learning Chinese characters with radicals
Some students find learning to read and write characters the most difficult part of learning Chinese, and they wonder if there are any rules to help them along. Fortunately, the answer is yes. Although some Chinese characters did in fact originate from pictures, they're not just a random arrangement of strokes.
The part of the character known as the radical (or 部首/bùshǒu in Chinese) can aid language learners in deciphering a character's meaning or pronunciation. In paper dictionaries, they are also used to arrange the order of the characters, so being able to recognize radicals is an important part of knowing the language.
This month, I'm going to introduce the heart radical, which can appear as 心 (xīn) or as 忄 shù. The former, 心 (xīn), is both a radical and a character meaning "heart." To describe someone as kind-hearted you can say, 好心 (hǎoxīn). The latter, 忄 (shù) is a radical but not a character. In oracle bones, the radical looks much like the shape of the heart, but now it's hard to see the heart shape. Since the ancient Chinese people believed that the heart was the center of the chest, the heart radical implies center and core, as in 中心 (zhōngxīn, the center). Later it extended to mean "mind," "feeling," and "emotion." 忄 shù is always seen on the left side of a character whereas 心 is always under the upper part of a character.
Let's look at some examples:
想 (xiǎng) can be used as a verb or a noun. It can mean to think or to miss someone or something—我想你 (wǒ xiǎng nǐ, I miss you.) 你怎么想的 nǐ zěnme xiǎngde? (What do you think [of something]?) It can also indicate the thoughts themselves, as in 想法 (xiǎngfǎ, thoughts, opinions).
思 (sī) means to think, to consider; to miss, to think of, as in 思想 (sīxiāng, to miss home, to be homesick. The same character also indicates thought or thinking, as in 思想 (sīxiǎng; thought, thinking).
怒 (nù) angry, indignant; indignation, as in 愤怒 (fènnù; indignant, indignation).
忍 (rěn) to bear or to tolerate, as in 忍耐 (rěnnài, to tolerate) or 忍受 (rěnshòu, to endure).
怨 (yuàn) resentment, grudge; to blame, to complain, as in 怨恨 (yuànhèn; to resent, resentment). An example sentence is 都怨你 (dōuyuànnǐ; you are to blame for all this).
忘 (wàng) to forget.
愁 (chóu) to worry, to be anxious; sorrow. A Chinese idiom is 忧愁善感 (yōuchóushàngǎn)—it means to be very sentimental, sorrowful and melancholy.
情 (qíng) feeling, affection, sentiment, relationships, love. This is a character widely seen and used in many phrases and expressions. 爱情 (àiqíng) means love or relationship. 友情 (yǒuqíng) means friendship. 无情 (wúqíng) means without feeling, or ruthless or heartless.
忙 (máng) busy, fully occupied; to hurry, to hasten. 忙死了 (mángsǐle) literally means busy to death, or extremely busy.
怕 (pà) to fear, to be afraid of; I'm afraid [that ...], I suppose. For example, 现在在下雨,足球比赛怕要延期了 (xiànzài zàixiàyǔ zúqiúbǐsài pàyào yángqīle; Since it's raining, I am afraid that the soccer match will be postponed).
性 (xìng) sex, gender; nature, character. 天性 (tiānxìng, natural instincts, nature); 性格 (xìnggé, character); 性别 (xìngbié, gender)