About the sheep radical

WK writes that the sheep radical 羊 is part of the south kanji 南 but this is clearly wrong. It seems to be built on the happiness radical 幸

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Sometimes you have to stretch your imagination a bit with the radicals (in this case, it is a sheep missing two of its six legs). At the same time, there is always the option to write in your own meaning notes to help remember. So you could totally write something along the lines of “in the south, one’s HEAD becomes extremely SPICY because of all the spicy food in the south”. Sometimes, I will use both the suggested mnemonic and radicals and one that I create on my own to remember things even better. In this case, I agree, it looks more like a spicy, so maybe make a mnemonic of your own. Sometimes, the radicals look significantly altered in different kanji or can be interpreted in more than one way. Good luck…hopefully that essay was not too long…

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I wouldn’t say it’s wrong, the component radicals used for the purpose of the mnemonic are 十 (cross), 冂 (head), and 羊 (sheep). These make up the kanji 南 pretty much exactly (you can see that the sheep radical has two horns which is present within the “head” in the kanji, and then the cross at the top; the only difference is that one line is missing from the sheep radical, but a lot of kanji require you to use your imagination to understand that the radicals are ‘modified’ for the purposes of learning the kanji)

Plus, 幸 is only taught as a radical at level 18, and since 南 is a level 6 kanji, it wouldn’t be possible to be used for mnemonic purposes (since only radicals are used for kanji mnemonics)

Technically it is probably built from nothing, it’s supposed to be a hieroglyph of a bell.

It’s rather one of these things:

幸 doesn’t quite fit, the enclosure is drawn in between. You could also say it’s an antenna with horns. The WK radicals are not exactly a science.


You can’t really call any of WK’s interpretations of the kanji “wrong.” They’re just slapping pieces together to make mnemonics. If you want to remember it as 幸 and 冂, then you can go with that.There’s no official way to break kanji into constituent parts.

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Surely you are mistaken, as 至 is officially recognized as Boob grave by all.

And yeah, youll learn radicals that aren’t always a perfect fit/get modified. Also youll learn radicals that really arent radicals, like 麗

Unless I am mistaken, these are actually the “official” radicals, which are useful for some dictionaries.


You’re not mistaken, but it’s a bit misleading in that the word radical has a bit of different definition between there and WK. It’s not that WK radicals are “unofficial” versions of those, they actually have different uses.

WK radicals are “kanji parts.”
The “official” kangxi radicals are used for organizing kanji in kanji dictionaries.

Each kanji has only one kangxi radical, regardless of how many parts it has. And sometimes, the radical can look quite different because of how they’re categorized. To find the 情 kanji in a kanji dictionary, you don’t look for the thing with 3 strokes on the left that we call fishstick, you look up the section for the 心 radical, because that fishstick thing is just a modified 心, and so that is the baseline radical it is listed under. Though usually each section will also list the associated modified versions.

Other examples include 刂 (what WK calls ribs) being a modification of 刀.


Ah, I was not aware that was how they were used. Id imagine those are what schoolchildren use to learn kanji too, right (assuming they learn by radicals)? so is the kangxi radical the one that you just first write?

Yes, they do learn them. Occasionally when I teach at elementary school, I will sit in on 国語 lessons and watch them cover new kanji. They always mention the radical.

The radical doesn’t have to be the first thing written within the kanji, it can be anywhere, even crossing over other elements. For example, see this one 屯 | 漢字一字 | 漢字ペディア. The radical is not 屯, like WK teaches it as one whole thing, but just the lower trident-like thing.

There’s not much rhyme or reason, they are just officially designated as having particular radicals solely for organizational purposes.

To my knowledge, there were studies that did find patterns for determining the radical in a kanji, but from what I vaguely remember in my research, the piles of rules was too complicated with which to bother memorizing. Certain Kanji (that are used as radicals, like 木) are always radicals when in certain positions within the kanji. These positions different per radical, creating a ridiculously long list of rules. One quick example is that さんずい, the water alternative 氵will always be the radical when it appears in the kanji. On the other hand, when it appears in its normal form, such as 緑, it is not guaranteed to be the radical (いとへん 糸 is the radical). Similarly, as @Leebo mentioned, Risshin(ben), ⺖, as an alternative of 心 will likely be the radical when it appears in the kanji, but its other alternative したごころ ⺗ will not, such as in 穏, where むぎへん ⽲ is the radical.

WaniKani dodges the need for this using its “radical” system, but Jisho is a good in-between if you’re interested, as it always shows the radical AND the components on the kanji details page.

