RADICAL NOTES

Radical Notes are FREE (yippee!) and are intended to complement the essays. Each Radical Note focuses on a particular radical, examining its Japanese and English names, variations on its shape, its positions in a kanji, and characters that contain it. 

If the term "radical" is unclear to you, see the next-to-last section of the glossary, as well as Radical Terms.

In the index below, you'll notice that every radical has a number. This numbering system has nothing to do with the Henshall numbers for each kanji. For instance, 心 (heart) is radical 61 and is kanji number 147. The radical numbers correspond to the 214 historical radicals in the Kangxi Dictionary of China. Nelson, Halpern, and Denshi Jisho also use this radical numbering system.

Radical Notes have loose structures; you never know just where the discussions will go. In some cases, such as Radical Note 5, the text is quite brief, pointing you to an essay. That's because the end of that essay will be tantamount to a Radical Note. In many other instances, such as Radical Note 140, you'll find a sizable chunk of writing.

This library of Radical Notes will grow. For every Joy o' Kanji essay published, a corresponding Radical Note will appear below if it's not already there. For example, when the 鬱 (1963: depression; gloom; melancholy) essay posts, so will Radical Note 192 on the "fragrant herbs" radical, 鬯. 

 

Radical Notes

5. The "Fishhook" Radical: 乙 and 乚

Essay 1041 on 乙 (second (in order or quality)) covers this radical and its variant, 乚, showing how Radical 5 unexpectedly appears in 乾 (1099: dry) and 乳 (951: breasts, milk). This shape even plays a significant role in one character that represents a number!

7. The "Two" Radical: 二

Learn about this "radical of convenience," one that creates a category for misfits such as 五 (19: five) and  (1470well; town), simply on the basis of their having parallel lines.

9. The "Person" Radical: 人, 亻, and the Top of 介

Find out about the radical populating kanji such as 仙 (1490: mythical being, wizard, fairy; hermit), 以 (419: -ward; by means of), and 介 (1059: to mediate).

18. The "Sword" Radical: 刀, 刂, and 刁

Find the swords tucked inside ultra-common kanji such as 前 (159: before) and 別 (579: separate; another).

22. The "Box on Side" Radical: 匚

Find out about a radical that looks like several others. What's more, this radical always appears in sets of look-alike kanji, such as 医 (225: medicine) and 矢 (981: arrow), establishing a pattern unlike any other in the kanji world.

24. The "Cross" Radical: 十 and ナ

Learn to spot the "cross" radical in certain characters, such as 午 (110: afternoon) and 半 (195: half). Also learn when not to see crosses, even though it's tempting to do so.

29. The "Again" Radical: 又

Essay 1835 on 又 (again) tells you all about the radical that appears in the familiar kanji 友 (214: friend), 取 (301: to take), and 受 (303: to receive).

32. The "Earth" Radical: 土

Dig a little to find the difference between this radical and one look-alike radical. Examine the meaning of 圭, which gives you double the dirt. And find out when you shouldn't identify 土 as the radical because that shape is actually part of a larger radical.

36. The "Evening" Radical: 夕

Find out what 外 (91: outside), 多 (163: many), and 夜 (212: night) have in common and how they connect to the 夕 radical inside them.

44. The "Corpse" Radical: 尸

The "corpse" radical 尸 has a wide array of meanings, including "corpse" (of course!), "slumped figure," "buttocks," "relaxing" (maybe), and even possibly "roof." That corpse really gets around!

46. The "Mountain" Radical: 山

If you've ever wondered how to move mountains, just look to the "mountain" radical, 山, to see how it's done! This radical shifts to the left in  (1799: peak, mountaintop; ridge), the top in 岸 (248: beach), and the bottom in 岳 (1082: mountain, peak, point), changing its Japanese name as it goes. 

