I found some characters, that look extremely similar to each other, like

Character Pronunciation Meaning
shi4 scholar/warrior/knight
tu3 earth/dust
Character Pronunciation Meaning
yu2 (surname), in/at/to/from/by/than/out of
qian1 thousand, a swing
gan1/gan4 dry/to concern/shield, to work/to do/to manage, manage/stem

Is this a real language phenomenon? What is the name of it? Can I get a list of such "homonim sets"?

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    I can’t imagine that they would be anything other than “easily confusable” because other than that they don’t really have anything in common.
    – Mou某
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:59
  • Can I have a list of all easily confusable groups of characters?
    – Dims
    Jun 18, 2018 at 17:00
  • Define ‘easily confusable’ and you can mine the list yourself. It’s not easily cofusable for people who read Chinese fluently.
    – dROOOze
    Jun 18, 2018 at 17:02
  • @user3306356 said "easily confusable", not me :) My question is if this notion exists
    – Dims
    Jun 18, 2018 at 17:04
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    @drooze—I don't think I can agree with your assessment. Yes, it's hard or impossible to precisely and objectively quantify visual similarity, but that doesn't mean it's not a valid concept. There's no denying the fact that, in English for example, the appearances of i, l, I, 1 are extremely similar (in some fonts indistinguishable) when compared to, say, the differentials I/A or l/o. 于千干 can without doubt be said to be objectively more similar to each other than any of them is to any of 已己巳, which form another 'similarity-cluster'. Jun 19, 2018 at 21:28

7 Answers 7


There are some examples like that, but it's actually not that common, considering there are thousands of commonly used characters, and there's no name for this too (won't call it a phenomenon either).

熱 & 熟: I remember these words from my childhood. I thought they look so similar at that time. Notice I was a native speaker and already speaking Chinese fluently. This is just a part every Chinese learner must learn, and you will certainly get better at recognizing the differences as time goes on.

Those differences may be in a certain stroke (e.g. one character has an extra stroke 大 & 太, or a difference in length 士 & 土, or a difference in angle/order of strokes 千 干), or there are parts of those characters that are different (e.g. 熱 & 熟).

It might help to learn the basic strokes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroke_(CJKV_character)?oldformat=true#Basic_strokes

Stroke orders matter too. Notice the first strokes of 千 and 干.

Here's a list of similar characters if you're interested: http://carlgene.com/blog/2016/06/top-258-most-commonly-confused-chinese-characters/


No, nothing special.

There is a tip for Chinese kids to memorize 已己巳

已半, 巳满, 不出己

已半 means there is a half stem.

巳满 means there is a full stem.

不出己 means the stem is not appear on 己.


This is indeed a topic you need to be aware of when learning written Chinese. There are quite a few common characters that look very similar.

I did a web search with this term "similar characters 末 未 士 土" and recommend the following which were among the first 10 answers:

The next two are at a higher level; for intermediate/advanced students.


Another example is 戊、戌、戍。Even now, I still can't tell them apart.

There is this famous 戊戌變法(I had to look up a dictionary to make sure this is the right way to write it。)If I see a combination of 戍戊變法、戌戊變法、戌戍變法 etc., I can't pick up the correct one.


There are plenty of those examples, like


They look exactly the same, aren't they? The latter one is just a little bit wider than the previous. The narrow one, “日”,means "the sun", while the other one means "say" in a formal way.

Here is a list of some of thoes characters if you are interested. Do not worry on how to distinguishing them, at least one of the characters in all these pairs is by no means commonly used.

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    In 数据输入人员 (data input personnel) , 入(enter) and 人 (person) look quite similar too
    – Tang Ho
    Jun 18, 2018 at 20:04

Well...this phenomenon is NOT Chinese-specific.
I did remember that in Mkhedruli, there are three letters (out of less than 40) looking so similar, and all of them look like number "3", but they are pronounced as V, P, K, respectively! See here in Wikipedia. You can also meet four letters looking like mirrored Gamma in Asomtavruli.
Therefore, it is not strange to encounter a few groups of similar characters in thousands of Chinese characters.

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    Yes. If you are not familiar with them, they look similar. Once you know them, you can distinguish them. Take Burmese as example. Look at these Burmese alphabets: ထ တ က ယ ဟ ဘ သ လ ဃ. They are pretty much a combination of arc and circle in different orientation but Burmese people are not confused by them.
    – joehua
    Apr 21, 2021 at 3:28

lnformation are coded badIy in the form of naturaI Ianguage. But we have our top-down perception to heIp resoIve the ambiguity.

Well, I and l are similar, too. I reversed all of them in the above sentences.

In real life, your acuity for certain visual feature is trained through large exposure to these texts. I think for me identifying them is almost no slower than different-looking characters. Similarly I couldn't read Gothic font, but the experts can read it like they wrote it.

For practical reason, people also tend to signify the difference between these similar characters when ambiguity cannot be resolved by the context.

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