One the most lingering questions in my Chinese journey - why a certain combination of radicals result in a particular word. Here is the strangest one = “police” 警 – how on earth => grass + a wrapped mouth + to knock + a speech -> can be perceived all together as “police” ? Is there any logic ? or it is - as it is, just take it and nail into your memory board

  • 3
    You have it backwards. Spoken language came first, written language hints at spoken language. 警 hints at a spoken word jǐng, to warn, by using a similar-sounding character 敬 (jìng), and a meaning hint 言 (speech). Characters are not made up of radicals, radicals are dictionary headings for the sole purpose of organising characters under dictionaries, and have no other purpose.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 28 at 9:15

3 Answers 3


警 has the meaning of "alert"


警(alert) + 告 (announce; tell) = 警告 (warn)

警(alert) + 號( horn) = 警號 (siren)

  • 敬/Jìng/ is the phonic component of 警/Jǐng/. (the meaning of 敬 itself is irreverent)

  • 言(words) is the semantic component of 警 (words are used to alert people)

察 means notice; investigate

警察 (alert and investigate) is the job of the police, 警 means police when it is acting as a shorthand for 警察

  • many thanks indeed :)
    – George
    Commented Apr 28 at 11:49

The character 警 is a typical 形声字。 There are some examples of 形声字 on the website 形声字

The meaning of 形 in 形声字 is the category (类别), not the shape (形状)。 For example, 花 is in the category of 草。 The original meaning of 警 is a warning, which belongs to the category of 语言。

The meaning of 声 in 形声字 does not have to be the exact pronunciations (the same initial, the same final, and the same tone). For example, 警 is the tone 3 and 敬 is 4. Some times it just provides the same final. For example, 草 and 早 have the same final of ao.


I suggest familiarizing yourself with "六書" - "the six ways of making Chinese characters (in ancient times)" or "the six categories of Chinese characters". It includes 1. 象形(xiàngxíng; 'form imitation'), 2. 指事(zhǐshì; 'indication'), 3. 會意(huìyì; 'joined meaning'), 4. 假借(jiǎjiè; 'borrowing'), 5. 形声(xíngshēng; 'form and sound'), and 6. 转注(zhuǎn zhù; 'reciprocal meaning').

Piggyback on @dROOOze's comment:

belongs to the category of 会意字. It is made up of the two characters "" and "", with "戒敕/告诫(caution/admonish)" as its original meaning. Note that the word "敬" has the meaning of "谨慎(be prudent/discreet)", combined with "言", the resulting word "慎言" implies caution, warning, and alerting.

  • Characters (字) and character components (部件) are not words (詞). This is incredibly confusing terminology that will only lead to conceptual mistakes later down the line.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 28 at 20:54
  • Not really. The 會意 class means you can tell the meaning of the characters by just looking at them, such as 上 and 下. I would say 警 isn't in that category. Commented May 2 at 9:28
  • @fatpenguin 會意字,是指用兩個及兩個以上的獨體漢字,根據各自的含義所組合成的一個新漢字 baike.baidu.hk/item/%E6%9C%83%E6%84%8F%E5%AD%97/7146699
    – r13
    Commented May 2 at 16:23

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