I have some troubles in distinguishing written characters 曰 yuē (to speak) and 日 rì (sun). Although they singularly look different on computers (maybe yuē look a bit wider, while rì is taller), I find it almost impossible to distinguish them when they appear in composite characters, or even alone in handwritten texts. Is there some difference I cannot catch that I should pay attention to? Do their writing differ in stroke order? Thanks!

As pointed out in some answers and comments, there are other sets of characters that look very similar. Among them: 口 kǒu​ (mouth) and 囗 wéi​ (enclosure); 人 rén (person) and 入 rù (to enter), 千 qiān (thousand) and 干 gān (stem), 已 yǐ (stop) and 己 jǐ (self)

  • 2
    You could ask the same question with 口 kǒu​ (mouth) and 囗 wéi​ (enclosure) as well :) Jul 13, 2015 at 14:48
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    Good suggestion. But in order to avoid duplicate questions, maybe adding comments to this post would be enough (as, probably, the answer would be similar too)... Jul 13, 2015 at 14:52
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    口 (kou, smaller) and 囗 (wei, larger) are also different. The individual characters are different in size, but the more important thing is that you are able distinguish them when they are used as radicals. 口 (kou) will never have any other stroke inside it. like 吃, the "square" here is a kou. On the other hand, wei usually has some element inside it, e.g. 国, the "square" here is wei, an 'enclosure', like the borders of the country, etc. This is a handy rule in case you want to look up characters in a dictionary.
    – imrek
    Jul 14, 2015 at 6:19
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    千 and 干, no big deal, the 1st strokes are different. The 千 1st stroke goes from right to left with the stroke slightly falling. The 干 stroke is fully horizontal and goes from left to right. 人 left stroke first, right stroke, which is usually smaller, goes next. On the other hand, 入 opens with the right side stroke and this one is taller than the left side stroke, so the "dominant" strokes are different.
    – imrek
    Jul 14, 2015 at 6:27
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    已 and 己 are really tough, but you can see that the in yi the upper part looks more "closed" because the last stroke starts higher than in ji. There's a 3rd similar character, 巳 (sì) which is fully closed at the top.
    – imrek
    Jul 14, 2015 at 6:28

4 Answers 4


I was secretly expecting this question. :)

In handwritten and calligraphic realization, these characters can be tough to distinguish, although the context will help you a lot.

In printed text, the middle 横 héng stroke in 曰 is not touching the right side of the character, in 日 the middle stroke is entirely through, at least in most fonts. If not, it is only the width of the character that can give you a clue and the context, of course.

Needless to say, 曰 is not very common today, it is mostly used in Confucian text, like 子曰, "The Master said...". So most of the time you see these characters in modern texts, chances are it is 日 and not 曰.

The stroke order is the same.

  • "The Master Said 子曰" usually refers to "Confucius said", which is used in Confucian texts rather than Taoist texts. Jul 14, 2015 at 6:34
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    Sure, thanks. From the point of the characters, this was not that important.
    – imrek
    Jul 14, 2015 at 6:36

Nowadays, especially in print form, as @Drunken Master explained, and are hard to distinguish, but in the classic writing style, the main difference is not that is thin, and is fat, the point is the top-left corner is seal or not.

means sun, and there's no gap on the sun. means say/talk/speak (by mouth), so the lower half of indicates mouth, and the top horizontal stroke is separate, indicating the sound and breath.

Here're some examples of :

曰(甲骨文) 曰(古陶文) 曰(篆书)

and some examples of :

日(甲骨文) 日(古陶文) 日(篆书)



曰 is fatter than 日. You can distinguish them depending on the text where they appera.

日 means day,生日, 星期日

曰 means say.曰 almost appearonly in the text of 子曰. 子 means the person 孔子.

If you wanna experss 我说,你说, you shouldn't use 曰


曰 is wider and shorter than 日.As to the 横 in the middle, the difference is not always obvious since we have different styles of writing.

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