Chinese characters – week 4 (言, 隹, 誰, 手, 弋, 戈, 我, and 找)

Don’t forget you can find the vocabulary for these weekly lessons as a Skritter list now, at

This week’s first character is a stand-alone character, as well as a radical. The character 言( yán ) means “speech”, “words”, or “to speak”, usable as both noun and verb. As a radical it is used to indicate a relationship to speech. The ancient version of this character is said to have an inverted 立 above 口 to indicate that someone is speaking. In terms of the modern character, some people remember the lines above 口 to signify words, as if words were coming out of a mouth, hence the meaning of “speech”, “words”, or “to speak”.

The second character this week is the character 隹 ( zhuī ), which means “dove”, or a “short-tailed bird”. The ancient form of this character looked like a bird, and it can be seen how the modern character took shape. Despite the use of the 亻 radical, this word has nothing to do with people, but probably used in the character as simply part of the development from the pictorial form.

The third character his week is the character 誰 ( shéi , or shuí ), meaning “who”. It is made up of 言 as a radical on the left to indicate that it is related to speech in some way, and 隹 on the right as a phonetic loan. A very basic sentence with the word 誰 is “他是 ?”, which means “Who is he?” In this sense, it is clear that 誰 is a word which is very much related to speech, or a question, hence the 言 radical.

The forth character this week is 手 ( shǒu ), meaning “hand”. This character derives from a pictorial depiction of a hand. The radicals related to this character are 龵, and 扌. An example of the 龵 radical can be seen in the character 看, which was very briefly mentioned in the introduction to the six methods of character formation post, where I mused at the idea that someone may have their hand on their brow looking out at something, hence the 龵 radical over an eye (目), meaning “to see”. The other hand radical (扌) is mainly used in action related words, an example of which we will look at later.

The fifth character for this week is the character 弋 ( ), meaning “to shoot a retrievable arrow”, or a “retrievable arrow with a string attached to it”. It is a rather archaic character, but nonetheless quite important to learn if only to differentiate it from the next character. The original form of the character was a pictorial form of a spool for string, which makes sense in terms of the meaning.

The sixth character this week is the character of 戈 ( ), meaning a “lance” or a “rake”. The original anicent meaning meant “long-handled tool”. It is clearly seen from the ancient character that it was originally a pictorial depiction of a “long-handled tool”.

The character developed to a form where it looked like the ancient form of 弋, but with an added stroke, which is why the modern characters of 弋 and 戈 look so similar.

If you have a look at some of the blades of a 戈, you can see how the pictorial depiction (above right) relates to how the actual weapon looked.

The last two characters for this week are 我 ( ), and 找 ( zhǎo ), which as you can see are very similar. The first character is used as the first person pronoun, and the second character means “to seek”. They are both made up of 手, and 戈. The ancient form of 我 was a pictorial form of a hand on a “long-handled tool”, and used to be written as 𢦐.

The use of the character 戈 within these words is interesting, but probably reflects the historical culture of China, and the importance of the 戈 to both farming and warfare,戈 being a “long-handled tool”, later more specifically defined as either a “lance” or a “rake”.

With how similar these characters look, it is important to note their differences. One way to remember the difference is the fact that you would put your hand on something to claim it as yours, hence the 戈 with the hand attached to it should be the word used as the first person pronoun. The other character has the hand radical of 扌 detached from the 戈, and, no pun intended, but this signifies that you do not have your hands on the “long-handled tool”, and hence you need to seek / look for it in order to get your hand on it.

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Thank you :slight_smile: I’ve been studying radicals lately on Skritter, so this is useful. And I especially liked the distinction between 我 and 找 that are very similar characters…

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Thank you, @fabiothebest. I’m glad you do enjoy them and find them useful. I get the feeling you’re like the only person that reads these weekly posts though lol.

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I don’t know but I appreciate it and also the Skritter team praised your work :slight_smile:

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