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Lesson 4: Introducing Radicals

A radical is a part of a Kanji that can be combined with other radicals to form a new Kanji. Often a radical is itself a Kanji. For example both the Kanji for Woman 女 and Child 子 can be combined together to form a new Kanji which means "To like".

女 + 子 = 好


Other times simplified version of the original Kanji is used as a radical. When the simplified radical for person 人 is combined with the radical for tree 木 the result is "To rest" 休 (as in a person rests against a tree).

人 + 木 = 休


As you learn the simplified radicals it is important to associate them with the original Kanji since that will help you with remembering meanings and readings.

There are 214, but for now we're going to just teach you the most common 20. This will let you figure out the radical for almost half of the jōyō Kanji.

Radical versus Primary Radical
Most Kanji have more than one radical. But when you want to look up a Kanji using a Kanji dictionary you need to look it up using it's primary radical. Sometimes it isn't obvious which radical to use and many hours of frustration probably await you as you try to look up a Kanji which don't have an obvious radical. Hang in there. It gets easier with practice!!

When looking up a Kanji here are the steps you should take to determine what the primary radical is:
  1. If the Kanji is a radical itself, use the Kanji
  2. If the Kanji is enclosed by a radical, use the enclosure radical
  3. If the Kanji has a left & right side with a radical on the left, use the left-side
  4. If the Kanji has a left & right side but no radical on left, use the right-side
  5. If the Kanji has a top & bottom with a radical on the top, use the top
  6. If the Kanji has a top & bottom but no radical on the top, use the bottom
  7. At this point it gets tricky. If the radical is in a corner, use it. If there are more than one radical in the corners use the following precedence: Top-Left, Top-Right, Bottom-Left then Bottom-Right.
At first you will stare at many Kanji and wonder: What the hell is the radical? But once you been tricked by the same radical a couple times you'll keep your eye out for it.