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The two kanji radicals from the image are supposed to be 2 different kanji radicals, one meaning "mouth", and the other meaning "enclosure". I'm not sure if they are supposed to look different or not. The one above seems to have some very small lines continuing the box but may be it's just my imagination.

I noticed one of them is used in kanjis where a drawing goes inside it, and the other doesn't have any drawing inside it. Is that supposed to be the difference between them or they look barely different somehow?

enter image description here

  • Please don't call them "radicals"...they're character components. In fact, JL has kept this erroneous definition of "radicals" for too long in that tag; see 偏旁. – droooze Jul 23 '18 at 19:19
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In printed form, they are the same except for their size. Mouth is smaller than enclosure. Enclosure encloses other radicals or kanji, but mouth never takes anything inside it.

Some common kanji enclosed by enclosure:

国 四 回 団 図 園 因

Notice how 「回」 has both 囗 (enclosure) and 口 (mouth).

In 楷書 (regular script), they look almost the same. They are drawn with the same strokes, but the second stroke of 囗 (enclosure) can be a bit longer than in 口 (mouth) and the final stroke of 囗 (enclosure) is drawn after the enclosed part. In regular Japanese handwriting, the stroke length difference might be less noticeable or not there at all. See this stroke order animation of 「回」 in regular script:

回

In 行書 (running script, semi-cursive script), a fairly common and well-understood calligraphy style, they look different. See this image of 「回」 in running script:

回

In addition, there are other calligraphy styles that use historical radicals or simplify the radicals as seen fit for a particular character. See Earthliŋ's answer for more details about historical forms of 囗 and 口.

  • so in 行書体 the stroke order is different? – Igor Skochinsky Apr 6 '17 at 20:58
  • @IgorSkochinsky They are not comparable as 囗 (enclosure) only appears as part of a character and the bottom line is always drawn last. So characters with 囗 have stroke order +[stuff]+, whereas characters with 口 (mouth) have stroke order [opt. stuff]+++[opt. stuff]. – Earthliŋ Apr 6 '17 at 21:05
  • also to me it looks like that in 行書体 enclosure has 3 strokes while mouth only has 2 but I only found a static image – siikamiika Apr 6 '17 at 21:09
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    ok I see, somehow I thought that the two boxes are drawn one after another in the same way but now I see that the outer box is started first but closed last. – Igor Skochinsky Apr 6 '17 at 21:13
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The two radicals 口 and 囗 are indeed different, even though they are hard to distinguish in modern scripts/fonts. This "standardization" of unifying the looks of unrelated elements is somewhat intentional (presumably to make the script more homogeneous). You can see the same thing happening with 月 and 肉 (see Is there any reason a lot of body parts use the Month/Moon radical?) and the radical ⺍ unifying various elements such as the top parts of 學、螢、巢、…

Back to the difference between 口 and 囗.

As you noticed, 口【くち】 is a Chinese character.

囗​ 【くにがまえ】 is not a (traditional) Chinese character, but only appears as an element (signifying "enclosure") in characters such as 国・國、圓、図、…

The difference is visible in historical scripts (screenshots from Wiktionary for and )

口 囗

as well as in handwriting.

The next pictures show them "in action" as part of a different character:

enter image description here

The top row is a standard Minchō font, the middle row a Kyōkashotai font, and the bottom row are their historical renderings taken from http://www.chineseetymology.org/.

As 囗 くにがまえ has something inside them, the vertical strokes are parallel also in handwriting, whereas the vertical strokes in 口 くち are slightly angled.


Note. 口 and 囗 should not be confused with katakanaro.

6

Unfortunately, there's a bit of confusion on this page. The distinction between「口」and「囗」is not how they're drawn, but the functional role they play in characters.

  • While「囗」does indeed mean enclosure, the purpose of this component is not, in fact, to enclose other components in characters, but to provide a semantic hint of enclosure in characters to do with surrounding/enclosing something. There are other characters which use「囗」for which「囗」doesn't actually enclose any component at all.

  • There are several other unrelated components which evolved into squares or rectangles in the modern form, which means that categorising square or rectangular looking components into「口」or「囗」in a binary manner is, to say the least, unhelpful. Things that contain rectangles don't necessarily either have something to do with mouth or surround.


