Oh great. I have to ask in English to get it past StackExchange filters. Characters with radicals typically have pronunciations close to the bare character. For example: "韦“ (wei) versus "伟“ (wei) or "敢“ (gan) versus "憨“ (han) But "也" (ye) and "他“ (ta) are very much exceptions. Why?

有部首旁的汉字的发音通常按照没有部首旁的字。 例如 “韦”/”伟“、 “清”/“青”、 “敢”/“憨”等。

但是 “也”/“他” 根本在例外。为什么?

  • The readings of characters have changed a lot.
    – fefe
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 10:18
  • Yeah, that would certainly seem to be the case. But "也" is so commonly used that it seems a little strange. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 10:28
  • Can you specify what you mean by a 没有部首旁的字?
    – dROOOze
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 13:35
  • I actually don't know if there's an official term for "has a radical on the side" in Chinese. one sez 人旁的《字》, so I just took as swing at it and guessed that was the way to say it. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 19:08
  • What's wrong with asking in English? SE is not purely an Q/A website. It is supposed to provide people knowledge not just satisfy people own needs, using a single language is an requirement to achieve this , people who can search questions using one certain language, without worrying about language barrial. And avoid much duplication that only differ in language. Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 15:50

4 Answers 4


Please refer to Old Chinese reconstructions when analysing phonetic components of characters.

他 - Baxter-Sagart OC: /*l̥ˤaj/ > MC: /tʰɑ/ > Mandarin Pinyin:

也 - Baxter-Sagart OC: /*lAjʔ/ > MC: /jiaX/ > Mandarin Pinyin:


You should probably learn that 部首 is a dictionary indexing tool, and has nothing to do with the functions of character components.

  • indeed. I was just taking a swing at it. No idea whatsoever how to say the generic form of 人旁的《字》、心旁的《字》 等, nor am I actually certain that there IS a way to say it. Also, look at that: the two characters WERE the same up until middle Chinese! (note that I am guessing here, as I have no clue at all how to read those squiggly letters) Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 19:09


well, this assumption is incorrect

an example:

潢.熿.獚.璜.磺.穔.簧.蟥.趪.鷬 and 黃, all share the same pronunciation wong4


so, what about

it has the component 黃 in the bottom part. unfortunately, this one is pronounce as hung4


the moral is: don't assume the pronunciation of any chinese character.

  • 1
    Wait. You just proved my point. "wong" and "hong" are the same in many dialects. But "ta" and "ye" are most definitely not. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 19:02

Words "come" and "become" pronounce similarly. So you think "也" and "他" should also make like this way, right?

This is no Chinese thinking mind, if you study more, you will see lots of similar samples, even "己" and "已" are different on pronunciation and meaning also.

  • Incorrect. 已 and 己 are completely different characters that just happen to look somewhat the same when converted to 正楷. 他 and 也 are in fact the same character (at least the phonetic part). There's more going on here, I guarantee you. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 19:06
  • The "phonetic portion" method is very much a part of how Chinese characters work, and has been in place since the Zhou dynasty. You are SUPPOSED to be able to rely on the non-radical portion to guess pronunciation. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 19:39
  • hi @MarkGerolimatos , I think you follow a thinking mind that the character seems like similar so the pronunciation also should be similar. That is why I say so. Or I can provide another example, like 环 and 不 Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 9:10
  • ummmmm...you DO know that 环 is really 環 , which IS pronunced somewhat like 睘 . Not incredibly close, but not nealy as far as huan and qiong Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 9:57
  • and yes, I AM saying PRECISELY that Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 9:57

(yeah, right, downvote. Don't write your own researched writing, just press a button. Boooooo!)

Okay, you folks all missed it. (by the way, @peter : "di" sounds somewhat like "ta", see below).

The AMAZING history of《也》...

Turns out that 《也》 has an amazing history, and has taken on three distinct meanings over that annoying "five thousand years of Chinese history" that you always hear about. The morphology is simply amazing.

Modern Meaning

The modern "also"《也》(ye) is somehow a bastardization of《亦》(yi)...It is unclear how this happened, but you can see how they KIND-A look the same.

