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As a novice learner, I'm finding understanding the relationship between radicals, components, kanji and words difficult.

For example, this post on tofugu.com says that:

The kanji is 町, which means "town." As you can see in the image above, 町 is made up of two radicals:

  1. 田 (rice paddy)
  2. 丁 (street)

To learn this kanji using the radicals mnemonic method, you need to know the names of these two radicals first.

However, this seems to clash with the notion that every single kanji only has one radical and one radical only. For example, if I search for the kanji 町 on jisho.org it says that the radical is 田 while the parts are 一, 亅 and 田.

The confusing thing to me is that I found as many sources to corroborate one version as I found sources to corroborate the other.

I came up with a series of statements to clarify to myself the relationship between radicals, components, kanji and words:

  1. Every radical is a kanji but not every kanji is a literal.
  2. A radical is simply a kanji that is used to create other kanji.
  3. Every kanji only has one radical.
  4. Kanji can have multiple components/parts that are kanji by themselves.
  5. People use the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably, though this is not 100% correct.
  6. Every kanji in itself is also a word but not every word is just a kanji (most are not).

Is my interpretation correct?

  • 1. 2. What do you call a 'literal'? 4. Components may not all exist as separate kanji. 3. 5. A radical is a specific component of the kanji, used in particular in dictionaries. 6. Not all kanji exist as separate words (esp. those with only an on-yomi). – Mathieu Bouville Feb 23 at 19:45
  • @MathieuBouville Thanks for the comment. 1. 2. I meant "radical", I just corrected it. 4. 6. Could you give me examples? – Edgar Derby Feb 23 at 19:53
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  1. Every radical is a kanji but not every kanji is a radical.
    Wrong. 丶{てん}(like in ) is a radical. Is it a kanji?
  2. A radical is simply a kanji that is used to create other kanji.
    Wrong. See answer to 1.
  3. Every kanji only has one radical.
    Maybe. If you mean radical in the sense of the 'main referential element'.
  4. Kanji can have multiple components/parts that are kanji by themselves.
    Correct. 'Can' being the operative word.
  5. People use the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably.
    Yes. People do lots of crazy things.
  6. Using the terms 'radical' and 'parts' interchangeably is not 100% correct.
    Agree.
  7. Every kanji in itself is also a word.
    Wrong. 持 is a kanji, but not used as a 'word' by itself. Like 'non' and 'pre' are parts of English words, but not words unto themselves.
  8. Not every word is just a kanji (most are not).
    Correct.

The 'radical' should be considered the organizing or primary part/element/component or a 'fully-formed' kanji. Your confusion likely arises due to the disparate ways that some people might describe these 'parts/elements/components' and also conflate 'radical' with the aforementioned.

While some kanji references might list the non-radical 'parts', there often is not a term used to substitute for the word 'parts'.

  • This is great, thanks a lot @user27280. Re: 1. and 2., jisho.org does report the tick radical as a kanji. – Edgar Derby Feb 24 at 8:31
  • @EdgarDerby I'm glad you found it useful. I see that jisho.org does describe 丶 as a radical in their kanji section and wiktionary says it is a kanji character too, but it does not fit the normal profile. It is only used in a sentence to reference itself as a radical and is otherwise unused. It is technically a kanji in the same way that a comma or other native punctuation mark is a kanji, if that makes sense to you. – BJCUAI Feb 24 at 9:30

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