The radical 阜 and its other form 阝, used on the left, supposedly means mound or dam. Looking at image web search hits for 阜 or 阝, I get nothing related to dam or mound.

When I look up the Chinese translation of the words dam and mound, I get 水坝, 大坝, 土丘. None of which even contains 阜 or 阝.

What is going on? Are the Chinese trying to fool me? :)

  • 2
    The "Chinese" are no more lying to you than the English are when searching for "ham" will give you results for pork instead of "farm, homestead". Language evolves, and in this case, the character is archaic and mostly survives in place names and by lending its meaning as a radical. Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 23:46
  • Related: chinese.stackexchange.com/q/6264/3561 :)
    – Ming
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 3:35

3 Answers 3


Could you share the context where you encountered this character? I'm almost certain that this character is only used in geographic names nowadays, for example, 阜阳 or 阜成门. This is why you could not find it in modern translations of the words dam or mound, because even most Chinese people would not understand the meaning of this single character .

  • learning radicals
    – anonnymous
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:22
  • So are some radicals practically only used to convey a sound/pronounciation ie just as phonetic?
    – anonnymous
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:26
  • Actually there is an imperfect rule, and it works most of the time. When a radical is the left part of a character, it conveys a certain sense. For example as in (northern side of a hill) and (southern side of a hill), it carries the meaning of mound. But when the radical is the right part of a character, it usually only controls the sound of the character. For example 阜 fù as in 埠 bù(harbor), it conveys only the sound, not its original meaning.
    – vicch
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:48

Unfortunatelly, a character with some meaning doesn't necessarily take that meaning's radical.

For example: the word 母亲 (mother) doesn't have the 女 (woman) radical, even though it has a woman's idea.

That's what's happening with the word 土丘. Even though it has a "mountain" meaning, it doesn't necessarily take the mountain radical (阝).

The other way around is also true. Even if a character has some radical, it doesn't mean that we can clearly see that radical's meaning nowadays.

For example: 阿 (a) or 附 (attach) don't have a clear "mountain" meaning on them, although they have (阝). But they certainly had it when both characters were created back in the days.

I hope this helps you! =)


Yes you do, you just have to look further down the results of Google image search (and I wasn't expecting the top most images =.=). However, I don't think 阜 means dam, but it does mean mound, though in 99% cases it would be 土丘 or some other words because 阜 does not appear in conversational Chinese as far as I know. You get images related to ears because 阝 looks like an ear.

  • "though in 99% cases it would be 土丘 or some other words because 阜 does not appear in conversational Chinese", this is what I am wondering, why
    – anonnymous
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:19
  • why are some radicals not in use for their meaning
    – anonnymous
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:47

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