50. The "Cloth" Radical: 巾

Essay 1989 on 巾 (cloth) tells you all about this radical, which inserts itself into scads of kanji, including some of the first you ever learned: 市 (130: city; market) and 席 (520: seat). 

61. The "Heart" Radical: 心, the Bottom of 慕, and 忄

Learn about the radical that makes 必 (568: certain), 添 (1631: to accompany), and 懐 (1067: to become attached to) pulse with life.

63. The "Door" Radical: 戸

Find out what a door would be doing in characters such as 所 (312: place), 扇 (1492: fan, folding fan), and 戻 (1920: to return). See what's behind those doors!

64. The "Hand" Radical: 手 and 扌

Hands are involved in all aspects of life. So it is with many kanji. Find out how 挙 (458: to nominate) and 推 (908: conjecture, infer, conclude) have unexpected connections to hands, as does the word 抹茶 (まっちゃ: powdered green tea).

67. The "Literature" Radical: 文

Find out about a shape common to both 対 (336: opposite; to oppose) and 蚊 (1056: mosquito), and see why this radical would be tucked inside 斑 (2098: spot). Hint: 文 hasn't always meant "character"!

68. The "Dots and Cross" Radical: 斗

Essay 1633 on 斗 (dipper) covers this radical, without which we couldn't write great-looking words such as 科料 (かりょう: minor fine).

69. The "Ax" Radical: 斤

See essay 1176 on 斤 (loaf (of bread)) to find out about the "ax" inside all that's new (新: 148) and in near (近: 103) places (所: 312), though it's just a component in the last two instances.

71. The "Crooked Heaven" Radical: 无 and 旡

See the Thematic Explorations essay "Sticky Stroke Counts" to learn about the radical inside 既 (1126: already).

72. The "Sun" Radical: 日

The 日 radical is on duty in scads of kanji. Find out when it actually means "sun," as in 昇 (1393: to ascend), and when it doesn't, as in 書 (142: to write).

74. The "Moon" Radical: 月

You'll be over the moon once you understand the differences between two radicals ("moon" and "flesh") that tend to look exactly alike. This Radical Note features two gorgeous shibori works by Glennis Dolce, so be sure not to miss them!

75. The "Tree" Radical: 木

Find out why there are trees growing in unexpected places, such as the following kanji: 末 (587: end), 朱 (1346: vermilion), and 枕 (2115: pillow).

79. The "Lance Shaft" Radical: 殳

Would you recognize 殳 as a weapon?! Well, it is. And it's no surprise to spot it in 殺 (488: to kill, murder) or 殴 (1035: to beat, hit), but what about 段 (931: step, stair) and 殻 (1075: shell)? Find out, and also learn which major magazine put the spotlight on !

85. The "Water" Radical: 水, 氵, and 氺

We can't live without water, and neither can many kanji, including 氷 (378: to freeze), 活 (244: lively), and 泰 (1545: tranquil).

87. The "Claw" Radical: 爪, 爫, the Top of 受, and the Left Side of 爬

Essay 2071 on 爪 (nail, claw) covers this prevalent shape, which serves as the on-duty radical in 爵 (1344: rank of nobility) and as a component in 菜 (483: vegetable), to name just two examples of places you wouldn't expect to see claws! 

92. The "Tusk" Radical: 牙

See essay 1972 on 牙 (tusk, fang) to find out why there are tusks inside both 邪 (1340: injustice) and 芽 (434: buds).

94. The "Animal" Radical: 犬 and 犭

Learn why some people see a dog inside the kanji for monkey (猿) and cat (猫).  

95. The "Blackness" Radical: 玄

Essay 1227 on 玄 (mysterious) tells you all about this radical, which is on duty in 率 (803: rate, percentage) and off duty in 畜 (1577: domestic fowl and animals).

96. The "Jewel" Radical: 玉 and 王

Find out about the radical that lends roundness to kanji such as 環 (1115: ring, circle; to surround) and 珠 (1349: pearl; gem; bead) but also pops up in 理 (220: reason; basic principle) and 現 (666: actual; to appear). Also learn why this radical looks like it would mean "king" in all these characters but generally means "jewel." 

