What are the differences between these two radicals? What is etymology? Both represent same character or different?

⻖yì mound, abundant R170 ⻏ fú city R163

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    Radicals are dictionary section headers and have very little, if anything, to do with glyph origins or etymology.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 21:34

3 Answers 3

  1. 左阜右邑 (lit. left fu right yi) is a useful mnemonic to remind learners of Chinese that they are different radicals despite graphical similarity.

  2. Usually (but not always, see 5.) and (the 'ear') are the semantic component of the compound.

  3. An example of (mound; mountain) as the semantic component: the character 陳/陣 originally means 'an array' (of soldiers in the battlefield).

  4. Examples of (district; city) as the semantic component: 邯鄲 (Handan city, see the idiom 邯鄲學步), (the Zheng state during the Zhou dynasty), (city).

  5. But this is NOT always true. In , for instance, there is no connection between its original meaning (a state) and its modern meanings (e.g. 鄭重 'solemn'). There may have been phonetic loan, which abolishes the semantic relevance of . The same goes for (evil) – we only know based on character composition that its original meaning could have well been the name of a place (hypothesised to be 琅邪), but that place should in no ways be connected with evilness.

  • Thanks Parker. your explanation for 邪 is great with all exceptional words. I was learning the idiom “天真无邪 tiānzhēn-wúxié (of children) innocent and artless” . 无邪 not evil is clear. 天真 has 3 meanings innocent, art less, naive. I remembered this idiom some how few things not clear like how 天真 become art less? 无邪 Not evil is nearest to Innocent in this idiom? Can you also share your thoughts on this? (It might be separate question, but let me know if you want to add me as a separate question.thanks)
    – user27485
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 2:19
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    @user27485 This is a separate question and you may benefit from other's answers. You can raise a new question if you aren't satisfied with my following comment. // 'Artless' seems to be a synonym of 'innocent' here, and 天真 definitely is not related to its literal meaning. For simplicity, you may choose to remember that 天真 can be used in a positive light (褒義) - as in 小朋友天真無邪 ('Children are innocent / pure'), where 天真 and 無邪 are complementary; but also in a negative light (貶義) - as in 你太天真了 ('You're too naive').
    – L Parker
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 5:57
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    左阜右邑 is nice! It is one of the sort of things I was asking about in chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/31204/… Commented Apr 9, 2021 at 10:23

I highly advise against understanding Chinese characters in terms of radicals. The word radical (部首) is a specialised term that is only relevant to Chinese Character dictionaries, which organise Chinese characters under section (部) headers (首).

Chinese characters are actually just references to morphemes, and each Chinese character can simply be thought of as being made up from one or more morpheme hints.

You may find the following two Q/A threads helpful:

The two completely different characters which now commonly both look like 「阝」 when found in other characters are 「邑」 and 「阜」. As part of other characters, their shapes can be traced to 「阝」 like in the following table:

時期 「邑」 「阜」






金 |


春秋 金 | 楷


金 | 楷




楚・ | 楷  





Notice how both 「邑」 and 「阜」 occurred on either the left or right side of a character;* the modern convention of interpreting 「阝」 on the left as 「阜」 and on the right as 「邑」 is only a convenient disambiguation mnemonic after both shapes have merged into the shape of 「阝」 as part of other characters; there was no such rule in earlier forms of characters.

Individually, of course, they still exist as distinct shapes, as demonstrated in the table below.

時期 「邑」 「阜」















「邑」 originally depicted a kneeling person 「卩」 outside of city walls 「丁」, indicating the meaning town, city, settlement. It occurs in many characters to do with these meanings, for example:

  • 「都」 (capital city)
  • 「鄰」 (neighbour)
  • 「邦」 (city-state > nation)
  • 「郵」 (postal system)

「阜」 originally depicted something like a row of rocks 「石」, and is commonly used to denote characters to do with hills/mountains and rows/arrays. For example,

  • 「陵」 (large hill > burial place)
  • 「陰」/「陽」 (north/south side of mountains)
  • 「隊」 (team, group, from an array of people)
  • 「陣」 (battle formation; from an array war chariots 「車」).


*「邑」 can even occur on the bottom of a character; see e.g. the glyph evolution table of 「巷」.

City walls is now written as 「城」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*[d]eŋ/). The meaning fourth heavenly stem (/*tˤeŋ/) is a phonetic loan.


  • “I highly advise against understanding Chinese characters in terms of radicals” 👍 well, it’s really 曲高和寡 lah 😼 i think that, even in 20 years time, only a handful of users would understand your advice 😿 Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 9:31
  • I just think we should learn to understand the writing and its relation to the language correctly, otherwise people will continually believe absolutely wrong and false things like “Simplified Chinese is easier than Traditional Chinese”, when in fact the opposite is true.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 9:53
  • I learnt the word bù today, I already have pèi in my flash card. 部 bù part, section, ministry, department 陪 péi accompany ; 咅 pǒu to spit out, pooh, pah ; how to understand this? You may be correct that we should understand correctly, but I understood from earlier replies that the radical is same but depends on placement the meaning changes
    – user27485
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 4:19
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    @user27485 I'll emphasise again to not think of those in terms of radicals. Chinese SE welcomes questions on glyph-origin, so feel free to ask new questions for any character you have queries on (but make sure that there isn't an existing question that's already been asked, of course).
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 4:29
  • 1
    @user27485 dROOOze is right; you should be mindful whether you are over-analysing things based on just radicals. They are convenient (say when you’re looking up the dictionary) but not necessarily etymologically valid (or conducive to your learning).
    – L Parker
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 4:43

/ 阝 (Radical 170) - meaning: "mound" or "dam" - pinyin: /fu4/

/ 阝 (Radical 163) - meaning: "city" - pinyin: /yi4/

阝 is a character used in Kangxi writing which serves as the combining form of two distinct radicals, distinguished by whether it is on the left or right of a character. It is the combining form of Radical 170 (阜) when used on the left of a character, as in 阪, and of Radical 163 (邑) when used on the right of a character, as in 部.

The two radicals 阜(170) and 邑(163) are simplified into the same form 阝(170; 163). The only difference is whether it is on the left or right of a character.

  • When 阝 is on the left of a character (e.g. 阪, 陳, 陣) it is Radical 170

  • When 阝 is on the right of a character (e.g. 部, 邵, 郡) it is Radical 163

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