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The most common question when learning Chinese is “How on earth will I memorize thousands of characters!?” On one hand you will memorize many characters, but on the other hand you will use radicals to help you distinguish the meaning of a new word.

Radicals are context clues within a character that hints at the meaning of the whole character.

Chinese is a building blocks language, if we learn the basic radicals well then we will more easily and quickly grasp new vocabulary later.


This is the radical for water     氵

These are the characters for river 河 and ocean 海洋.

Do you see the radical for water in these characters? Great, all the characters above do contain the radical for water, because both a river and an ocean consist of water. If you came across these characters, but did not know what they meant you would at least know their meaning involved water because of the radical located to the left of each character.


Pop Quiz:

Which of these characters means lake?

湖    对    熊


Vocabulary list consisting of well-known characters/ radicals.

Character                Pinyin                Meaning

水                          shuǐ                    water

火       灬                    huǒ                      fire

口                               kǒu                    mouth

田                               tián                      field

心        忄                    xīn                     heart

大                                dà                       big

工                               gōng                   work

月                                yuè                    moon

日                                  rì                        sun

马                                 mǎ                    horse

   人          亻                   rén                     person

*I suggest over exaggerating your tones while studying. This will further enforce your memory of which tone is assigned to each word.*


As shown in your vocabulary list above, some characters have separate radicals and others can be used as both individual characters or radicals themselves.

水   –   can stand alone

氵-  cannot stand alone

Look at the sentences and phrases below. Can you find 水 being used as a full character? Can you find  氵 being used as a radical? Can you find 水 being used as a radical?

1. 请给我一杯水。

2. 冰水



Last but not least, check out the characters for sun, tài yáng. What radicals do you see?



Study/Practice Materials:

*I would recommend going through your worksheets and visiting the quizlet below before taking your quiz*
From now until your radicals test visit this link to study your radicals. You can use flashcards, games, practice tests and much more to study. You may have to create a quizlet account if you don’t already have one. Let me know if you have any questions about using quizlet.
Download and complete the worksheets for writing practice!
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