98. The "Tile" Radical: 瓦

Essay 1973 on 瓦 (roof tile) tells you all about the radical in 瓶 (1747: bottle, jug, jar) and in an array of charmingly logical kokuji.

99. The "Sweet" Radical: 甘

Essay 1093 on 甘 (sweet) covers this radical, which seems to lose all its sugariness in 甚 (1449: extremely), 紺 (1279: dark blue, navy), and 某 (1811: a certain). This shape is just a component in the last two examples.

110. The "Spear" Radical: 矛

Essay 1843 on 矛 (long-handled Chinese spear) covers this radical, exploring why there's a spear in 柔 (1363: gentleness) and in 霧 (1845: fog). In both cases, 矛 is a component.

112. The "Stone" Radical: 石

Find out about the stoniness inherent in such kanji as 砂 (869: sand) and 硬 (1260: hard), as well as more unexpected characters, such as 確 (634: certain; definite) and 磁 (881: magnetism).

115. The "Grain" Radical: 禾

Find out about the rice in some of the first kanji you learned—namely, 私 (876: private, personal; I, me) and 科 (81: subject of study; department, course)—and in some characters with financial meanings. Learn to distinguish the "grain" radical 禾 from others with similar appearances and names. 

121. The "Jar" Radical: 缶

See essay 1095 on 缶 (tin (can)) to find out about a shape that serves as a component in both 陶 (1650: pottery) and 鬱 (1963: depression). You can see the 缶 in 鬱, can't you?!

130. The "Flesh" Radical: 肉 and 月

Learn about the pleasures of the flesh with the radical that pops up inside 20 Joyo kanji for body parts, from 脳 (954: brain) to 膝 (2100: knee, lap). Okay, not quite head to toe, but close!

134. The "Mortar" Radical: 臼

Essay 1987 on 臼 (mortar; millstone) covers this radical. If you're interested (興: 652) in beating things to a pulp, this is the radical for you!

136. The "Dancing Legs" Radical: 舛

See how this radical gives legs to characters such as (1761: to dance).

140. The "Grass" Radical: 艹 and 艸

Study the patterns in the grass, including all the times this radical teams up with the "water" radical. You'll learn to tell whether or not 艹 is an on-duty radical by observing its position in a character.

141. The "Tiger" Radical: 虍

"Tiger" radical burning bright ... It burns in such kanji as 虞 (1040: anxiety) and 虜 (1903: barbarian), seeming to lend them extremely negative meanings.

142. The "Insect" Radical: 虫

Learn about the insects buzzing inside characters for certain insects, as well as 蜜 (2116: honey, nectar) and even 強 (100: strong). Also find out when this radical means "snake," as in 虹 (2090: rainbow)! 

145. The "Clothing" Radical: 衣 and 衤

Just as clothing often tears, the "clothing" radical is rent in half in kanji such as 衷 (1585: innermost heart) but stays intact in characters such as 裂 (1930: split) and 複 (783: compound).

149. The "Word" Radical: 言

Learn about the radical that turns 売 (192: to sell) into 読 (189: to read) and that transforms 十 (33: ten) into 計 (105: plan).

151. The "Bean" Radical: 豆

Essay 1640 on 豆 (bean) covers this radical, which can fill our heads (頭: 186) with abundant (豊: 790) happiness (喜: 450). Incidentally, when it comes to Joyo kanji, 豆 is the on-duty radical only in 豊, as well as in 豆 itself.

154. The "Small Shell" Radical: 貝

Find out about the radical that enriches characters such as 資 (694: resources, funds) and that lends value to kanji such as 賞 (511: prize). Also learn about the connection between seashells and a nervous breakdown!

