Chinese character structure: a guide to writing characters well

Chinese character structure

Before learning Chinese character structure, make sure you understand well the concept of a component. A component is different from a stroke. A component is a part that must have an independent meaning.

There are two kinds of characters according to the structure,

独体字 single-component characters and 合体字 compound characters (or multi-component characters).

1. Single-component characters, 独体字

Single-component characters have only one complete and independent component, mostly simple pictographic and ideographic characters, e.g. 人、日、土、马、口、手、田、目、犬、刃 etc..

Single-component characters account for a very small proportion in all Chinese characters. But they play a very important role in the formation of Chinese characters. Most of the Chinese characters are composed of two or more single-component characters. They have extremely strong word formation ability, which makes them the core of the system of Chinese characters, e.g. 木 can form more than 400 characters as a component.

2. Compound characters/multiple-component character 合体字




Compound characters are composed of more than one component.

1). Above-below structure 上下结构 ,e.g. 尖、笑、药、类

2). Above-middle-below structure上中下结构 ⿳,e.g. 哀、喜、曼、莹

3). Left-right structure 左右结构 ⿰,e.g. 把、保、词、科

4). Left-middle-right structure 左中右结构 ⿲,e.g. 衡、滩、斑、掰

5). Semi-surrounded structure 半包围结构,e.g. 问、凶、臣、压、这、旬

i. Surround from upper left 左上包围结构  ⿸,e.g. 房、尼、庙、病

ii. Surround from upper right 右上包围结构 ⿹,e.g. 句、可、司、式

iii. Surround from lower left 左下包围结构 ⿺,e.g. 建、尴、毯、连

iv. Surround from above 上三包围结构 ⿵,e.g. 闹、周、同、问

v. Surround from below 下三包围结构 ⿶, e.g. 函、画、击、凶

vi. Surround from left 左三包围结构 ⿷, e.g. 匝、匣、臣、区

6). Fully-surrounded structure 全包围结构 ⿴,e.g. 回、因、国、困、囚

7). Overlaid structure 镶嵌结构 ⿻, e.g. 坐、 臾 、爽、农、夹、幽、噩

All the compositions of Chinese components can be classified into one of the above. Some people classify characters like 森、品、晶、犇、淼、鑫、、猋 into the structure of 品, but actually they still belong to the upper and lower structure. For learning Chinese characters, we highly recommend the dictionary Kang Xi Ci Dian 康熙词典. You can get the structure for every single character.

After learning Chinese character structure, you can see how powerful the single-component characters are. They are absolutely the basis of all Chinese characters. You can say learning Chinese characters is actually a process of studying how the components combine.

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