Common Radicals

The term radical refers to the building blocks of kanji. Virtually all Japanese kanji characters are either a single radical or are made up of two or more radicals. By memorizing kanji as a combination of parts rather than as a unique character, one greatly simplifies the learning process.

Here are some basic radicals seen very frequently in more complex kanji characters.

True Radicals

These radicals appear in the same form either as their own kanji or as a component of more complex kanji.

Meaning: Day, Sun
Pronunciations: にち じつ ひ
Examples: 明 早 昨 時 暑

Meaning: (Physical) Strength
Pronunciations: りょく りき ちから
Examples: 勉 動

Meaning: Mouth, Enclosure
Pronunciations: こう く くち
Examples: 古 品 員 味

Meaning: Child, Boy
Pronunciations: し す こ
Examples: 学 字 好

Meaning: Field
Pronunciations: でん た
Examples: 町 男 画

Meaning: Metal, Money
Pronunciations: きん こん かね
Examples: 銀 鉄 針

Meaning: Word
Pronunciations: げん ごん こと い
Examples: 話 語 話 記

Meaning: Horse
Pronunciations: ば ま うま
Examples: 駅 駐

Modified Radicals

The following radicals are a bit trickier. Just like the true radicals, they can exist by themselves or as components in other kanji. However, they also have a modified form that exists only as components of other kanji. The modified form has the same meaning as the original form.

Meaning: Person, Man
Pronunciations: にん じん ひと
Examples: 休 作 使 働

Meaning: Water, Liquid
Pronunciations: すい まず
Examples: 海 泣 洋 酒

Meaning: Fire
Pronunciations: か ひ
Examples: 点 炎 災 黒

Meaning: Hand
Pronunciations: しゅ て
Examples: 持 指 招

Meaning: Heart, Feeling
Pronunciations: しん こころ
Examples: 必 愛 忙 性

Meaning: God, Rite, Enshrine
Pronunciations: し じ しめ
Examples: 祈 票 禁 神 祝

Learning to recognized radicals even in their modified form is one key to understanding the possible meaning of more complex kanji. Move on to the next section to see how these components fit together.