Kanji radicals are essentially little pieces of kanji. They can also be kanji of their own. There are somewhere around 214 radicals that are used in kanji and they range from one stroke all the way up to 17 strokes (It’s 龠、やく, flute – in case you were wondering)
Radicals can be quite useful because they can hint at a kanji’s meaning, pronunciation, or origin. It can also help you break down complex kanji into radicals instead of a bunch of strokes. They can come in handy when you are trying to come up with mnemonics, too. On the JLPT, it is important to know radicals because on the test they will often switch the radicals of kanji to test you in the kanji section of the exam.
So, they are can be pretty darn important. Today, I’m going to hand you some tools that will hopefully demystify the crazy world of kanji radicals.
How to Find Kanji Radicals
Where are these kanji radicals in the first place? Where are they hiding? In your closet? Between the sofa cushions? Nope, it’s much easier than that. There are actually a few places in a kanji that you can look and find these little guys.
1. The kanji can be a radical
Some kanji are made of just one radical and that’s it. Actually, a lot of the JLPT N5 kanji is made of single radical kanji like this. Kanji like 口, 女, 山, 大, and日.
2. The radical can be in the right, left, top, or bottom
These are the simplest to find. These radicals are in kanji that are usually made of only two radicals. Although the can be made of more than two radicals as well. Kanji like (日＋月）= 明 or (田＋心)＝思
3. Radicals can form enclosures
Enclosures enclose other radicals or strokes of the kanji. They can be in the lower left like 進, top left like 原、in the top right like 式、they can form a C-enclosure like 区、an upside-down ‘U’ like 開、or surround the whole thing like 国.
4. Radicals can be somewhere else
Radicals can also be floating around somewhere else in the kanji with other strokes that aren’t radicals. There are a lot of kanji in this category, but a few simple ones that come to mind are 鞄, 望, or 鏡.
How do you use kanji radicals?
Kanji radicals can be used to look up kanji in Japanese dictionaries. A good example of this is the multi-radical kanji function of the WWWJDIC site or the corresponding iPhone App Imi wa? You can find kanji that you don’t know very well fairly quickly by isolating the radicals and using them to look up new words.
You can also use kanji radicals to simply remember kanji. Instead of them being a giant mess of strokes, you can break them down into radicals. This can make identifying them and writing them (if you need to) a lot easier.
The radicals can also be used to make mnemonics for you to remember the kanji and their meanings. You can break down a kanji into radicals and make a little story using the names of the radicals to help you remember. It can be as simple as 男is man, because a man uses his strength 力 in the rice field 田.
Radicals are especially invaluable for the JLPT because the kanji section is full of 似いている漢字 or look alike kanji. These kanji usually have just one radical different than the real kanji they are imitating. By knowing what the different kanji radicals look like, you can notice the differences and pay attention to them when you are studying kanji.
So, there you have it. How to find and use kanji radicals. The earlier you learn these kanji radicals the better. To help you, you might want to pick up the kanji radical cheat sheet that Tofugu.com made. It has most of the commonly used kanji radicals listed with some funny names to help you remember them by.
If you are studying for the JLPT, you may also want to pick up the White Rabbit Press Flashcards that have the radicals on them as well. I also detail some hints on how to study kanji in my 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make on the JLPT eBook which you can pick up for absolutely free up in the upper right corner of the blog.
1) How do you study Kanji for the test? Do you use mnemonics or something else?
2) What are some other resources that you use with kanji radicals?