Is there any way to know what a character's pronunciation or tone is, based on the strokes or radicals that make up the characters?

  • 1
    also look up ghoti's pronunciation.
    – Flaw
    Dec 14, 2011 at 13:16
  • @Flaw sorry, you've lost me - maybe I'm being a bit dense, but how does this relate to the question?
    – Cocowalla
    Dec 14, 2011 at 13:36
  • It's just something to illustrate that even in English we cannot accurately predict how the word is pronounced based on how it's written.
    – Flaw
    Dec 14, 2011 at 14:52

4 Answers 4


Yes, for example these characters are taken from a Chinese grammar textbook:

enter image description here

There are obviously others, but as you can see, it's possible to guess the pronunciation. In other cases, according to the radicals, you can understand if they refer to a certain "topic", for example, the third one in that list is the radical for "water", the last one is the radical for "fire", and so on.

  • 1
    As xiaohouzi79 said, the tone is not "guessable", but at least the rest is understandable.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 13, 2011 at 22:52
  • Sometimes this similarities in parts of two character do match the same tone also, but all in all it's not an exact equivalence, and more a hint once you get to know a fair amount of characters.
    – Petruza
    Dec 13, 2011 at 23:06
  • 1
    Yes, @Petruza that's what I meant with my answer... It's more of a hint rather than a regular pattern or something similar.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 13, 2011 at 23:17

Definitely not for the tone.

As far as pronunciation it is possible to guess from the right hand side of a character, but this is not something that is reliable.

e.g. 根,跟,很,恨,狠

All end in an "en" sound, but this is about as close as you will get.


too many characters can be classified into "形声字", which consists of two parts, one (the radical) indicates the topic the character is referred to and the another indicates the possible pronunciation.

xiaohouzi79 shows a good example. But remember, there are some commonly used characters that don't follow this, when you can't read a character, dictionary is your best teacher.

a counterexample is 垠(yin2),and there is a character very similar with 艮,良(liang2)

  • and are also pronounced yin2, so isn't really an exception. H Jun 20, 2012 at 16:31
  • Here's a list of characters with the phonetic. Jun 20, 2012 at 16:46

80-90% of Chinese characters are classified as phono-semantic compounds. As the name suggests, these characters are composed of:

  1. a phonetic component (rebus)
  2. a semantic component (determinative)

Such characters are pronounced approximately the same as the rebus (subject to tone and initial consonants generally).

The phonetic component most often occurs on the right hand side of the character, but may also appear on the bottom (and more rarely in other positions):


There are approximately ~1000 such phonetic components, so if you can recognise the majority of these you can approximate the majority of character pronunciations. For example:

DeterminativeRebus 青 (qīng) 及 (jí) 可 (kě)
清 (qīng) 汲 (jí) 河 (hé)
晴 (qíng)
情 (qíng) 忣 (jí)
请 (qǐng)
精 (jīng)

For other classes of words, or more opaque compounds, the pronunciation will just have to be memorised (like e.g. through, cough, though, bough in English).

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