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金字旁 Jin zi pang: The Metal Radical

Did you know there are 218 Chinese radicals? Although that sounds like a lot, many of them have a very specific meaning and can be extremely useful when learning to read (and write) Chinese characters. Often, a radical will ‘connect’ all the characters with that same radical, which helps you to remember them.

For example, the radical is a derivation of the character for gold ‘’ and is known as the metal radical. Because it appears on the left-side of the character, it is known as 金字旁 (jīn zì páng) meaning ‘metal character on the side’. Many of the characters containing the metal radical are connected, if somewhat tenuously, to metal or metal related objects. Here’s a little more information about 金 and the metal radical:

钅/ 金 (jīn) gold / metal

钅 is the (jīn) character on the side. The 金 (jīn) character represents a mine shaft, with the 2 (diǎn) marks showing nuggets of gold under the ground (tǔ).

金钱 (jīn qián) money / currency

基金(jī jīn) fund

时间就是金钱。 (shí jiān jiù shì jīn qián) Time is money.

The following characters all have the radical on the left-hand side and are all related in some way to metals:

银 / 銀 (yín) silver

The character for silver combines the gold radical 钅 with the character originally meaning ‘only next to’ (gěn) (from (gēn)), so that the meaning was ‘just after gold’.

银行 (yín háng) bank

银幕 (yín mù) movie screen

每个月银行都会给我寄信用卡账单。 (měi gè yuè yín háng dōu huì gěi wǒ jì xìn yòng kǎ zhàng dān) Every month the bank sends me a credit card bill.

铅/ 鉛 (qiān) lead

The right-hand side of the character was originally 㕣 meaning ‘a marsh at the bottom of a hill.’ Perhaps this relates to lead resources.

铅笔 (qiān bǐ) pencil

铅印 (qiān yìn) letterpress printing

铜 / 銅 (tóng) copper

The right-hand side of the character provides the pronunciation of the character, whilst the left radical provides the ‘metal’ meaning. The right-hand side 同 means ‘same’ and as copper and gold are a similar colour the meaning can be ‘the same as gold’. Also, in ancient China, copper was referred to as 赤金 (chì jīn) ‘red gold.

铜板 (tóng bǎn) coin

这个铃铛是铜铸的。(zhè ge líng dāng shì tóng zhù de) The small bell is bronze.

钱 / 錢 (qián) money

The original character has 2 spears 戈 (gē) on the right-hand side, that also represented power. The idea behind the character for money is that the ‘spear’ is breaking the ‘gold’ represented by the metal radical on the left. During certain periods of Chinese history, 戋 also meant ‘farm tools’, and before currency was used as a medium of exchange.

花钱 (huā qián) to spend money

赚钱 (zhuàn qián) to earn money

挣钱 (zhèng qián) to make money

他肆意挥霍钱财。(sì yì huī huò qián cái) He squandered money recklessly.

针 /  針 (zhēn) needle

This character was originally made up of the ‘gold’ radial with the character ‘to bite’. It was changed to include the 十 particle to suggest a threaded needle.

打针 (dǎ zhēn) to get an injection

针灸 (zhēn jiǔ) acupuncture

钉 / 釘 (dīng) nail

Originally, the word nail was just a pictograph, (dīng), but the gold radical 金 was added later for clarification of meaning.

钉子 (dīng zi) nail

螺钉 (luó dīng) screw

图钉 (tú dīng) thumbtack / drawing pin

教堂门上钉着一块告示。 (jiào táng mén shàng dīng zhe yī kuài gào shì)  There was a notice on the door of the church

钟 / 鐘 (zhōng) clock / o’clock

Originally,   (zhōng) ( (tóng)/ (zhòng)) was the character to describe the bell rang during the autumn harvest. The bell would dictate a specific time of day. (zhōng) also has a similar pronunciation to 种, so when characters were simplified, 中 was used instead of (tóng).

钟表 (zhōng biǎo) clocks and watches

分钟 (fēn zhōng) minute

请问现在几点钟了?(qǐng wèn xiàn zài diǎn zhōng le) Could you please tell me what the time is now?

铁 / 鐵 (tiě) iron / metal

The gold radical suggests the meaning, and the right side, (shī) dictates the pronunciation.

地铁 ( tiě) metro

铁路 (tiě lù) railroad

这条铁路横贯全国。 (zhè tiáo tiě héng guàn quán guó) The railway crosses the whole country.

锁 / 鎖 (suǒ) to lock

The right side of the 锁 (suǒ) character includes (bèi) meaning ‘shell’ although in ancient China, shells were used as currency. You need to ‘lock up’ your gold and currency to prevent others from taking it.  

门锁 (mén suǒ) door lock

锁定 (suǒ dìng) to lock (a door)

一个旧信箱被挂锁锁着。 (yī gè jiù xìn xiāng bèi guà suǒ suǒ zhe) An old mailbox is padlocked.

镜 / 鏡 (jìng) mirror / lens

The right side here is (jìng) meaning ‘unexpectedly’ but in this character provides the pronunciation of the character.  In ancient China, mirrors were made out of copper.

镜子 (jìng zi) mirror

眼镜 (yǎn jìng) glasses

他的脸映照在镜子里。 (tā de liǎn yìng zhào zài jìng zi lǐ) His face shone in the mirror.

错 / 錯 (cuò) – mistake

This is an interesting character to include the metal radical. Originally,  错 was the name of a decorative craft, which was inlaying gold or silver onto the surface of bronze ware. One of the stories about how 错 became to mean ‘mistake’, was that as gold and silver was much more expensive than copper, the idea of adding gold and silver to copper was nonsensical or ‘incorrect’.

不错  ( cuò) not bad

If you found this helpful, we have several other radical articles that you might like to take a look at.