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For example the top of these characters:
今 -> 人 (ひと)
全 -> 入 (はいる)

Or the side of these:
明 -> 月 (つき)
腹 -> 肉 (にく)

Are there more examples like these?
How do I know which is which?

  • Are there more examples like these? -- yes. How do I know which is which? -- by looking up a character in the kanji dictionary. – macraf Feb 18 at 21:18
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi The only reason why anyone would want to be able to tell radicals apart is because they're under the impression that radicals contribute some kind of hint to the character's function; there is no reason to distinguish between e.g. 月 and the radical form of 肉 other than they mean/sound like different things. I'm saying that this impression is wrong - radicals don't contribute any part to a character's function. Some radicals coincide with functional components, but that's not true in general. – dROOOze Feb 19 at 1:08
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    @dROOOze , thank you. Understood and mostly agreed. I say “mostly”, as another reason for wanting to distinguish visually similar radicals is for character lookup in radical-based indices. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 19 at 1:50
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi Ah, of course...I'm not sure how prevalent radical lookup is among Japanese learners now, but I'm under the impression that it's pretty much obsolete for tech-savvy Chinese learners. Chinese language handwriting input on cellphones gives me an impression of being far better than Japanese, as Chinese language (either Trad. or Simp.) handwriting methods recognise all character variants from C J K character standards, allowing you to search pretty much anything that you come across. "What is the radical of X" is not a concern that Chinese learners have to worry about nowadays. – dROOOze Feb 19 at 11:17
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    @dROOOze, I may be revealing my age. 😳 I grew up studying from these big blocks of flattened dead-tree material with ink on them. My bias is still towards analog manual lookup, but as you note, many devices have better lookup options now. Interesting that Japanese + iPhone (my combo) still doesn't offer much in that department, at least not without downloading specialized apps... – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 19 at 16:03
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Are there more examples like these?

Another example of a very similar pair is 阝 (おおざと) and 阝 (こざとへん). In this case the shapes are the same and the big difference is basically that the "hen" one appears on the left and the other one appears on the right of the kanji. Yet another one is 匚 (はこがまえ) and 匸 (かくしがまえ), which are distinguished only by a small shape difference at the top left.

How do I know which is which?

The good news is that the people who make kanji dictionaries are aware of these problems and usually index things so that you can find kanji under either one of the radicals. Perhaps a useful test of which kanji dictionary to use would be whether the dictionary guides you through this difficulty.

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@Mr.Gumba13 If you haven't already, check out Kanji Alive's 214 Traditional Radicals as well as their introduction to Kanji. According to them, Kanji migrated to Japan over hundreds of years (about 800 years according to their introduction text) which leaves lots of space for mutations in meaning and corresponding representations. What is fun is that Kanji are relatively logical, a reason I find them interesting, however, they are inefficient because, well, it's a complex system to learn. And so is Math, but Kanji and Math do not share discreteness. A "4" will always represent a "4", but each Kanji has a history of origin and propagation, which in turn changes it's meaning, etc. But now, their meaning might be pretty well locked in by popular usage and language authorities today.

Not all radical systems are the same, but they are close, and they are a good place to start and to help capture a simple way of categorizing Kanji. But to use a loose analogy, radicals are kinda like syllables, pre-, post-, have meaning but not fully realized. Study and use them, but they will not lead you to all the answers.

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    This doesn't seem to address the question being asked. – Ben Feb 20 at 0:05

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