The Radical System

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Radicals, or bushu (部首), are traditional elements of kanji which carry meaning. 91% of the kanji designated for general use (1,945 characters) are compound kanji i.e. they are formed by at least two components. One of these components is a radical, which provides a key to the meaning. While there are thousands of kanji, there are approximately 214 radicals, which according to their position within the kanji, can be classified into seven categories. If you learn these radicals and their meanings, it will considerably shorten the task of learning kanji, as well as giving you a clue to the meaning. The other advantage of learning the radicals is that they are used to classify characters in kanji dictionaries.

The seven categories of radicals with examples

Radical position + name (shown in black) Example radical + meaning Example kanji
1 hen hen kuchi hen 口 (mouth) aji (taste)
2 tsukuri tsukuri san zukuri 彡 (hair ornament) katachi (shape)
3 kanmuri kanmuri ame kanmuri 雨(rain) yuki (snow)
4 ashi ashi kokoro 心 (heart, mind) omo-u (think)
5 tare tare yamai-dare 疒 (illness) byō (sick)
6 nyo nyō shi- nyō 廴 (proceed) susu-mu (proceed)
7 kamae kamae Kuni –gamae 囗 (country) kuni (country)

Some commonly used radicals and their meanings

Radical Meaning of radical Example kanji
person person 休 rest
earth earth 地 ground
grass grass 茶 tea
fire fire 黒 black
water water 海 sea
proceed proceed 週 week
sickness sickness 痛 pain
hand hand 持 hold
thread thread 絹 silk
words words 語 language
tree tree 机 desk
rain rain 雪 snow

For a list of all 214 radicals with examples, click here:

For another useful website about radicals, click here: 

Last modified 15-Feb-2008