That character is the right part of 你 nu, which means you.

According to https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%B0%94 it means you. It reads er

According to http://zhongwen.com/bushou.htm I saw this

enter image description here

So the meaning is "breath"?

Or you?

  • 1
    Zhongwen.com, in the answer you accepted at chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/1300/… unfortunately does not give a correct idea of how characters work.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 14:34
  • No? My answer is wrong over there?
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 14:36
  • 1
    The er consist of character dao and xiao. The character xiao consist of number 8 pa with vertical hook. this is not correct.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 14:38
  • 2
    The character in your picture (尒) and the one in your title are not the same one.
    – fefe
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 15:01
  • 1
    @fefe 尒 is a seal script stroke-traced 隸定 character, in Chinese regular script this character is written as 尔. They're not different in any meaningful sense, just like 人 and 亻 are not different in any meaningful sense.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 1:08

3 Answers 3


There are many resources which "decompose characters", but most of them do not give any insight as to how Chinese characters actually work in relation to the language, and looking at these resources is very counterproductive. The answer accepted here on the character decomposition of 「你」 is from one of the few resources which do give a correct idea of how characters work.

Someone can tell you "what 「尔」 really means" through its decomposition (in this case, decomposition produces only one component, as 「尔」 isn't made up from anything apart from itself),

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「尔」 is a structural abbreviation of 「爾」.

「爾」 depicts a spiked weapon (similar to what is now written as 刺) adorned with decorative feathers. Some variants of the character left out the adornments, leading to the character 「尔」.

The meaning you for the character 「尔」 is a phonetic loan (rebus borrowing).

but, before there is an understanding of how Chinese characters work in relation to the language, any kind of character decomposition is not going to help at all, so it pays to understand the relationship between characters and the Chinese language first, before indulging in any kind of character decomposition.

What does a Chinese character represent?

Chinese characters represent morphosyllables: that is, they represent

  • morphemes, the smallest meaningful units in any language, but whose sound is consistently organised as

  • syllables.

In colloquial terms, this means a Chinese character simultaneously represents meaning and sound, and the sound is (almost) always one syllable.

It pays to thoroughly understand what a morpheme is, so I'll paste Wikipedia's English examples of morphemes below:

Every morpheme can be classified as either free or bound. Since the categories are mutually exclusive, a given morpheme will belong to exactly one of them.

  • Free morphemes can function independently as words (e.g. town, dog) and can appear within lexemes (e.g. town hall, doghouse).
  • Bound morphemes appear only as parts of words, always in conjunction with a root and sometimes with other bound morphemes. For example, un- appears only accompanied by other morphemes to form a word. Most bound morphemes in English are affixes, particularly prefixes and suffixes. Examples of suffixes are -tion, -sion, -tive, -ation, -ible, and -ing.

Please note that morphemes are not, in general words; free morphemes can function as words, while bound morphemes cannot. English is a word-based orthography; the writing is divided by spaces into words. Chinese is a morpheme-based orthography; the writing is composed from characters, with each character representing a morpheme.

How do Chinese characters work?

Each Chinese character is composed of one or more components. Since we know that each Chinese character represents a morphosyllable, that is, a morpheme having simultaneously meaning and a one-syllable sound, then the only things that these one or more components do is throw hints at what the morphosyllable represented by the character is.

How do character components hint at a morphosyllable? For each of the one or more components, they can hint at the morphosyllable in one of several ways. The three major ones are:

  1. The component can hint at the meaning of the morphosyllable
  2. The component can hint at the sound of the morphosyllable
  3. The component can simultaneously hint at the meaning and sound of the morphosyllable.

Components which employ the above morphosyllable hint methods are characters in their own right. However, it is generally not a good idea to further decompose character components into their own constituents; that is, perform recursive decomposition, because these further decomposed components either only peripherally hint at the morphosyllable, or do not hint at the moprhosyllable at all.

Correct and not-so-correct ways of decomposing characters can be shown through an example:

Worked example: Character decomposition of 「鴻」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[ɡ]ˤoŋ/, Mandarin: hóng, a type of swan)

「鴻」 is comprised of the following morphosyllable hints:

  • Morphosyllable hint type 2 - Sound hint: 「江」 (/*kˤroŋ/, Mandarin: jiāng)
    • The meaning of 「江」, river, is not relevant to morphosyllable represented by 「鴻」.
  • Morphosyllable hint type 1 - Meaning hint: 「鳥」 (bird)
    • The sound of 「鳥」, /*tˤiwʔ/, Mandarin: niǎo, is not relevant to the morphosyllable represented by 「鴻」.

