Real radicals for reading assistance


So I’ve seen posts basically stating that the real radicals for Kanji are not very helpful to figure out the meaning of the Kanji, but what about to help with readings? I know very little about them, but it is my understanding that certain radicals can help when you are trying to guess the reading of a Kanji.
I suspect this might be the case with 斤 and 近, for instance. And if this is the case, in what circumstances would you have 斤 in the Kanji but it would be read differently because a different “radical” is providing the reading? How do you identify what gives the reading?


For this kind of thing I think you should try the Keisei Semantic-Phonetic Composition script. If provides a wealth of information about how the kanji were built from components that bring reading information.

Semantic-Phonetic information is also available in the Item inspector script.


It’s a common misconception when you first start learning.

There’s no official list of Kanji radicals. What there is are conventions that associate radicals with Kanji in order to make paper dictionary lookups possible:

There are definitely phonetic components like you noticed. But those only exist in 形声文字, literally form-sound Kanji, albeit they do make up about 80% of the Jouyou Kanji set.


If you’re talking about “real radicals” the part that 斤 and 近 share is not a radical for both of them. In 近 the radical is the outside part, called shinnyou. They do share the 斤 element though, and that’s where 近 gets its onyomi from.

It’s worth remembering also that any radical system is arbitrarily tacked on after the fact, not something that the kanji were created with in mind. So sometimes the “real radicals” won’t make much sense either. Just something to keep in mind.



So how would you identify which part of a Kanji will give the reading?

This was one of the most useful scripts I have ever used here. I wish I had discovered it before level 20 or so… The name is not very informative but it is exactly what you are looking for.

Sorry I didn’t want to make this a reply to proleau post – I just wanted to quote it…


You can either use Phonetic Semantic Script as you go through WK or just pick it up along the way.

Almost all of the people who have made it to around level 40+ start to get an intuitive grasp of the phonetic pieces.


You can change the reply to a general reply in the top-left of the reply box while keeping the quote :eyes:


:flushed: I never knew this

I can also 100% vouch for this script. It’s amazing and has really helped me even with guessing readings of kanji that I did not know.


I recommend getting a copy of The Kanji Code. The author created the list of phonetic components that someone linked to above.

It was recently reviewed in the Association of Japanese Teachers’ journal and described as ‘useful’ and ‘innovative’ by Dr Sachiko Matsunaga, a professor at Cal State.

According to author TKC author Hamilton, you can learn the 150 phonetic components about as quickly as you learned hiragana and katakana. You can then use them to guess the readings of new kanji you encounter. The ebook is currently $9.30 on Amazon


This is not guaranteed to work, but in essence… it’s usually the more complicated part. Or the part that takes up more space. It’s also the ‘less common’ part in the sense that you more rarely see it across kanji in the exactly the same location, whereas the bits that function as radicals usually (but not always) appear in exactly the same location and way in every kanji where they’re the radical.

Yeah, actually, ‘the part that takes up more space’ is probably the best way to go about it. It’s far more common for these components to be on the right side of the kanji, but sometimes they’re on the left, and in kanji that are a vertical stack of fairly symmetrical components, it’s usually what’s on the bottom, but again, not always. One last thing to keep in mind is that not all kanji are pictophonetic: it’s probably the most common kanji construction method, but there are another five. I doubt that the six methods are mutually exclusive, but the point is that not all kanji have obvious readings, so you can’t rely on this for everything.

(Source: I speak Chinese, and I’ve found that Japanese is even more consistent about readings when it comes to on’yomi for pictophonetic characters, which is a relief.)

@VegasVed: Oh yeah, one more thing. About ‘real radicals’… see, there’s definitely a ton of names that are common among native speakers, especially teachers and other professionals in the fields of kanji teaching and kanji history – Japanese has one set, and Chinese has another, and not all of them overlap, clearly – but I don’t think there’s an official list even if I wouldn’t be surprised if, say, the Chinese (or Japanese!) ministry of education has made some effort to standardise things. However, part of the problem is that a lot of modern radicals don’t reflect what kanji looked like initially, because there’s been a lot of morphing over time. In some cases, the radicals we see today make no sense, but the radicals that were used initially (in Oracle Bone Script) make perfect sense, but only because they’re completely different from what we see now, because native speakers got confused along the way and adopted new ways of writing the kanji. Kanji are 5000 years old, and a lot has happened in that time.


You might find this video introducing the two types of components (radical [meaning components] - and phonetics) and how they work together in keisei moji useful.


I think you mean there’s no official list of phonetic components? Apart from the Kanji Code’s one and a few others floating around cyber space…
Google Leo Boiko, Hiroko Townsend…

There definitely IS an official list of radicals. Every Japanese dictionary lists it at the front. When you do the 漢字検定 (kanji kentei - an official kanji test that native Japanese speakers take in school or just to challenge themselves as adults) one of the first things you have to do is learn them.

Here are some lists of radicals
Japanese Radicals by Subject – The Kanji Code - lists MOST radicals thematically e.g. body parts, nature, weapons, etc. - all radicals by stroke count

Many of the beginner kanji are also radicals. If you learn the main ones you will be able to make educated guesses about the meaning category of many kanji.

e.g. those with 手 or 扌(hand) often relate to actions you do with your hands
those with 心 or ⺖ (heart) often relate to emotions
those with 艹 on top are usually plants

The list goes on…Kanji is actually very logical once you understand the components and their roles.

From that site:

There are 214 historical radicals derived from the 18th century Kangxi dictionary.

Like I said, it’s a convention that dictionaries and even the Kanji Kentei test have adopted.

Sure, it’s a widespread convention and the ones adopted from the Kangxi dictionary are widely accepted as a de facto standard, but there’s no official list like there is with the Jouyou Kanji set.



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