This is the lesson attached to the Chinese learning game Ancient Code. Learn the basic knowledge you need to read and write Chinese with this memory game! Improve your understanding of Chinese character formation by learning the meaning of the most common Chinese radicals. Play the FREE version of the game or join us and get the full version!

Ancient Code | Chinese Lesson
Chinese Radicals

Vocabulary Grammar Keep in Mind


For a list of all radicals featured in this game, please see the cheatsheet.

lín forest
xiū rest
kòu button
jiā add
lìng separate
chá tea
huā flower
zhī juice

rén kindness
chī eat
wàng forget
xiā shrimp
bèn stupid
zhǐ paper
zhēn needle

chāi hairpin
máng blind
zhōng end
hǎo good
ān peace

Chinese Radicals

What are Radicals (or Keys)?

Each Chinese character is a riddle to be cracked open. Riddles are mysterious and do not make much sense without the right combination or the right clues as to where one should look. Radicals are the clues we need in Chinese.

Sometimes called keys, radicals are combinations of strokes that open the door (like keys) to the meaning of the character or to its pronunciation.

Example 1 好 hǎo good has 2 radicals: woman and child, which is the foundation of good.

Example 2 记 jì has the radical 己 jǐ which gives a clue as to its pronunciation (ji).

Where do Radicals come from?

Most radicals come from existing characters.

Example The radical claw comes from the character 爪 zhǎo (also claw).

One character can produce many radicals.

Example 火 huǒ (pictogram of rising flames) produced 2 radicals: and

is a scaled-down version of that will fit into the proportions of the character containing the radical of Fire.

is a faster form where we can still recognize the four strokes of .

radicals and characters radical variants
Click to enlarge

Why are Radicals Useful?

By identifying radicals and their meaning in a character, we can guess the general meaning or pronunciation of an unknown character.

The mental images summoned by the association of radicals can usually help in memorizing the character itself as a whole. That is why radicals are mainly valued as a mnemonic aid.

radical meaning or pronunciation

Example 休 xiū to rest has 2 radicals: person and tree. 休 xiū can be memorized easily because we can picture a person leaning against a tree to take a rest.

Keep in Mind

Different Meanings

Radicals and the characters they come from sometimes differ in meaning, which may cause some confusion.

Example The radical tree actually means wood as a character.

Learning Process

Do not attempt to memorize complex characters before you have memorized the most important radicals.

For a list of the most important radicals, please see the game's cheatsheet, as well as that of the following games in the series.

Ancient Code | Chinese Radicals Game
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