doesn't say anything. It's just a vertical hook. I see it in words like


However, the wiktionary entry doesn't tell any meaning. Does all radical have meaning? Or are some just lines?

For example, wiktionary entry for https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E2%BA%88 dao or knife also don't show meaning. However, it actually means knife.

So I wonder why many entries in wiktionary don't tell us the meaning of a radical?

Do some radicals have no meaning?

  • 3
    "Does all radical have meaning?" No.
    – fefe
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 14:59

1 Answer 1


Many radical have meaning, but not all.

亅 is both a radical and a stroke. In Chinese, like English, all strokes are meaningless. You cannot say strokes c and | in the English letter d have a specific meaning.

Radical is called “indexing component” (部首) in China’s national standard GF 0011-2009. In this standard, there are 201 indexing components in Simplified Chinese. In pp. 3-5 of GF 0011-2009, we can see Indexing Component No 2 is 丨 (alternative form 亅) which is a single stroke and does not have any meaning. However Indexing Component No 22 刀 is a complete character means knife, as it mentioned, ⺈ and 刂 are 刀’s alternative form.

Therefore, we know that indexing component could be a complete character or some stroke(s), including alternative forms such as 亅 and ⺈. But why we need to recognise indexing components? Let us talk about China’s dictionaries (Chinese-Chinese) and Chinese learner's dictionaries (Chinese-English / Chinese-French / Chinese-Arabic…) in paper form. These dictionaries usually arrange their pages by Pinyin A-Z. So if you know Pinyin pronunciation, you can easily locate the pages by ABCD … XYZ Latin alphabet, just like what you do in English or French dictionaries. However, what if you do not know the pronunciation of a character? You can use indexing components to look up a character.

Let's say you do not know how to pronounce 分, and you want to look it up in a dictionary. I have a dictionary for native speakers called Contemporary Chinese Dictionary (《现代汉语词典》) 7th edition. I will use it as an example.

  1. Turn to indexing component directory (部首目录) page of the dictionary.
  2. Guess the indexing component maybe No 11 八. It says it is on directory page 17 (page number of preface, not main entries).
  3. Turn to directory page 17. It shows all characters containing indexing component of 八. 380 386
  4. Count the stroke number of the rest part of the character (indexing component excluded), i.e. rest part of 分 is the part which does not contain 八, that is 刀. Therefore, the stroke number of 刀 is 2.
  5. Locate the title “2 strokes (left)” under the indexing component, then it says 分 is on pp. 380 and 386.
  6. Turn to main entries:
    • p. 380 分 (fēn) <1> v. sperate 分离 <2> v.distribute 分配 … <8> measure word. unit in currency and time etc …
    • p. 386 分 (fèn) <1> n. ingredient 成分 …


  1. Most indexing component has a name, appendix of Contemporary Chinese Dictionary (7th ed) shows these names. ⺈ is called 斜刀头 (xiédāotóu). If you learn Chinese calligraphy, you will know that the stoke 丨 is called 竖 (shù) and 亅 is called 竖钩 (shùgōu).
  2. The indexing component of 分 should be 八. However, to reduce learners’ workload, if learners look up indexing component 刀, they can also see 分 present (with a ° mark denotes 刀 is not recommended for 分).
  3. Traditional Chinese uses Kangxi Radicals (total 214 radicals), which is the origin of GF 0011-2009. Traditional Chinese dictionaries in Taiwan usually order the characters by Bopomofo (注音|zhùyīn) such as ㄅ (b in Pinyin), ㄆ (p in Pinyin), ㄇ (m in Pinyin), ㄈ (f in Pinyin). Cantonese dictionaries usually order the characters by Jyutping (粵拼|yuèpīn), which is a phonetic alphabet in Latin script (A-Z) designed for Cantonese.
  • Quote:- "Many radical have meaning, but not all" I am not starting an argument here, just stating an opinionated observation. And that is, all radicals, (originally), having meanings. Just that the meanings were forgotten / lost through the passage of time for the simple reason that no one, then or now, study radicals for their own sake, unless of course you are a researching linguist, or an etymological geek. Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 2:44
  • 1
    @WayneCheah radicals are dictionary organisation tools. Xu Shen's Shuowen radicals all had meaning (well even this is debatable, he made some radicals up out of thin air and assigned them a meaning and reading), but Kangxi Dictionary (the basis of modern dictionaries) radicals do not all have meaning. Characters must be placed under a radical in a dictionary, as that's how they are organised; if a character cannot be placed under an existing radical which is also a character, some of them will be grouped under arbitrary stroke radicals which aren't really characters.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 2:50
  • @Wayne Cheah I think most radicals originally having meanings, but general native speakers do not know all these meanings, since the primary school education in China only require students know meaning of some common radicals, such as 氵(三点水) in 河 means water, 灬 (四点底) in 煮 means fire. Note 丨does not have any meaning, but it is a radical. So I cannot say all radicals have meaning.
    – Bósài
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 3:08
  • @dROOOze You are right. In Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, radical of character 〇 (líng represent zero in very formal writing, such as 二〇二〇年) is 囗 (方框), not 口 (口字旁). The rule of this radical does not have such clear meaning.
    – Bósài
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 3:15

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