Please explain the origin/sense/meaning of the top component of the 益 kanji.
It doesn't seem to be any normal radical, nor any common "variation" thereof.


2 Answers 2


This Kanji was created by a character creation method called 会意(Kaii). 会意 is a method of constructing Kanji that combines two or more Kanji to form a single Kanji and synthesizes its meaning.

For example, the Kanji "休" is composed of "人" and "木" and is said to have been created to express the meaning of rest, as a person rests leaning against a tree.

So, 益 is made up of a 皿 and 水 (think of the upper part as a collapsed version of 水). The overflowing of water(水) from the plate(皿) expresses the meaning of overflowing - Since Kanji "益" has such a meaning, which is why the words like "利益(profit)" and "有益(beneficial)" were created.

  • 水 ? Well, it does kinda look like it... how did you learn of that decomposition? I looked up the kanji in a couple of places and it doesn't mention that the top has anything to do with 水, nor does the 水 radical have a common variation that looks like that thing on top of 益. Sources: japandict.com/kanji/%E7%9B%8A , jisho.org/search/%E7%9B%8A%20%23kanji Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 11:46
  • @JacekKołodziejek These things can be hard to find in the English literature/website. Personally, I use a kanji dictionary, but I looked it up and found a website that introduces it (in Japanese). By the way, here is the explanation of the 会意 (also in Japanese).
    – Skye-AT
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 11:52
  • That's a nice catch 22 there :p thanks. Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 11:54
  • Wiktionary often has good explanations even on the English version.
    – Leebo
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 15:18
  • @JacekKołodziejek Bernhard Karlgren Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese gives that decomposition also. (Item 197, page 83.) Karlgreen agrees with dROOOze that in 益 the upper component has been written sideways.
    – MJD
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 15:44
字形 參考資料
益 133

益 秦律雜抄15
益 皿部
益 相馬經5上
益 華山廟碑

「益」 depicts a shallow container / dish / vessel 「皿」 (see e.g. the bottom part of 「盟」, 「盛」, etc.) with water 「水」 overflowing from the top, indicating the original meaning to overflow; this word is now complexified into 「{{zh-tw:溢}}」, made by adding an additional 「水・氵」.

The original character 「益」 was later extended to mean to gain, benefit, which is its modern definition.

Note that in 「益」, 「水」 is written sideways. For reference, you can compare it with something like 「清」:




  • 1
    新字源 lists some other forms: imgur.com/a/WhdI4nC (first two). Are these consistent with what you listed or contradictory? If contradictory which source should be considered more authoritative? Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 19:06
  • 1
    @DariusJahandarie Great question. I didn't mention those in the answer to avoid over-complicating things, but here's the jist. Indeed, a more complete survey of this character will have included those forms, but they technically aren't immediately relevant to the glyph 「益」: (1) while it is widely considered to be completely interpretable as 「益」, the bronze inscription forms (second one in your image) is actually 八 + 血 rather than 水 + 皿.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 23:14
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    (2) The oracle bone forms (first one in your image) is in debate to whether they can be read as 「益」 or not; besides, even if they could be, there's a 600 year gap between the end of Shang oracle bones and the Warring States Qin era, and there isn't a clear 水 in those shapes. (3) The 「益」 that we use today is only clearly descended from the Warring States Qin form, which is why the table in the answer starts from that period.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 23:16
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    @DariusJahandarie Among what I learned in the past few years on Twitter is that you can't put too much trust on the character etymology pictures in Japanese kanji dictionaries. They tend to be wrong or outdated. Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 3:23
  • Awesome, thank you!! Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 14:14

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