Is there some logic to identify radicals

Hi there, one things that confuse me with kanjis is the sort of loose definitions of radicals, which change based on systems ( vs wanikani for instance) even though they are used quite a lot as a way to identify kanji.

Even within one system it can be confusing, for instance, in Wanikani, this Kanji

is said to use the slide ( 丿 ), dirt ( 土 ) and leg ( 儿 ) radical on WK.
But why is it not say slide, cross and PI radical?

Is there some sort of logical order that helps identify radicals in a semi-reliable fashion, so as to be used in a dictionnary search for instance?


WK radicals are own made, both their name and their component.

(Potentially a lot) More info there: Radical Names | WaniKani Knowledge

One of the link in the article will answer to your last question: How to Find The Kanji Radical


Even on Jisho it’s not like there’s any fundamental rule to the structure of kanji from radical components. Jisho uses data from something called RADKFILE, which basically just exists to make searching by radicals possible, not because there’s an authority out there that says “This kanji is definitionally constructed from these specific radicals.”

The word “radical” with regard to kanji dictionaries means one specific component in a kanji that is used for indexing. A kanji dictionary indexes kanji by radical, but even in that case, there are cases where you can’t guess which element the dictionary will have chosen as the radical for a given kanji.

If you look up 休 for its radical, the radical is 亻. The 木 part is not a radical in that kanji and won’t be mentioned as being a radical for that kanji in a kanji dictionary.


One of the link in the article will answer to your last question: How to Find The Kanji Radical

That is super helpful and sort of what I was looking for I guess. Thanks.

Whilst the order mentionned (the 12 steps) is used to describe which is the “indexing” radical, as @leebo mentions, I’m thinking that it might also be used to figure out in WaniKani why a kanji was divided in one way rather than another? I’ll try to keep that in mind for the following reviews / lesson and see if it helps.

But if anything it will definitely help with my reading as using Jisho has been really hit and miss for me

先 is broken down that way due to stroke order, maybe?

You write it in that order; side, dirt, legs.

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Probably not – in the modern “mnemonic” type systems which break down kanji into a complete set of sub-components, the exact choice of components is going to depend on what components have already been taught at that point, what components seem to produce a memorable set of images for a mnemonic, and to some extent random whim – over 2000 items there is unlikely to be complete consistency. For these systems it doesn’t matter much whether the division happens one way or the other, as long as there’s a memorable hook between components and meaning.

One example of random inconsistency that’s been raised here before is the 空 kanji which WK breaks apart a bit differently to others with the same top half.

I suspect you’ll find this gets easier as you go on, both because you get more experience of how characters are put together, and because the simple few-strokes kanji that are taught first tend to be the ones where the split is most non-obvious – in a more complex kanji like 語 the split into three parts is clear, for example.

If you’re spending much time doing by-radical kanji lookups it’s probably a good idea to find an improved method for doing the input (eg handwriting recognition on a mobile phone) – a multi-radical search is pretty slow.


Sometimes it may be worth finding the decomposition that works best for you and just use WK’s as a guideline (same for mnemonics really). For instance WK breaks 美 down using 羊 + 大 but I Actually prefer to think of it as 王 + 大 with two horns on top (since the vertical line doesn’t actually go through the bottom horizontal one unlike in 羊). I also find that it’s easier to associate beauty with “king” (and the similar looking 生) than with “sheep”.

I also find some choices of radical names seriously dubious. 頁 in particular comes to mind…

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I don’t think stroke order really justifies it because otherwise some other decompositions don’t add up. For instance the example I just gave with 美 being decomposed as 羊 even though the stroke order is not the same (美 starts like 丁 and then you add the two 二, 羊 starts with 三 and then a vertical line). That’s actually another reason I prefer the 王 decomposition since it has the same 丁 + 二 stroke order.

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Well, that one’s not completely inaccurate, to be fair - in Japanese it’s called the “big shell” radical, and a geoduck is a big shell. The main issue is that most people probably don’t have an automatic mental recall of exactly what a geoduck looks like.

Though, the WaniKani radical that bemuses me the most is the 易 radical, because aside from the 易 kanji itself, it always appears in WaniKani kanji with an extra horizontal stroke, as 昜.


Could they have chosen a different shellfish that is also big? Sure… but geoduck is fun. I don’t see the issue with it.

I would just add to what @Belthazar said, that since 貝 isn’t just “shell”, it can also be shellfish, おおがい can be taken to mean “large shellfish.”

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Yeah you’re both right, that wasn’t a good example. For some reason I thought that the radical also had the “head” meaning but apparently it’s only historical and not listed in modern dictionaries. It’s a bit weird honestly, given that it’s prominent in words like 頭 and 顔 for instance.

I still prefer to remember it as the “head” radical for this reason.

Many of the Japanese radicals ignore the true meaning and just describe what it looks like. 頁 looks like a bigger 貝 than 貝, so they started calling it おおがい.

The 攵 radical looks like katakana ノ attached to 文, so people sometimes refer to it as のぶん. Even though that tells you nothing about the meaning.

I hope more people who learn about the “real radical names” start to cut WaniKani slack when they think back on the WK radicals.


Honestly I’m generally fine with creative names when a radical doesn’t really have a good set meaning, so 頁 really was a poor example for that. 攵 also doesn’t really work as a stand-alone kanji so some creativity is in order.

未 being called “jet” is a better example I think, given that the corresponding kanji has a very clear and consistent meaning so I don’t see the need to come up with a completely different one. I found it especially annoying because it was already confusing enough to differentiate between 未、天、夫、末、矢、失 and friends. Fortunately I could just use a “user synonym” to work around that.

But overall it’s not a huge issue, it’s just frustrating when you can’t progress on a level because you mess up a weird made-up kanji name. Like when I said “ten” instead of “cross” for 十.

Sheep? :slight_smile:

I’ll stop joshing you now.

Seriously though it’s valid to call that kanji ひつじ.

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You broke my brain for a second given that we were talking about sheep earlier. I was trying to figure out how I ended up with the 羊 kanji while typing いまだ.

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