For the OP, the actual radical for 南 is 十, with the bottom being 干 (Antenna on WK) and 丷 (Horns), so you’re right that sheep isn’t actually there. I’d go with the others though and to not sweat the small details. If you’re picky, it will lead to a LOT of extra research time that could probably be spent more usefully. :wink:

The kanji were there first, the radicals were invented later to categorize the existing ones. It makes perfect sense for kanji that are semantic-phonetic compounds (the majority), but not so much for hieroglyphs or compound ideographs. For example 十 is the radical in 南, but does it mean anything?

@EiriMatsu, are you sure about 氵 and 緑? It’s quite obvious that 糸 is the radical, it’s a semantic-phonetic composition with 彔 (“to carve wood”). Where is the water coming in?

Not sure if something can be a radical when it is already cramped into a compound like in 穏. In 恋 it is the radical.

This is one theory, but I’m not sure I trust it that much (Also is it explicitly those? I just know it is a “Hanging percussive instrument”) because it doesn’t explain how it got the modern meaning. Another theory is that it is a pictogram of a house, and in antiquity at least some houses did face southernly.

@vanilla The Kangxi radicals are actually a de facto standard as opposed to an “official” standard. For example, the Hanyu Da Cidian the largest Chinese dictionary has 23,000 characters in it and its own novel set of 200 radicals.

Simplest explanation is that they are mainly the Semantic Component of the character. Larger explanation can sort of be found here . Further explanation is that it all comes from the Shuowen Jiezi.

The explanation is that this thing was used by a tribe who were called “Nan”, and the kanji was borrowed for it sound. Not sure if its those, you can apply your Google-fu to find the right picture. I think it looks strikingly like the kanji :wink:
And you can trust in your house, it will not be proven one way or another anyways. I found the bell explanation in several places, but they may be related.

Since I practice writing concurrently with learning the kanji, I need to radicals + mnemonics to have as little variation as possible so I don’t mistakenly write down something wrong.

Where possible I substitute with my own mnemonic with “un-edited” radicals. For example 鏡 said something about a sun seeing but the “see” radical here only has one horizontal line, so I substituted with my own mnemonic: “A sun with legs stands in front of a MIRROR and sees gold”

Where not possible, I just remember the difference as part of the mnemonic. Why does the left brother in 競 have a sharper uptick on his leg? Cuz he’s a prick.

If you take 幸 (hapiness) and add a ‘stick’ on the left and a ‘barb’ on the
right you get south. On the other hand, there is no fitting ‘sheep’ into
the south kanji.

I don’t see the good of using radicals to build kanji if one doesn’t use
what works and pretends that what doesn’t work is the solution… not
logical, not useful

Things do have altered forms inside kanji though, so just because something doesn’t look exactly like something else doesn’t mean it’s not that thing. In this case, the actual composition is probably not either WK’s proposal or yours, so I don’t see why one would be considered more “wrong.”

To “fit” sheep into south, you just have to imagine it’s a “shorter” sheep or something. Get used to having to squeeze or morph radicals to fit perfectly into kanji, because they don’t always look exactly the same.

That’s cause usually these things come from one place and propagate to others.

The Japanese explanation I found is (in my copy of 新字源): 形声。テントと、丹(タン→暖)を組み合わせたもので、家の中が暖かいという意味。転じて、南を表す。鐘の形がもとになっているという説もある。So it mentions both theories as well. And interestingly enough calls it a 形声.

I can’t really find anything compelling in Chinese, but this site here does support the Bell theory.

@acm2010 My point was that 水 wasn’t the radical in 緑 . Sorry if my wording made that confusing. 氺 is the form of water in 緑, and, by the set of rules, it is not guaranteed to be the radical if it shows up. On the other hand, it is very rare (if even possible, as I can’t think of an example) for 氵 to not be the radical. You’re also correct about 穏, as it is indeed inside a compound in which it was the radical. I don’t think a component inside a compound can be a radical either, though, I don’t think I know enough kanji yet to make that claim! I was just contrasting ⺖ and ⺗, where the former is almost always the radical and the latter is not consistently the radical. Though I suppose you’ve caught on to a possibly reliable method of identification; usually the radical is “bigger” than the rest of the kanji components since it occupies a position on its own. 氵 and ⺖ are both へん radicals, so they are easily distinguishable.

@JML The problem is a matter of stroke order as well as construction. The component in 南 is the “Head” radical on WaniKani, not a combination of “Ground,” “Stick,” and “Barb.” Happiness does not have the “Head” radical in it whatsoever. Either way, the solution is made up.

Of course I understand that. My construct was somehow contrived. However, WK explain that they don’t care too much for the ‘real’ radicals used in dictionaries, but that they want to use radicals as ‘letters’ to build the ‘words’ represented by the kanji. If so, there is no point in insisting on an ‘abbreviated sheep’ which is not in WK ‘alphabet’ on the ground that there is a head in 南 which should not be looked at as stick+ground+barb. I was only trying to apply their logic to build something。

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