Post-Oracle Bone Meaning

In ancient chinese, you didn't say

Oranges are fruit

you said:

Oranges this, fruit that


Here, 《也》is a completely different word from the modern character. In the ancient meaning, it was "that", and was pronounced closer to "ta". Hence《他》("ta") for "him" and 《地》 ("di") for ground.

Along the way, the 《也》 got dropped, leaving just 《是》 (shi), which then became "is", if only because the "that" part of the sentence disappeared, so what the heck, why not?

Hold up, it gets better...

"Down home" Oracle Bone-Era Meaning

《也》as "that" is in itself a loan character from the very EARLY Zhou Dynasty era, when "concept words" repurposed mostly unused characters. Turns out Oracle Bone-era Chinese writing was centered on pretty basic stuff ("will it rain?", "will my cow die?"), so most characters were pretty basic.

文 and 字

These characters were referred to as 《文》, and tended to be actual pictographs, while fancy stuff made up of multiple characters glomed together were referred to as 《字》. Hence the term 《文字》. In fact, 《文》is itself a 文, and 《字》 is itself a 字!

Fun Tangent

《愛》(ai), "to love" Is an early 字. It didn't mean "hey gal, I luv ya!", it meant to lovingly take care of someone or something, and was a picture of a mother taking her toddler out for a walk (even wearing his cute little baby booties if you can believe it!!!), with a heart thrown in to show the care implied.

Back to the story...

During Zhou, scribes needed to write down concepts which didn't have 文 ... how else were they going to write the various classics? They couldn't just go on and on about cows, rain and meat, so they had to do SOMETHING.

So they borrowed 文 that SOUNDED like the concept words they needed to write down. It appears that they didn't modify sound-alike characters, they just reused them! So for a period of time, a character had two meanings: the "down home" 文 meaning like "dustpan"(《其》) or "scorpion" (《萬》), and the conceptual meaning like "them" or "10,000". The likelihood of using "dustpan" and "that group over there" was pretty small. So it kind-a worked. But still,

...that's not confusing at all...

When the "radical" system was invented later, the original "down home" use of the 文 was often remapped to a 字,with a radical attached to provide category meaning (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know radical is a lookup method...shaddap already...). So 《其》 became 《箕》 by adding a bamboo radical (so now you know what dustpans were made out of back then!)

Sometimes, the ancient, down home 文 use was just lost, and another word and/or character took the "down home" meaning.

But what about 《也》?

I don't mean to leave you with a cliffhanger, but sadly, I won't be telling you what the actual oracle bone-era meaning was, will let you look up yourself...it's pretty...ummmm, surprising. So much so that caused quite a bit of stir over the years as embarrassed scholars tried to deny it. In fact, you can still see the "NO NO NO NO, THAT'S NOT RIGHT!" annotations added to the ancient dictionaries.

To this day, the down home meaning was somewhat controversial, with a nonsense definition of "water pail" being insisted upon. But the real meaning is pretty well accepted now.

The end.

Addendum: Examples of 文 and 字

Here are some examples of ancient characters (古文) that lost their down home meanings, and how they got replaced with 字. Note that the first example looks like a 字, but it's really a 文.

文: modern/ancient meaning, down home meaning, replacement 字    
萬:10k, scorpion, 蠆
其:conceptual theirs/his/that stuff over there, dust pan, 箕
為: to be/for/etc., monkey (or possibly elephant), 猴 (or possibly 象)
也:also/concrete "that", <redacted>, <redacted>

PS: For those who don't know what "down home" means, it's a southern US term for backwoods, countryside things. In Chinese, you'd say 《土》.

References: (require knowledge of Chinese)

  • Sorry, half of this information is incorrect...For starters, 橙是果也 is absolutely wrong, it’s just 橙果也. 愛 is not a picture of a mum taking out her toddler for a walk, it was from phonetic 旡 and semantic 心. I hope you consider heavily revising (deleting) this answer, especially the bold heading “we missed it”, which looks ... on an answer chock full of inaccurate information.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 19:51

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.