Here we give some commonly used Chinese characters. If you click through to an individual character you will see an audio link so you can hear its pronunciation (in the Beijing dialect), the entry also list common usage, proverbs and names as well as the constituent parts that make up the character. For some of the ancient ‘pictogram’ characters we describe the likely origin of the character or radical. To help with pronunciation we list common characters with the same tone (homophones) as well as the ones with different tones.
The traditional way to find the meaning of a character in a Chinese-English dictionary is to look it up by order of pinyin sound - as in our character index. If you only have the written character and do not know how it is pronounced you have to use another method. First you analyze the character and work out its component parts. One of these parts - usually the left part is the radical. You then need to know how many strokes are used to write the radical part. Having looked up the radical in the index by stroke count you look through to find the character. If this does not work it could be that the radical is not to the left but may be at the top or more rarely bottom or right. Another problem may be working out the number of strokes, for example it may come as a surprise that a box 口 is made of three strokes, a newcomer may have suspected four or maybe one but three seems arbitrary until you start studying Chinese calligraphy and then it becomes clear that three strokes making writing the box easier.
Here is a list of common radicals used to index Chinese characters. We have only included the most common ones within the full set of 214. The radical usually indicates either meaning or pronunciation. Dictionaries use their own scheme for radicals, we are following the one used in Wiktionary ➚, these include some radicals only used in traditional characters but it is convenient to use an index that covers both the simplified and traditional forms. Click on the radical for more information including many of the common characters that use it.