Pronunciation for radicals


I’m a new dude on this site, I have only finished the first radicals review. Now that I have a bit of time before the next one, I thought I should ask what’s been on my mind:

1. Should I be worried about how to pronounce radicals?

What I’m worried about here is that while I know what the radical ‘person’ looks like, I don’t know how to speak it. For example, if someone were to ask “How do you say the radical for ‘person’?”, then silence would be my answer.

2. If I should be worried, then where can I find how to pronounce them?

I find this site very hard to use - it has a lot of things and most of it seems completely unnecessary for me. Even after having randomly clicked around a bit, I didn’t find any page where I could learn to speak radicals.

3. If I shouldn’t be worried, then how are radicals referred to in Japanese?

What I mean, is that if radicals don’t really have any way to say them out loud (if they do, then please do answer my 2nd question), then how do you refer to them? For example, the radical for ‘tree’. I read from somewhere that the word (kanji) forest contains three ‘tree’ radicals. How would you say that?

Umm you are never going to ‘speak’ a radical. Radicals are just kanji parts. If a radical and a kanji are the same, and you see it in writing, it is always the kanji.

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I see, thanks, it’s quite a bit off my mind. I was worried that I was skipping something important. x)

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WaniKani radicals are just building blocks for the kanji. They have no pronunciation, most of them don’t even exist outside of WaniKani or similar approaches like KanjiDamage, and their only purposes are to give you a way to think about the kanji as being made up of parts rather than strokes and as the basis for the mnemonics that help you remember the kanji.


You will never “say” a radical. They are the building blocks of kanji, and you’ll see them repeated many times for many different kanjis. Wanikani assigns them names in order to create the mnemonic devices that help you remember the kanji in the future. However! Radicals do have names (the 广 in 広い [ひろい, hiroi] is called まだれ [madare]), but I doubt most Japanese people would know half of them. I believe knowing the names of the radicals is similar to being an English/linguistic major and knowing that verbs have both a tense (simple, past, past participle, present participle) and an aspect (simple, progressive, perfect, perfect progressive). In other words, they’re very field related and not something that anyone and everyone would know off the top of their head.

Typically, when I describe a kanji, I usually describe it by its parts and people know what I mean. For example, I might say “林のもく、目玉のめ、安心のこころ” and people seem to understand that I meant 想 when coupled with the context of the conversation…

Thanks for the detailed answer. x)

Just wanted to add that the only time you are probably going to encounter the names of radicals is in a Japanese classroom. Apart from that, I never heard a Japanese person name a radical (apart from teachers), and I don’t think you should worry about it too much.

There is a traditional radical system where radicals do have names (not pronunciations), but it is not very helpful. As complex as a kanji may be, it officially has only one radical, which conveys a very vague and general idea of the meaning of the kanji. And as meanings and interpretations get lost with time, some of them don’t even make sense anymore.

I used to take Japanese classes years ago and we did kanji drills sorted by radicals. For instance, a bunch of kanji that use the てへん (nailbat in WK) which are vaguely related to hand: “thumb”, “hold”, “throw”, “put”, “push” etc.

You can find a list of the traditional radicals here, with a bit of explanation and their names:

You should note that WK uses the term radical more loosely, though. For example a kanji can consist of several radicals here.

The actual radicals, the more common ones people know, 手偏, 三水, etc, people will know them. But still, most of the radicals here don’t have names.

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