Currently at the moment, I'm doing my research on the glyph origin of 規/规 (guī; rules, regulations, customs, law) and I can't really come to a determination of what this character's origin is.

I've already checked the Old Chinese pronunciations for this character and it's components, but it seems like this character isn't a phonosemantic compound one but rather it looks to be a character probably composed of two related components that contributes to this character.

As for the evolution on its glyph origin according to 小學堂, I've noticed the strange bronze inscription form (the first one) that's supposedly looks kind of unrelated to 規. I'm not sure how they analyzed it with that exact shape but now I'm wondering more about the origin. For reference: enter image description here

Also so far from the sources I've browsed through about this character, here's what some suggest about the origin of 規:

  • zi.tools, 李学勤 《字源》p.920: Suggests it's a compound ideograph composed of 夫 and 見 (or as both of these sources describe it, the law is what man (夫) see (見)).

  • Outlier Linguistics Dictionary of Chinese Characters: Composed of an arrow (originally 矢, now written as 夫) with the 見 component being later added to indicate someone watching the arrow, originally meaning "compass (for drawing arcs)".

  • 漢語多功能字庫: Composed of 夫 and 見 and originally meant "law" and "standard". This source also mentions that it was said to be a tool for drawing a circle, which could likely explain why 小學堂 chose that bronze inscription glyph for 規.

  • Wenlin Dictionaries: Composed of a character shaped like a drawing tool (or 夫) and 見 (to see) which both suggests the action of one using a compass to draw a shape.

From what I can gather, the most common explanation is that 規 originated from a pictograph of a drawing tool, or compass, with 見 (to see) being later added to the character to indicate someone watching the drawing tool.

I'm not quite sure about this explanation so if anyone could verify if this is the correct glyph origin or at least try to explain it, I would greatly appreciate the assistance here!! :)

  • 1
    規 is some kind of measuring tool, which is exactly what the first pictogram is. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 2:40
  • @fatpenguin Ahh I see, well that explains the measuring tool theory. So then, did the pictogram of the measuring tool corrupted into 矢 and then eventually into 夫? Just want to make sure so that I know for sure 夫 is an empty component.
    – prismcool
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 3:27
  • 矢 also means arrow or bolt (as in crossbow bolt). I have no idea which meaning came first, and how did it evolve. Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 1:20
  • 1
    Might be related: fdgwz.org.cn/Web/Show/7845 Commented Jan 17 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


Since the question has already quoted the common sources, I will not repeat them again. I will point out here three recent papers discussing 規. Of course, everyone is welcome to point out more papers, or flaws in these papers :)

  • 陳劍《說“規”等字并論一些特别的形聲字意符》. This paper believes 規 is 从矩省、見聲.
  • 李守奎《释楚简中的“规”——兼说“支”亦“规”之表意初文》(I'm afraid this paper is not publicly available on the Internet. Ask me for full text PDF.) This paper partly agrees with 陳劍, but also points out difficulties with his theory. The paper believes that 規 was originally 支. It also contains some lengthy discussion on the 規 looking like curved 十 character.

The interesting points of 李守奎's paper are:

  • In Han dynasty stone art, 規 tool was depicted as an object looking like 十, while 支 was also written as a hand holding a "十".
  • The 規 looking like curved 十 character occasionally appeared with an additional component: 規 with hand. This character has been interpreted as 畫.


  • The paper partly agrees 陳 while pointing out that his idea has certain difficulties.


  • The author's conclusion is summarized in the abstract:


The third paper:

  • 2
    Well, that 陳劍 article was interesting. I think 李守奎's critique ("还找不到“矩”不省形的规字") misses the point - if 陳劍 is claiming that 「見」 is a phonetic component of 「規」 and that characters get additional components based on the characters they're often found together with, like that example of "型罰 -> ⿱罒型罰", then the critique should be "出土文獻中找不到「見矩」一例的雙音詞".
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 19 at 19:56
  • @user2249675 Thank you so much for more of this detailed information on the character!! Interesting to see many debates about the composition of 規 and it's association with 支, which I haven't thought of. Do you have the link to the PDF of the paper by 李守奎? I would like to read the full thing and see for myself :)
    – prismcool
    Commented Jan 20 at 0:43

Rules were made to be broken!


Shuowen 说文解字: 有法度也從夫從見

Character decomposition 字形分解 [?]: Compound 規 mutant 䂓 older 𩓠 from person-eye-see (见)見 jiàn and (rem- 矢 shǐ)(rem- 夫 fu) from (hand holding compass) C208 規<槼> simp 規.

Decomposition notes 字形分解说明 [?]: (- the master 夫overseeing 見 and making > the rules)

  • 2
    For someone who wants to learn how the character system works, do you think a random statement with no relevance to the character, followed by a quote from Richard Sears' website with no attribution, really helps? If you were the one asking, would you find this answer useful?
    – dROOOze
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 18:36
  • I have to agree with dROOOze honestly. When you respond to my questions like this sometimes, you always seem to pull or cite from Richard Sears's Chinese Etymology website, in which case I'm afraid to say all of his explanations are really inaccurate. I tend to avoid his explanations because of the etymology he states that just come from thin air with really no evidence to prove it.
    – prismcool
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 18:58
  • For example, Sears erroneously states that 心 depicts a human chest when its an actual pictograph of a heart. He also stated that 音 is an upside down picture of a man with a mouth "speaking to you" when it is really just derived from 言 with an extra stroke inside 口.
    – prismcool
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 18:59
  • I often consult Julius Pokorny's Etymological Dictionary of PIE. I would say, 80% is guesswork. Etymologists do not all agree. I would say, if Sears ideas do not fit with your opinion, the wise thing to do is accept his opinion as a possibility. In the absence of a time machine, hard facts are hard to come by in etymology. An open mind will help avoid tunnel vision, however erudite you believe your sources to be!
    – Pedroski
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 7:48
  • 1
    To be "open minded" does not mean to give up and accept the possibility of any random claim which requires more than 5 minutes of Googling to understand. Likewise, most educated people would not be "open minded" to perpetual motion machines. If you were actually open-minded, you would have dedicated time to understand how writing systems developed around the world, how the writing system works in relation to the language, built up an intuition of how characters work, then realise that Sears' claims are simply lazy.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 8:10

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