Kanji components and radicals

Almost all kanji are actually composed of 'components' - elements which themselves have meanings, and often (but not always) are actually kanji in their own right.

Components vs radicals vs elements vs graphemes

In Kanshudo, we use the term 'component' to refer to any individual part of a kanji that is distinctly recognizable.
'Radical' is the standard term for only those 214 components which were historically used to index kanji in Japanese dictionaries. Each kanji has exactly one radical, but it might be composed of several other components in addition to the radical. Many components occur frequently in kanji, but are not classified as radicals. In Kanshudo, we make it very easy to see what components kanji are made up of, and also to search for other kanji that use those components.
You may also see the terms 'element' and 'grapheme'. Both are usually used in the same sense we use 'component'. Element is a fairly common direct alternative term. Grapheme is used more in the typographical world - for example, it is the standard term used when discussing Unicode (the text standard for the internet) character composition.

Components example

Let's take an example: the common kanji (green).
You can see that it is composed of three elements, 糸, 彐 and 水:
  • 糸 (thread) is a common component, and also a radical
  • 水 (water) is also a very common component, and a radical
  • 彐 is also common; originally it descended from 彑, a radical meaning 'pig's snout'. However, it appears in this form more frequently. So, given its resemblance to katakana ヨ (yo), in mnemonics we refer to it as 'yo', in the sense of give a yell or shout.
However, the right side of the kanji, 录, is actually another kanji in its own right, which appears in several other kanji as a component. So, in mnemonics, we use that composite kanji, so we can very easily find other kanji which use the same component (such as 録), just by doing a component search for 录. This component doesn't have a common meaning, so in Kanshudo we assign it a meaning based on its own components that makes it easy to remember when it is used.

Learning the radicals and components

To learn the components specifically, start with the 50 most common components. You can also learn components by learning the kanji that contain them - take a lesson. For a complete reference guide to all components and radicals, see All components and radicals.

Searching for kanji by component

Kanshudo includes a fantastic tool for searching for kanji by component - the component builder. If you can identify any component (the radical or any other component) in a kanji visually, you can quickly find that kanji. If you know the English meaning of that component, you can just start typing it, and Kanshudo will highlight matching components for you to select - this is much quicker than searching for components by stroke order. Read our how to guide, or just try a search.

More about radicals and components

For more information on components and radicals, start with the excellent and comprehensive overview from Joy o' Kanji, Radical Terms ⇗.

More about the Kanshudo system

Kanshudo uses components in mnemonics to make it very easy to remember individual kanji. For more details, read more about the Kanshudo system.
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