For example, let's examine the character 天 (heaven). It has a 人 radical (men). And then we add a strip to become 大 (big). And then we add another strip to get 天 (heaven).

Now, is there a site to do so?

I think that'll be the easier for me to understand.


8 Answers 8


The online chinese dictionary MDBG provides radical information for every character in its database. For instance, if you search for the character 天 (tiān) and click on the first result, the "Rad/Str" column reads 大 + 1, i.e., the radical 大 plus one stroke.

Zhongwen.com also gives information on character decomposition. The entry for 洋 reads "Water 水 with 羊 phonetic."

As Alenanno pointed out, not all parts of characters are radicals, but these two resources can give you more information about how characters are constructed.

  • +1 for everyone. This one is selected as the answer for being the most comprehensive.
    – user4951
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 3:39

The etymology explorer of the YellowBridge Chinese Character Dictionary will show you the decomposition of any Chinese character, and even lets you drill-down and explore the components further.

Example: Search for and activate the Etymology tab by clicking on it. The following screen is then shown:

etymology explorer

  • The image gives a fast overview what to expect.
    – hc_dev
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:33
  • A separate Etymology Explorer's User Guide Guide explains character formation as well as decomposition in detail.
    – hc_dev
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 17:51

As mentioned in a question on searching by character parts, tatoeba.org has several tools related to character structure. The one you're interested in would be the one that explodes a character. It's not perfect, and your 天 example produced this:

一 大 大 一 大 大

However, 他 produced this:

亻 也 乜 丨 乚 乛 人

You can always go to the source data at wikimedia commons, but it's not as easy to use. There's a similar data source on codeplex.

  • The Tatoeba link is broken 😧. Additional description for Wikimedia link would help: I found an Explanation of Hanzi Decomposition. That's suppotive material to your answer 👍
    – hc_dev
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 18:00

You seem to assume that characters are only done by radicals, which is not true. Not all parts in a character are radicals.

Consider for example the character 他. The radical is 亻 which is 人, the other part is not a radical; its appearance is the same as the character for "also": 也, but this is not a radical. Radicals are very useful, since you can understand the probable "topic-area" of a character:

烊 has the radical 火 (fire), and means "melt"; 洋 has the radical 水 (water), and means ocean.

In the case of 天, the radical is the #37 in this page, which is 大 + another stroke (4 strokes in total).

If you want to learn characters by stroke, (for example for the character 天) you can use some sites that help you with animations/pictures showing the stroke order; you can also start from the wikipedia resources regarding stroke orders.

  • 1
    天 in ancient Chinese means the head of a person. And hence, it is designed to use a stroke (一) to indicate the position of the head of a person (大=人). Later, its meaning changed to the sky that is something above (一) a person(大). Not all kanji are designed by radicals. This design of 天 is called 指示字, which literally means a word designed by indication. For example, 刑天, which literally means Cut-off(刑) Head(天), is a rebel general in ancient Chinese legend with his head cutting of by 皇帝 (emperor of ancient China).
    – jichi
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 15:28

Another user here runs a site called HanziJS that does what you're asking for. (Sorry, I can't remember that user's name, but I discovered his website while reading here!)



HanziCraft does the best job of breaking down characters into components (not just radicals) out of the sites I've tried, including the other answers here. It's not perfect (e.g. it doesn't do as great a job for traditional characters), but I've yet to find an alternative which provides as deep a level of component breakdown.

For example, 大:


Produces the following:

Once :
大 => 人, 一
Radical :
大 => 大 (big)
Graphical :
大 => 人, 一

Everything is cross-referenced, so you can click on any component to break it down further e.g. if you click 人 from the above you get this:

Once :
人 => ㇒
Radical :
人 => 人 (human)
Graphical :
人 => 人

The CJKVI Database provides downloadable text files which decomposes characters into components, for example:

U+4FEE  修   ⿰⿰亻丨⿱夂彡[G]  ⿰⿰亻丨㣊[TJKV]

U+51AC  冬   ⿱夂⺀[GTJV]   ⿱夂冫[K]

U+5927  大   ⿻一人
U+5928  夨   ⿱𠃋大
U+5929  天   ⿱一大

U+6538  攸   ⿰⿰亻丨攵

I think I should add wiktionary that is the clearest of all

For example, from


I know that the character 你 consist of character ren followed by er. The er consist of character dao and xiao. The character xiao consist of number 8 pa with vertical hook.

It's the clearest I think.

My understanding about it is most likely incorrect. However, it seems working and so far it's the easiest to use and yet easy enough to remember. So, please correct me on the composition of 你 but wiktionary seems to divide characters correctly.

Note: I've been told that wiktionary divide characters into radical incorrectly.

People should use http://zhongwen.com/d/201/x116.htm

However it does make sense enough for me.

The character on top of character er is actually character ru and not dao.

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