Even though the character 「鴻」 is written in the following stroke sequence,

enter image description here

presenting the "decomposition" of 「鴻」 as the character's strokes, ㇔㇔㇀㇐㇑㇀㇒㇑㇕㇐㇐㇐㇆㇒㇔㇔㇔, does not tell you anything about the morphosyllable represented by 「鴻」, and asking whether any of these strokes have meaning is not productive.

Strokes, and the other commonly misunderstood radicals, do not have anything to do with the Chinese language. Chinese characters are not made up of strokes or radicals; they are made up of morphosyllable hints and (almost) nothing else.

In this context, 「尔」 is a character with one component, and good references will not break it down any further. Incorrect decompositions, like the one you've posted in the question*, will suggest very random things that have nothing to do with the meaning or sound of 「尔」, leading people down a time-wasting and misleading journey, and giving a very incorrect idea of what 「尔」 is and how characters work in general. Hopefully, by this stage it is better understood why the following questions and statements are not correct questions to ask and statements to make:

*This particular decomposition comes from the ancient dictionary Shuowen Jiezi.

  • What does 亅 mean?

    • 「亅」 is a stroke in 「尔」, not a character component of 「尔」 (which only has one component). The meaning of 「亅」, if it has one, is not relevant to 「尔」.
  • What's the meaning of the hat like character on top of 尔

    • 「尔」 only has one component, which is itself. It does not contain a hat-like character on top.
  • The er consist of character dao and xiao.

    • 「尔」 only has one component, which is itself. It is not comprised of 「刀」 and 「小」.
  • The character xiao consist of number 8 pa with vertical hook.

    • This decomposition is not correct. 「小」 only has one component (which is itself); it is not comprised of 「八」 and 「亅」. Also, since 「尔」 only has one component (which is itself), it does not contain 「小」; 「小」 has nothing to do with 「尔」.

If the concepts above are understood, then one might start to guess at what a proper description of 「尔」 should or shouldn't look like,

「尔」 contains one component, which is a morphosyllable hint of type 2: Sound hint (see the top of this answer for the glyph origins and explanation)

, and what role it plays in the character 「你」.

「你」 is cognate to 「尔」, and they once represented the same word long ago.

「你」 (Zhengzhang OC: /*nɯʔ/, Mandarin: , you [second person pronoun]) is comprised of

  • Morphosyllable hint type 1 - Meaning hint: 「亻」 (person);
  • Morphosyllable hint type 3 - Simultaneous sound and meaning hint: 「尔」 (/*njelʔ/, Mandarin: ěr, you).

  • Notice that the pronounciation is different too right? 你 is spelled ni and 尔 is spelled er
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 2:20
  • 2
    @user4951 你 and 尔 sound more similar to each other in other Chinese varieties. Modern Mandarin is an exception here.
    – 范阮煌
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 8:26
  • 2
    @user4951 尔 was chosen as the sound component in 你 because at the time of 你's creation, 尔 sounded similar to it (please compare the OC reconstructions in the answer). While 尔 and 你 don't sound similar anymore in Mandarin, it's still important to know that 尔 is the sound component in 你, because characters with a particular phonetic component can evolve into a set of sounds. You'll notice most characters with phonetic 尔 (爾) are pronounced er/ni/mi in Mandarin, and this can actually be observed in other phonetic series as well. For example, 耳 is pronounced er, but 弭 is pronounced mi. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 14:04

The Chinese character (pinyin: er3) is explained within YellowBridge's Etymology Explorer with following meanings:

Definition: you; that, those; final particle

尔 means "you"

The character decomposition of as found on Zhongwen (as shown on your picture) consists of 3 parts:

  • | (ideograph reptesenting vertical things) symbolizes: breath
  • (pictograph of roots) means: to enter
  • (ideograph representing division) means: eight

The final line shows the actual definition paired of part of speech in parentheses (here: (代) = pronoun) and meaning (here: you).

  • So the Zhongwen one is correct? The wiktionary one is not correct? And how come the radical ru is written exactly like dao knife. Wiktionary put knife radical instead of ru radical
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 16:13


1.你,你的:~父。~辈。~汝(你我相称,关系密切)。~曹(你们这些人)。~虞我诈。 2.如此:偶~。不过~~。 3.那,其(指时间):~时。~后。 4.而已,罢了(亦作“耳”):“布衣之怒,亦免冠徒跣,以头抢地~”。 5.词尾,相当于“地”、“然”:卓~。率~(轻易地)。

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