whether the shorter stroke or longer stroke are the extra strokes added to 木 to form the characters 未 and 末? And do these strokes have a semantic significance? I learned that 本 has the extra stroke at the bottom for the meaning of root. I'm expecting that 未 and 末 have a comparable explanation that might help me remember them, as I'm continually getting these two mixed up.

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

末 is logographically comparable to 本. The top stroke indicates the top branches of a tree, the end of the tree. Hence the meaning "end".

However, 未 is unrelated to both characters above, it is just a representation of a tree. It is one of the twelve earthly branches, and as such a character that once had some original meaning that is now lost to us; it has been abstracted to mean "not yet".

share|improve this answer
《说文解字》:……未……六月……木老於未。象木重枝葉也。…… I assume there's some relationship between 未 and 木. – Rephinx May 7 '14 at 8:20
Ah, I didn't realize it was one of the earthly branches. Also, I was poking around a bit more and found this description on Uncle Hanzi's etymology for 未: "Primitive pictograph 未. A tree with new branches (buds) 未 indicating something that has yet to arrive. Meaning future." Does this conflict with your comment about 未 being unrelated? – Kevin Bullaughey May 8 '14 at 18:21

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.