I have noticed that a cat and dog share the same radical, which is 犭dog (quǎn).

So, if we break the words down:

猫 cat (māo) = 犭dog (quǎn) + 艹 cǎo (grass) + 田 tián (field)

狗 dog (gǒu) = 犭dog (quǎn) + 勹 bāo (wrap) + 口 kǒu (mouth)

I have two questions:

1) Why a dog radical has the dog in it with other components?

2) Why a cat has the dog radical it in?

These words are not difficult to remember. For a cat, I use 'meow', which is somehow similar to māo. For a dog, I stick to 'Go, go, dog!', which sounds a bit like gǒu.

However, I am curious about the origin of these words.

  • 1. Both 狗 and 貓 are 形聲字. 2. Nobody says 犭 can only be used for Canidae.
    – user3a
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


The radical in 猫 actually comes from 豸 zhi4 (beast), which you can still see in the traditional character 貓.

Whereas the radical in 狗 is in fact 犭 quan3.

The simplified version of 猫 got the 犭 quan3 radical because of trait reduction and semantic affinity (dog -> beast).

If it sounds easier to you, you can think of 犭 quan3 in simplified Chinese as generically referring to an animal, as in 狼 (wolf), 狮 (lion), 猴 (monkey), 狐 (fox) and words relating to animals as 猎 (hunt).

As for your other question:

1) Why a dog radical has the dog in it with other components?

The dog radical 犭 comes from 犬 which is a pictogram, still used in some words today, especially dog breeds. No radicals other than the image itself. Here you can see an evolution of the picture. (Source: Wenlin, and possibly 说文解字).

enter image description here

If you are talking about the modern character 狗 gou3, it comes from the semantic/radical 犭 quan3 plus the phonetic part 句 ju4. It was probably a colloquial or popular name for "dog" which has made it into the standard language, whereas 犬 keeps a more classical and scientific flavor.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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