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5 Essential Nature Radicals in Chinese

An easy way to dramatically improve your Chinese comprehension and writing skills is to learn radicals! If you don't know what radicals are, they are components of a character that can appear in the left, right, upper or lower part of the character. These radicals help sort different words into similar categories and if you are familiar with the radicals, then you’ll be able to easily identify the meanings of new words and also remember how to write words.

In this lesson, we’ll learn radicals related to nature.

1. 山 - Called the '山字旁' (shān zì páng)

This is the mountain or '山字旁' radical. This radical can appear on the top, left hand side or lower part of a character and as you guessed there will be some origination or association with mountains! Let's look at some examples below:

  • 岛 (dǎo): Island.

Some islands are formed from volcanic eruptions and therefore have lots of mountains. A fun fact is that you see the character bird 鸟 (niǎo) on top. This is because back in the day, only birds could easily fly to the tops of these islands because they are mountainous and surrounded by water. It is also there for phonetic reasons too.

  • (fēng): Peak

Many mountains will have peaks.

  • (tàn): Charcoal.

This is normally sourced from the mountains.

2. 氵- Called the '三点水' (sān diǎn shuǐ)

This is the water (水) radical and is often called the '三点水' radical. This radical appears on the left side of characters and as you can guess, the characters will have something to do with water. The characters below have this radical.

  • 河 (hé): River

  • 流 (liú): Flow (of liquid)

  • 汗 (hàn): Sweat

3. 土 - Called the '提土旁' (tí tǔ páng)

This is the earth (土) radical and is referred to as the '提土旁' radical. This radical is related to characters that have a meaning associated with the earth or soil. However, note that not all characters do have this meaning. In some characters, this radical appears on the left-hand side whereas in others, they appear at the lower part of the character. Here are some examples with the 提土旁 (tí tǔ pang):

  • 地 (dì): Ground / Earth

  • 基 (jī): Foundation / Base

  • 城 (chéng): City

4. 火 - Called the '火字旁' (huǒ zì páng)

This is the fire (火) radical and is referred to as the 火字旁 radical. This radical is related to characters that are obviously associated with fire! Regarding the position of this radical in characters, you will find it on the left-hand side or in the lower part of a character. Here are some examples:

  • 灯 (dēng): Light / Lamp (Lamps and lights were historically lit with fire)

  • 烧 (shāo): To burn / To cook

  • 灾 (zāi): Disaster

5. 石 - Called the '石字旁' (shí zì páng)

This is the rock (石) or 石字旁 radical. Again characters that have the 石字旁 often have an association with rocks and usually appear on the left hand side of the character. Some example characters include:

  • 砂 (shā): Sand. We see the character 少 (small) next to 石 because sand is essentially tiny fragments of rocks.

  • (yìng): Hard

  • 砖 (zhuān): Brick.

That’s it for today where we looked the top 5 Chinese radicals to do with nature. 山字旁, 三点水,提土旁, 火字旁 and the 石字旁. We hope this will be useful in helping you guess the meaning of words you may not know and remember how to write certain words associated with the radicals more easily. If you would like to see a deeper dive, view our video lesson here:

See you again for another lesson!

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Karen Selick
Karen Selick
Jul 10, 2021

There's a minor error at about 6:40 where your pinyin still says "deng" instead of "chao".

Replying to

Thank you so much for being very observant! We will make sure to note this so future learners know. 继续加油!

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