I'm currently learning the 214 radicals and also the words for HSK1. I have noticed a few times that some characters in the radical list have a different pronunciation to the characters in the HSK1 vocabulary.

For example, in HSK1 the character 丨 is pronounced 'gǔn' but in the list of radicals it is 'shū'. My chinese keyboard recognises both pinyin spellings of the character.

Another example is 丶 which is 'dian' in the list of radicals but 'zhǔ' in HSK1

Could someone explain this to me? Is it just that when we are talking about radicals within a character we use one pronunciation and when using that radical as an independant character we use another pronunciation?

  • 1
    Generally, we don't treat these radicals as characters, specially for a primary school student. so we say 'dian' (refers to a thing) other than 'zhu' (refers to a character). These characters are no longer used in life, for a foreign student, no need to study pronunciations of them. Aug 2, 2017 at 1:29

2 Answers 2


I think the test you did, typing in both pronunciation with your input method to see if you could generate the correct glyph reveals what you need to know. In short, there are different ways to refer to different elements (e.g. radicals) of Chinese characters.

From my experience, there haven't really been any times where I would have to name a radical by its individual name (and I don't imagine most Chinese people would know these, except for maybe some very common ones). Usually I've encountered people choosing to referring to the part of a character (“语” 的左边) or simply drawing the radical on their hand, phone, etc. It would be interesting to find out if people on this site with more formal Chinese education from a Chinese speaking country are familiar with terms for radicals and such. I would guess most people that use Chinese writing frequently don't think too much about them, though.

A parallel in English to discussing radicals might be something like talking about what a "descender" is. (Google: In typography, a descender is the portion of a letter that extends below the baseline of a font.) While certainly some people with some design experience will be familiar with this term, most people just intuitively know what this thing is and work around it, by leaving room at the bottom of a piece of paper for descenders when space gets short, for example.

  • That's really helpful, thanks! Can I ask an extra question? If a character has two radicals: one for meaning and one for pronunciation, then if 丨 is for pronunciation does the character sound like 'shū' or 'gǔn'?
    – Hugh
    Aug 2, 2017 at 8:54
  • 1
    From what the mdbg dictionary says, shù refers to a vertical brush stroke, while gǔn is the name for the radical. So gǔn is probably what you would want to use if you were to name the radical.
    – haksayng
    Aug 2, 2017 at 16:07

I cant recall any character pronouced both gun and shu or dian and zhu...maybe I am a fake chinese the reason why a character have two or more pronouciation is a very long story.my english is not good so that I can tell you it only in chinese.if you can read a long chinese text or you can find someone help you translate,let me know and I will write it for you

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