Radical Question 杯

Been hurting my brain, hopefully I am missing something simple. I came across the 杯 kanji on some packaging and wanted to look it up. I opened up the Kanji Study app and started to search by radical, first for 木 and then for 不. The problem I ran into was 不 is not a “real” radical (I found out). How do I search for 杯 then? Are all kanji not made up of radicals? I don’t think 不 is broken up even more, so is it just stokes at that point?

Help! Thanks! :slight_smile:


The meaning of “radical” that WK is using is more like “element” or “component.” It’s a colloquial meaning that people use because jumping into a full explanation of how radicals are used is a bit complicated, and the app you used may be using a more strict definition, which is a translation of the Japanese word 部首.

In Japanese, each kanji only has one 部首. For 杯, the 部首 is 木 and 不 is another element within the kanji. The primary purpose of assigning 部首 is to index kanji for lookup purposes, and it’s not an innate feature of kanji that existed from their inception. So under that framework, yes, 不 is not a “radical.” You can see how 不 is broken up by looking for its 部首, which is 一. How 部首 are assigned is arbitrary to some extent, and there are historically different schemes that have been used. Nowadays there is one prevailing one, but that doesn’t make it “more true” than others from the past.

There’s no standardized way to do these kinds of “search by radical” or “search by element” things either. Different sources will include different things.


A worthwhile question but I’m missing something - how did you find the Unicode character, without first solving your problem? :thinking:

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Wow, thank you for the detailed explanation! :slight_smile: I had not known about 部首 and have started looking more into it. So all kanji no matter how many radicals they look like they have its actually only one true radical? So for example 本 would only have 木 and not 一 even though it looks like and taught to be two radicals? I can normally search for all of the radicals and find it but I guess that only works when its using a true radical (of the 214)?


If you’re using a “search by radical” system that only gives the 214 indexing radicals as options, then yes, you won’t be able to search by things that are present in kanji, but never used for indexing purposes. In the case of 本 you can find both its radical 木 and its other element, 一, in such a system because 一 is used as a 部首 as well in other kanji.


Haha, good question! Googling “木不 kanji” and got lucky seeing it in the results :stuck_out_tongue:


Perfect. So kanji who use radicals that are not apart of that system can be inherently more difficult to find. In this case how would you recommend searching for 杯, is there a better way than by radicals that I can use?

This thread from yesterday has some recommendations for drawing-based lookups.


Seems like a lot of the suggested sites / apps let you search for wildcards for words where you don’t know a kanji in the word but not for parts of a single kanji, however, I tried the drawing feature on jisho and IT WORKED. My horrible drawing of the kanji worked. :laughing: I’ll add that to my toolbox.

Thanks Leebo! :+1:

So, the way you’d look up kanji in a regular paper dictionary is that you’d look it up by the primary radical first, and then by the total number of strokes in the kanji (or in some dictionaries, the total number of strokes without the primary radical). Online search-by-radical dictionaries let you include more restrictions in the search terms, but at some point you’re still gonna be counting strokes.

In this case, you’d select the 木 radical, and then search through all the eight-stroke kanji until you spot the right one.


The de facto standard are the Kangxi radicals. There are no characters that exist that don’t have one of those 214 radicals. Also, the majority of the radicals are the semantic component of phono-semantic compounds, which are the vast majority of characters. You would find the character under 木, and then by the number of strokes, as another post mentioned.

Probably the simplest thing these days is that most apps and electronic dictionaries are equipped with a draw function. If you’re ever in doubt, Google Translate is always good as it is stroke order agnostic.

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Would you look at that… I did exactly what you said and searched 木 and filtered by 8 strokes and it was there!


That’s what I’m starting to find out after doing some reading from @Leebo’s answer. Seems like there are the standard 214 Kangxi radicals and every kanji contains only 1. It’s like a whole new side of kanji I knew nothing about. Very exciting! :smiley:

Well, more precisely, each kanji is defined by only one, but they can contain more. For example, 聞 contains both 門 and 耳, but it’s 耳 which is the defining radical.

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If you get used to the radical names that Wanikani uses, this site is really helpful to find kanji by their WK radical names, even for kanji that are not taught in WaniKani:



It’s also very responsive. Can’t recommend it enough.
Original thread:


Yes, or rather than contains, it is that each Kanji is only indexed under one.

Honestly, I’m not really a fan of this site’s usage of the word “radical” for this exact reason. Because it is confusing. And, if you say the word 部首 to Japanese people, they will only understand it as this.


How do you know what the defining radical is if there is more then 1?

Holy smokes that’s great! Almost seems like cheating it works so well :wink: :+1:


The majority of the radicals are the semantic component of a Kanji, in this case 耳 is the semantic and 門 is the phonetic. If you know the kind of character you’re looking at, you can usually identify where the Semantic component, and thus the radical is. But failing that, left or top are usually good first guesses as they are most common.

If a character is a radical, it will be under itself, and not something smaller. The small remainder can be either the phonetic component or something arbitrary. 三 is listed under 一 and 六 is listed under 八


To add to the post above, radicals come in typical positions in kanji, which look something like this:


You’ll get a feel for it after a while. There’s some exceptions, though - 聞, to my surprise, is one of them (I was expecting that 門 was going to be the radical). At a pinch, Jisho will tell you what the radical is - to use my previous example, underneath the kanji, there’s a line saying “Radical: ear 耳”