156. The "Running" Radical: 走 and the Left Side of 起

You know this radical from the first kanji in 趣味 (しゅみ: hobby). See what 趣 and five other Joyo kanji have to do with running, including 起 (250: to rise, stand up; happen, occur), which contains a rearing serpent!

160. The "Bitter" Radical: 辛

Essay 1432 on 辛 (spicy; bitter) tells you all about this radical, which helps you resign (辞: 500) from a job that's going nowhere, as if you've hit a wall (壁: 1780). By the way, 辛 is the radical in 辞 but just a component in 壁.

163. The "Right Village" Radical: 阝

Although 阝looks identical on the left or right side of a character, the meaning varies with the position. Here we look at it on the right side of a kanji, where it often means "village," as in 郷 (841: hometown, native place) and 郊 (1254: suburb; outskirts, rural areas). We also examine how 邑 turned into 阝in both 部 (384: section) and 邸 (1613: stately residence, mansion).

170. The "Left Hill" Radical: 阝

In Radical Note 163 on the "right village" radical, we examined  on the right side of a kanji. Here we look at it on the left, seeing how it almost always retains its etymological connection to "hill." That's true, for example, in 険 (662: danger; steep), 障 (902: hindrance), and 陥 (1098: to cave in, collapse).   

181. The "Big Shell" Radical: 頁

Learn the differences between the "small shell" and "big shell" radicals, and find out why 頁 actually has nothing to do with shellfish! See what it does mean in characters such as 顔 (93: face) and 頭 (186: head).

186. The "Perfume" Radical: 香

Essay 1255 on 香 (fragrance) covers this shape, which doesn't appear in any Joyo characters aside from 香 itself but smells really nice!

187. The "Horse" Radical: 馬

From 験 (475: to test; attempt; examine; verify) to 駄 (1541: good for nothing; clogs, sandals), find out the equine connection in all the Joyo kanji that contain this radical.

190. The "Long Hair" Radical: 髟

If you associate "long hair" and "radical" only with Vietnam War protests, find out what these words mean in a kanji context and in 髪 (1706: hair on the head).

194. The "Devil" Radical: 鬼

See essay 1128 on 鬼 (devil) to find out how to bewitch (魅: 1839) someone's soul (: 1280) with the help of one feisty radical.

196. The "Bird" Radical: 鳥

The feathers fly in this radical note, which covers kanji such as 鳴 (209: to cry (animals)), 鶏 (1206: chicken), and 鶴 (2072: crane), including their etymologies. Learn the difference between 鳥 and another bird radical with which it often combines.

198. The "Deer" Radical: 鹿

Essay 2025 on 鹿 (deer) covers this radical, which practically disappears in 麗 (1926: companion, lovely) and 麓 (2108: foot of a mountain), the only two Joyo kanji in which it plays a part (besides 鹿 itself).

200. The "Hemp" Radical: 麻

See essay 1829 on 麻 (hemp) to learn about this shape. Although it doesn't serve as a radical in any Joyo kanji besides 麻 itself, it's a component in a few Joyo characters, enabling us to polish (磨: 1831) things gently or chafe (摩: 1830) them roughly.

203. The "Black" Radical: 黒

See essay 1227 on 玄 (mysterious), because Sidebar 6 has a small discussion about 黒. This radical is on-duty in 黙 (1856: silent). It's also a component in (1821: black inkstick; black ink; Mexico).

210. The "Alike" Radical: 斉

See essay 1473 on 斉 (equal) to learn about this radical that Nelson has nicknamed Mr. Saito in kanji such as 斎 (1291: purification, abstinence).

212. The "Big Dragon" Radical: 竜

See essay 1899 on 竜 (dragon) to find out why a dragon would be lurking (but only as a component) inside a waterfall (滝: 1550).

213. The "Turtle" Radical: 亀

See essay 1985 on 亀 (turtle) to learn about this radical, which doesn't appear in any Joyo kanji except for 亀 itself but may bring you good luck.

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