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The strokes

[ << History ] [ Table of contents ] [ Stroke order >>]

Far from being complicated drawings, Chinese characters are made out of simple single strokes, all of them variations of only eight basic ones. All strokes have their own name and are written according to a few rules. It's very important to learn to recognize them, since the number of strokes in a character is often the easiest way to find it in an index... but this will become clear after learning radicals and the use of dictionaries.

1. The following are the first six strokes, the fundamental ones:

heng horizontal stroke
(written from left to right)
as in the character

yi (one)
shu vertical stroke
(written from top to bottom)
as in the character

shi (ten)
pie down stroke to the left
(written from top right to bottom left)
as in the character

ba (eight)
na down stroke to the right
(written from top left to bottom right)
as in the character

ru (to enter)
dian dot
(written from top to bottom right or left)
as in the character

liu (six)
ti upward stroke
(written from bottom left to top right)
as in the character

ba (to grasp)

2. The last two strokes have several different variations. The first group is composed by five strokes with a hook:

henggou horizontal stroke with a hook as in the character

zi (character)
shugou vertical stroke with a hook as in the character

xiao (small)
wangou bending stroke with a hook as in the character

gou (dog)
xiegou slant stroke with a hook as in the character

wo (I, me)
pinggou level bending stroke with a hook as in the character

wang (to forget)

3. And the following by two single strokes with a turn:

shuzhe vertical stroke with a horizontal turn to the right as in the character

yi (doctor, medicine)
hengzhe horizontal stroke with a vertical turn as in the character

kou (mouth)

4. Combined strokes are made out of basic ones. The following are a few examples:

shuwangou vertical stroke combined with a level bending stroke with a hook as in the character

ye (also)
piedian down stroke to the left combined with a dot as in the character

nu (woman)
shuzhezhegou vertical stroke with a double turn and a hook as in the character

ma (horse)

If a character can be compared to a word in alphabetic languages, then strokes are like letters... learning them is the key to memorize characters. And then, characters don't only need to be correct, they should also be as beautiful and balanced as possible. It is therefore necessary to copy the single strokes many times (be it with a brush or, much easier, with a pen) to memorize their shape and thickness.

The way strokes are combined into characters involves learning a few rules on stroke order; this will be the goal of our next lesson.

[ << History ] [ Table of contents ] [ Stroke order >>]

By Diana Lavarini & Anna Del Franco, 1999.
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