85. The "Water" Radical: 水, 氵, and 氺

Did you know that there are three variations on the "water" radical? 

The "Water" Radical with the 水 Shape

For starters, there's 水, the kanji that means "water." When this shape serves as a radical, it's known as みず or すい. That's true in the following characters:

氷 (378: ice) 
求 (455: to demand)
永 (615: eternity)

Denshi Jisho says 378 contains the "dot" radical 丶, but that appears to be an error. Many other sources recognize the "water" radical in 氷.

The "Water" Radical as 氵

The most common version of the "water" radical is氵, which appears (often on the left side) in kanji such as the following:

活 (244: lively)
洋 (404: ocean, Western style)
泣 (838: to cry)

Whenever 氵 pops up in a character, it's almost certain to be the radical. Two notable exceptions:

落 (408: to come down)
染 (917: dye)

The radicals here are 艹 ("grass") and 木 ("tree") respectively.

The "Water" Radical as 氺

When water pools at the bottom of a character, the shape of the radical becomes 氺 and the name becomes したみず. This shape functions as the radical in the following kanji:

求 (455: to seek)
泰 (1545: tranquil)

It's a component in others:

救 (456: to help)
(1334: lacquer)
爆 (1702: bomb)

The radicals here are 攴 ("strike") in 456 and 火 ("fire") in 1702. Meanwhile in 1334, the radical is 氵. In other words, there are two types of water in one character! Is lacquer that watery? 

Stroke Counts of the Various "Water" Radical Shapes

You may be wondering about the relationship between 水 and its variants 氵and 氺. (Radical Terms explains the term "variant.") They have different stroke counts—four for 水, three for 氵, and five for 氺. If you consult the chart of historical radicals at the front of Nelson's dictionary, you'll need to scan the list of four-stroke kanji to find the "parent" radical 水 in slot 85, immediately followed by listings for the two variants.

Names of the Various "Water" Radicals

The nomenclature of 氵 presents another issue. Although most left-side radicals have -へん in their names, 氵is called さんずい. You can write that in kanji as 三水 (three + water), reflecting the fact that 氵has three strokes. This name differentiates 氵 from the two-stroke 冫, the "ice" radical known as にすい and represented in kanji as 二水 (two + water). It's rare to write these names as 三水 or 二水; people use hiragana instead. But 三水 and 二水 make the nomenclature much clearer, wouldn't you say?

The Handwritten Form of 氵

Incidentally, the handwritten form of 氵 differs markedly from many typeset versions. When drawn by hand, this radical consists of three separate lines, as in the following kanji (1094: to perspire):

As you can see, the water here disconnects into three little beads. Water disconnects in a different way in this non-Joyo character:

淼 (ビョウ: vast (expanse of water))

Did you ever imagine that water could stack in a pyramid formation?!