I am a bit confused with the following facts.

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Is the 月-like radical in 前{まえ} identical to 月?


As you yourself observe, 月 looks different on its own than as an element in 前, in which it represents a simplification of 舟. So no, they are not identical.

As an element in other characters, the element that looks like 月 variously represents other historical elements, including 肉, 舟, 丹, and 月 itself, among others. In some characters the derivation is still significant in how they're written—there are variants of 錆 where the lower-right 丹 was simplified to 円 instead of 月, for example. A lot of characters contain this element, so we can expect to see some variation in how it appears.

But we can try to find patterns. When does the left side curve? Here are my observations, based entirely on how I perceive the current forms of the characters, ignoring their history:

  1. 月 itself is written with a curve.

  2. In left-right characters where one side is written like 月, it is written with a curve:


  3. In certain characters descended from the above, it's also written with a curve:



  4. In certain other characters it's also written with a curve:


  5. The rest of the time, the left side of 月 is typically written straight:


These are just my own observations. They aren't intended to be taken as absolute rules, and you may find variation in handwriting or in different fonts. For example, I've noticed that in some fonts on my computer, 潸 falls into category 4 instead of 5. But I think that overall the above is relatively accurate.


In terms of historical development, no, the 月 in 前 wasn't originally the same character as 月 "moon". As you can see in the old Kangxi dictionary here (slightly left of the center of the page, towards the top), the old form of 前 was 止 on the top and 舟 on the bottom. The 止 on the top simplified into 䒑, and the 舟 on the bottom transmogrified into 刖. See also en.wiktionary.org/wiki/前#Translingual.

UPDATE: Looking again at the Kangxi entry, I realized that there were two old variants. The bottom part of modern 前 is based on the bottom part of the second variant of the old character, consisting of 舟 on the left and 刂 on the right. That 刂 piece is still there in 前, so the 月 portion of the modern 前 character is entirely derived from the 舟 part of the old character.

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