「口」is commonly used for two functions:

  1. The meaning mouth, extended for actions done with the mouth
  2. As a distinguishing mark

(1) is common knowledge, so I'll focus on (2). There has been a long history of creating derived characters (Chinese: 分化字) by differentiation from existing ones, as you can only represent so many concepts with pictograms. One of the methods in creating new characters is by adding distinguishing marks, and「口」is one of the more common marks used.

Examples:

「喪」from「桑」 (phonetic loan; both そう)

enter image description here

「古」from「盾」 (Semantic extension. The meaning old for「古」is a phonetic loan;「古」originally meant solid, sturdy, now represented by「固」, hence the usage of a shield「盾」to bring out this meaning)

enter image description here

「商」 (Character is borrowed for the name of the Shang Dynasty. Original meaning measure > divide/quotient, commerce/trade; original character obsolete,「商」now takes on both the name and the meanings.)

enter image description here

「周」 (Name of the Zhou Dynasty. Original meaning arrangement of fields > perimeter; original character obsolete.)

enter image description here

「曹」from「㯥」 (Name of the State of Cao. Original meaning pair > kind, group, as can be seen from「㯥」which is a picture of a pair of bags. Original character「㯥」is obsolete. Note that「口」further changed to「曰」.)

enter image description here


「囗」originally depicted fortifications/walls surrounding a settlement

enter image description here

From this, there were two words that it represented:

  • One with the meaning city walls > Chinese: city, Japanese: fortifications/castle. The word is now written「城」, but the character evolved into「丁」, which is actually found in「城」: enter image description here

  • One with the meaning surround, now written「圍」(Shinjitai:「囲」).

The meaning city walls, apart from in「城」, features most prominently in the characters「正」and「邑」.

  • 「正」originally depicted marching (feet「止」) towards a city「囗」, indicating the meaning military expedition [now written「征」], extended to mean govern [now written「政」], and further extended to mean correct). The sound similarity between「城」,「丁」, and「正」is not a coincidence, and「丁」doubles as a sound component in「正」.

  • 「邑」originally depicted a person kneeling outside a city. As a character component, it is written as「阝」exclusively on a character's right hand side, and is ubiquitous in characters to do with city/towns (都鄉邦郵郡). In fact, there are a myriad of proper nouns in Chinese containing「阝」, which were largely names of (ancient) towns.

enter image description here

Do not get「正」confused with「足」; in the latter, the rectangle originally depicted a person's buttocks, which later graphically became detached.

enter image description here

The meaning surround, apart from several characters listed elsewhere already (「國」「圖」「園」), features prominently in a few characters containing「韋」, where「囗」is located in the centre of「韋」.「圍」is already noted to be the modern form of the word (note that it added another「囗」), but we also have「衛」(protect) and「韓」(fence, phonetically borrowed for Korea). For the word representing surround, feet were added to「囗」to emphasise this meaning, depicting a city being patrolled.

enter image description here


Another very common component which now looks like a square or rectangle was originally drawn as a circle「〇」. This component commonly provides the meaning of circle and/or sound えん/げん/がん.

enter image description here

Note,「員」originally meant circle, now represented by「圓」(Shinjitai:「円」).


Finally, some incorrect descriptions regarding「四」and「回」. These are not written using「囗」no matter how you look at it; they are always wider than they are tall, whereas「囗」is always taller than it is wide (when it is used to enclose other components). They also have nothing to do with mouth, surround, or city wall, and neither shape came from「〇」.

「四」originally depicted breathing out, and contains a picture of a nostril. The nose meaning is preserved in characters like「泗」(snot) and「呬」(breathe out/rest, differentiated from「四」with the addition of a mouth semantic「口」. The character representing this word is now written as「息」). The meaning four is a phonetic loan.

enter image description here

「回」originally depicted eddying currents in water, resembling a whirlpool (now written「洄」).

enter image description here

  • 1
    Thank you for adding this in-depth answer. As it contains much more expert information than the existing answers, I hope this answer will soon rise to the top! – Earthliŋ Jul 24 '18 at 19:19

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