Since most of the Chinese characters are 形声字 phono-semantic characters, it’s a major requisite to know how they are formed.
Just as the name 形声字 phono-semantic characters indicates, all the phono-semantic characters are composed of semantic components and phonetic components. Let’s see how they both work respectively to form characters.
How a sementic component relates to the meaning of a character？
1. The semantic component of a character has the same or similar meaning as this character, e.g. 木 tree—树 tree, 口 mouth—嘴 mouth, 舟 boat—船 boat, 月(肉) flesh/meat—肌 muscle or flesh, etc.
2. The semantic component expresses a general meaning, and the character expresses things under this general category, e.g. 金 metal—铁 iron, 木 tree—柏 cypress, 鱼 fish—鲤 carp, 气 air—氧 oxygen, 水 water—河 river, etc.
3. The semantic component of a character has a direct relation with the meaning of this character, e.g. 水 water—渴 thirsty, 土 earth—堆 mound, 火 fire—烧 burn, etc.
4. The semantic component of a character has an indirect relation with the meaning of this character, e.g. 火 fire—炮 cannon, 鱼 fish — 鲜 fresh, etc.
How the phonetic component in a character relates to the pronunciation of this character?
1. Initial consonant, vowel, and tone are totally the same.
林 lín—淋 lín—霖 lín—琳lín
2. Initial consonant and vowel are the same, but tone is different . 方 fāng—房 fáng—纺 fǎng—放 fàng
3. Vowel is the same but initial consonant is different (the tone can be the same or different)
山 shān—灿 càn, 饭 fàn—板 bǎn, 户 hù—雇 gù
4. Initial consonant is the same but the vowel is different.
贝 bèi—坝 bà, 去 qù—怯 qiè
5. Only part of the vowel is the same. 非 fēi— 排 pái
6. Only the tone is the same. 斥 chì—诉 sù
7. Both the tone and part of the vowel are the same. 去 qù —却 què
8. Initial consonant, vowel, and tone are all different. 也 yě —地 dì, 也 yě — 他 tā
This is how phono-semantic characters are formed. After learning these rules, you can see that the phono-semantic characters are not formed randomly. Speaking of this, I can’t help recalling a Chinese saying, 万事皆有定律, which means everything has a law. For Chinese learning, when you find the law, you will feel suddenly enlightened. 当你找到定律时，你会有种 恍然大悟的感觉.
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