Many times, when reading Mandarin, I will happen across a character that I don't know. Usually, the radical along with some context will clue me into the meaning, but if I can't determine the radical, I'm stuck. Generally, I can spot many character's radicals, such as , or . However, there are characters who have one or more "radical-like" components to them, like or , and I'm unsure how to tell which is the true radical. Is there any general approaches which will at least more better than guessing? Are their certain radicals that generally take precedence over others when they both occur in the same character?

EDIT: My examples aren't the best, as both of those characters have radicals that are easy to pick out. A general strategy for when they aren't so easy is really what I'm after. For example, seems to have two possible radicals, and .

  • Hmmm, you'll need to be a bit more clear when with that last part, maybe by providing an example. I can't recall a situation when I had difficulty determining which part was the radical.
    – Orion
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 6:23
  • @NullUserException Edited to give a slightly better example.
    – brc
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 6:34
  • 1
    The radical for 能 is actually neither of those. It is 肉. See Wikitionary on Chinese radical/肉
    – Orion
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 6:44
  • Another important aspect are characters that have uncommon radicals such as 鬱 where the radical is ­鬯 (chàng, ritual wine). Actually, besides 鬯 itself, 鬱 is the only character that uses this radical.
    – FUZxxl
    Commented Oct 27, 2012 at 19:17
  • 1
    Lots of misconceptions in this question and accepted answer unfortunately...Characters do not contain radicals; radicals are arbitrary strokes of characters sectioned off for grouping in dictionaries. Many radicals happen to also be characters, but that’s not true in general, and you definitely cannot say anything about the meaning of a character based on its radical.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Mar 10, 2020 at 12:56

5 Answers 5


A rule of thumb is to look for the radical that seems to be more prominent. For those characters, it's pretty easy:

  • In 烋, notice how 灬 spans the entire character horizontally: it is the radical (火)
  • Same thing applies to 想 : 心 is the radical.
  • As a bonus, in 强 which you have in your name, 弓 is the radical: notice how it spans the entire character vertically

The next best strategy is to identify and memorize common radicals and where they are commonly positioned, eg:

  • In 很 the radical is 彳. This is a radical that mostly appears on the left.
  • In 责 the radical is 贝. This is a radical that mostly appears on the bottom
  • In 军 the radical is 冖. When in doubt, pick the one on top (and/or the one with the fewest strokes).
  • In 明 the radical is 日. When in doubt, pick the one on the left.

A lot of this will come with practice.

There are some tools that will allow you to look up word and it will give you the radical, like this: http://mandarintools.com/

  • As I've now edited my question to reflect, the examples given aren't actually what I'm interested in, as you mention they are fairly easy. However, looking for the "more prominent" radical does seem to be a good start, so +1.
    – brc
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 6:16

Just remember the common radicals:

They are both very commmon radicals. You can look up radicals at the zdic.net site.

Concerning your latter question, I think you could look for the less stroke one; but the situation which both parts are radical is rare.

e.g. you can find 贾 with '贝' radical but not in '西' radical in the site I linked above.

  • I suppose I should have found better examples, I know the radicals for both of the given characters, but was looking for a way to identify them in a more general sense.
    – brc
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 6:14
  • actually the '能' is a character made with 'pictograms象形' from ancient character meaning bear '熊'. it's radical is not easy to find. it's '肉' actually, and simplified as '月' in simplifide Chinese. the way to find a radical of a character I think is to disassemble the character to pieces and pick the one which looks more familiar :D
    – Ryk
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 12:25

The radical largely determines the meaning of the word. So if the word relates to lifting, hitting, pushing, etc., the radical is probably the hand radical, since these things are done by hand. If the word relates to feelings or emotions, think of the heart radical. Something made of wood probably has the tree radical in front. There are 214 radicals in all, but only about 40 that are fairly common. So learn at least those 40.


I know you already accepted the answer but I wanted to post something I just found. Actually I can't post it because I'm not sure about possible copyright stuff, so I'll just link you to this table in the English wikipedia for radicals.

It describes visually the usual positions of radicals in Chinese characters.


1.If the word is consisting of two parts, like 你. They are the left part 亻, and the right part 尔. The radical is usually the left part.

2.If the word is consisting of two parts, like 盅. They are the up part 中, and the down part 皿. The radical is usually the down part.

3.2.If the word is consisting of three parts, like 做. They are the left part 亻, and the middle part 古, and the right part 攵 . The radical is usually the left part which is also the first part.

Those are all radicals: from one line to more than 12 lines:

  1. 丶一丨 丿 乙(乛)
  2. 亠 冫冖 八 勹 匕卜 厂 刀 刂 儿 二 匚 阝 丷 几 卩 冂 力凵 人 亻 入 十 厶 讠 廴 又 巜
  3. 艹 屮 彳 巛 川 辶 寸 大 飞 干 工 弓 廾 广 己 彐 彑 巾 口 马 门 宀 女 犭 山 彡 尸 饣 士 扌 氵 纟 巳 土 囗 兀 夕 小 忄 幺 弋 尢 夂 子
  4. 贝 比 灬 长 车 歹 斗 厄 方 风 父 戈 卝 户 火 旡 见 斤 耂 毛 木 肀 牛 牜 爿 片 攴 攵 气 欠 犬 日 氏 礻 手 殳 水 瓦 尣 王 韦 文 毋 心 牙 爻 曰 月 爫 支 止 爪
  5. 白 癶 歺 甘 瓜 禾 钅 立 龙 矛 皿 母 目 疒 鸟 皮 生 石 矢 示 罒 田 玄 穴 疋 业 衤 用 玉
  6. 耒 艸 臣 虫 而 耳 缶 艮 虍 臼 米 齐 肉 色 舌 覀 页 先 行 血 羊 聿 至 舟 衣 竹 自 羽 糸 糹
  7. 贝 采 镸 车 辰 赤 辵 豆 谷角 克 里 卤 麦 身 豕 辛 言 邑 酉 豸 走 足
  8. 青 靑 雨 齿 长 非 阜 金 釒 隶 门 靣 飠 鱼 隹
  9. 风 革 骨 鬼 韭 面 首 韦 香 页 音
  10. 髟 鬯 斗 高 鬲 马
  11. 黄 卤 鹿 麻 麦 鸟 鱼

more than 12 lines  鼎 黑 黾 黍 黹 鼓 鼠 鼻 齐 齿 龙 龠

  • Hello Jane and welcome to CL&U! There is not much in the answer. I mean, you just copied the list of radicals, which is not more helpful than looking for that on internet. Can you edit your answer and improve it? Thanks.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 13:01

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