Learn Chinese radicals that look so darned similar


圣诞红 (shèngdàn hóng) Poinsettia

One of my complaints about the Simplified Chinese Character system is the over-simplification of the radical for “word” or “speech”. The character (yán) has been reduced to a squiggle that’s easily confused with the radical for “water”, namely . In fact, in freehand writing, many people I know write the “water” radical just like . Therefore, when someone trained on the Traditional Chinese Character system reads something printed in Simplified Chinese Character system, he or she will often need to make educated guesses based on the context of the material. Actually, that’s what you should generally do when reading Chinese text – Try to understand the function of the characters within the context rather than fussing too much over each individual character.

Rivers, (hé), lakes, (hú) and ditches, (gōu), all take on the water radical. 流蕩 (liúdàng) is to rove or roam about. (yóu) means to wander, to tour, or to swim. We can combine these two and make a new term 游蕩 (yóu dàng) for playing and wandering about.

When water freezes and there is less of the liquid portion, you’d lose a drop of water from the radical and get the “ice” radical, .

(bīng) means ice or icy-cold. 冰箱 is a refrigerator

(lěng) means cold or to feel cold.

Nǐ lěng ma?
Do you feel cold?

Wǒde fàntīng lǐ yǒu yī tái lěngqì jī.
In my dining room there is an air conditioner.

(dòng) means to freeze or to feel very cold, and 冷冻 (lěngdòng) means to freeze something. 防冻剂 (fángdòngjì) is an antifreeze. On the other hand, 果冻 (guǒ dòng) is a fruit jelly, not really frozen.

We’ve seen how the “clothes” radical and the “altar” radical differ only by one tiny mark. You will do well to remember that words having to do with divinity, ancestry, or 祖先 (zǔxiān), ceremony, rites, manners or gifts take on the “altar” radical, while things related to clothing or covering take on the “clothes” radical.

Wǒ xiǎng mǎi yī jiàn chènshān.
I’d like to buy a shirt.

We’ve mentioned the “small ear” (9/19/12) before. This is also known as the “soft” ear radical. There is another “small ear” radical that we call the “hard” ear radical because of its stright, rigid outline. This is what it looks like: , and it is not to be confused with .

(jǐ) means oneself or one’s own. This radical is found in many other words, such as (jì to remember, to mark or to record) and (jì to be envious or jealous, to dread or to regard as a taboo). Look really close at this one: (yǐ already, to end), which is a totally different word. There are also words containing the (sì) radical, which features a fully closed rectangle, such as (bāo to wrap, to surround, to take care of the whole deal), and (sì to offer sacrifice for worshiping).

(shí) is the radical representing (shí food, to eat). Don’t confuse it with the “metal” radical (jīn).

In the word, 饭馆 (fànguǎn restaurant), both characters take on the “food” radical.

(líng) is a bell, and 门铃 (mén líng) is a doorbell.

We’ve learned quite a few words using the radical for “word” or “speech”. (8/10/11) Here is another one. (dàn) means birthday or to be fantastic or absurd. 诞生 (dànshēng) means to be born or to take form. 耶稣 (Yēsū) is the Chinese word for Jesus Christ. Therefore, some people refer to Christmas as 耶诞节 (Yēdàn Jié), or the day Jesus Christ was born.

More often than not, Christmas is called 圣诞节 (Shèngdàn Jié). (shèng) means holy or sacred. As a noun it refers to a sage, a holy being or an emperor. The jolly dear old Santa Claus is called 圣诞老人 (shèngdànlǎorén).

By the way, you can download a free printable radical reference list provided by Chris at http://chinesehacks.com/resources/simplified-chinese-radicals-list-version-4-available-for-download/

Now let’s get into the holiday spirit and sing the following lines to the tune of “Jingle Bells”.

叮叮当, 叮叮当.
Dīng dīng dāng, dīng dīng dāng.
Ding-ding-dong, ding-ding-dong.

Líng er xiǎng dīng dāng.
Bells are ringing out.

Kuàikuàihuóhuó di chéng xuěqiāo,
Happily riding a snow sleigh,

Sìchù qù yóudàng.
Roaming all about.

(Repeat the above lines once to complete the refrain.)

Shèngdàn kuàilè﹗

Merry Christmas!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony Bogadek
    Dec 20, 2012 @ 09:07:33

    Hi Miss Lin,
    Merry Xmas. Thank you for this year’s Mandarin Lessons.
    About the current lesson, I have a few simple points:
    1. dong4) means to freeze…..; opening bracket missing; I guess it should be (dong4) …..
    2. spelling: “We’ve seen how the “clothes”…….differe; should be “differ”
    3. spelling: “n” missing in “More often than not…… sheng4dan4lao3re2)”. Is it “lao3ren”?
    Have nice holidays and take some well-deserved rest.
    Anthony B.


    • likeabridge
      Dec 20, 2012 @ 16:47:51

      Hi Anthony,

      Merry Xmas! Thank you so much for the valuable comments you’ve made at this blog site and for picking out all the spelling errors – proof that you’ve been paying great attention in this class. 🙂


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