Chinese Radicals -- Why study radicals?

Indeed, why study Chinese radicals bu4 shou3 部首?

Afterall, Chinese dictionaries nowadays organise Chinese characters by their "alphabetical spelling".

Of course, I'm talking about the Chinese Romanization system, hanyu pinyin.

And may no longer use the radical system to list traditional Chinese characters. (stroke 1, 2 17)

So for car che1 车 , one would look it up under "C".

And beautiful mei3 美 would be found under "M".

However, Chinese radicals have a useful role to play when one is learning Chinese.

When a person is starting out to learn Chinese characters, she faces two challenges:

1. How to pronounce the Chinese character?

2. What does it mean?

Chinese radicals can provide answers to the second challenge.

They are the "meaning" part of Chinese characters.

So, getting a good idea of the most commonly used Chinese radicals will allow a Chinese learner to guess the meaning of a Chinese characters with high accuracy.

By the way, 80% of the 214 radicals function as independent Chinese characters.

These 214 radicals were popularized back in the reign of Qing emperor Kangxi (about 300 years ago), who commissioned what is now known as the Kangxi Zidian, a character dictionary listing over 47,000 entries.

There is a system to Chinese radicals.

It is divided into "parts" that denote

man, animal, plant, nature, things, actions,numerals, characteristics, numerals

This system is logical for the most part but not always.

Characters are listed by the meaning of their radicals but sometimes it's hard to tell which is the radical.

Some Chinese radicals look alike.

Others have been simplified and yet others have vanished.

What this means is that when one is studying Chinese radicals, DO NOT attempt to make it fit into some kind of "logical framework".

You'll get frustrated and waste time.

Just take it as it is and remember as much as you can.

It's one of the fun parts of learning Chinese so keep it fun.:)

Enjoy them for what they can reveal about the origins and meanings of Chinese characters.

With that said, where can you get an index of radicals?

Get a good Chinese dictionary. It will have a detailed index of radicals and characters listed under each radical according to number of strokes.

A convenient way to familiarize yourself with radicals is when you're looking up Chinese words in an electronic dictionary. Below each character is indicated the radical as well as the number of strokes.

Here's my favorite book for having "fun" with Chinese radicals:

Or view this detailed online "directory" of Chinese radicals.

Read and Write Chinese characters