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This is another in a series of articles that takes a closer look at a specific Chinese radical. Radicals are the ‘building blocks’ of the Chinese language and help students of Chinese to learn to read Chinese characters. The root radical shows us the meaning behind the character. For example, if a character has the ‘mouth’ radical 口 (kǒu) then we can assume that the character has something to do with drinking 喝 (hē), eating 吃 (chī), speaking 叫 (jiào) or even kissing 吻 (wěn)!
This time we’re looking at 土字旁 (tǔ zì páng) or the ‘earth on one side’. No, we’re not discussing the shape or dimensions of our earth, but the characters that are associated with the ‘ground’ and the radical 土 (tǔ).
The 土 (tǔ) Radical
The most common uses of 土 are in the following bigrams:
It’s also found in the bigram for potato – 土豆 (tǔ dòu) meaning ‘land bean’!
在 (zài) – (located) at / (to be) in / to exist
The character 在 (zài) is made of the 土 (tǔ) radical and a variation of 才 (cái), which means ‘just now’ or ‘a moment ago’. 才 predominantly makes the pronunciation of the character (cái – zài) but also provides some meaning. I am AT (土) at a place JUST NOW (才).
Some good bigram examples of 在 (zài) are:
你推荐的那个餐馆在哪里？(nǐ tuī jiàn de nèi gè cān guǎn zài nǎ lǐ?) = Where is the restaurant you recommended?
地 (dì) – ground, field, land
Originally, the character 也 (yě) which can be seen on the right hand side of the character 地 (dì) represented a drinking horn. This drinking horn was a representation of a man’s possessions. Whilst 土 on its own, simply means ‘earth’, adding the 也 (yě) character creates a sense of value over the ‘land’ or ‘field’ that is owned by somebody. Another reading of the 地 (dì) character is that originally, the second radical was a snake and the snake was on or in the ground (土).
Some examples of 地 are the following:
地上有一个苹果。(dì shang yǒu yī gè píng guǒ.) = There is an apple on the ground.
场 (chǎng) – large place used for a specific purpose
The radical 扬 (yáng) means ‘to raise’. If the soil is raised above the rest this could imply a place such as a stage or arena in which to hold an event. 扬 (yáng) also provides the pronunciation to the character 场 (yáng – chǎng). Another meaning behind the 场 (chǎng) character is to look at the traditional character, 場. As you can see, above the character is the sun 日 (rì), suggesting that a ‘场’ (chǎng) was actually a place for farmers to dry their grain in the sun.
Some examples of the 场 (chǎng) character are:
人们喜欢聚集在这个广场上唱歌跳舞。(rén men xǐ huan jù jí zài zhè ge guǎng chǎng shàng chàng gē tiào wǔ.) = People like to gather in the plaza to sing and dance.
城 (chéng) – city walls, city
The 城 (chéng) character is made up of the 土 radical and the 成 (chéng) radical meaning ‘success’. My reading of these radicals are that a city is a ‘successful piece of land’. The 成 radical also gives the character its pronunciation – chéng.
Common words using 城 (chéng) are:
深圳是我最喜欢的城市之一。(shēn zhèn shì wǒ zuì xǐ huan de chéng shì zhī yī.) = Shenzhen is one of my favorite cities.
坏 (huài) – bad / spoiled / broken
The character for broken is made up of the 土 (tǔ) radical and also 不 (bù) which means ‘no’ or ‘not’. My understanding is that is something is ‘no’ longer of the ‘earth’ then it is ‘bad’ or spoiled.
Some good examples of 坏 (huài) are:
虽然他脾气不好，但是他不是一个坏人。(suī rán tā pí qì bù hǎo, dàn shì tā bú shì yī gè huài rén.) = He is in bad temper, but he is not a bad man.
增 (zēng) – to increase, to expand, to add
The radical on the right hand side of the character 增 (zēng) is 曾 (céng) meaning once / already / ever (in the past). This character depicts an ancient cooker releasing steam at the top (八). The 曾 (céng) radical adds the pronunciation to the character 增 (zēng) but I bet you can create your own interesting stories to remember this one!
Some examples of 增 (zēng) are:
这两年人口增长的很快。(zhè liǎng nián rén kǒu zēng zhǎng de hěn kuài.) = In the last few years the population has grown quickly.
坐 (zuò) – sit
The pictographic character 坐 (zuò) meaning to sit, has always made me smile, because I see a smiling face. However, if you look closely (or maybe that’s just me), you can see 2 men ‘人 人‘ (rén) ‘sitting’ on the land (土).
Some useful examples of 坐 (zuò) are:
谢尔顿喜欢坐火车到处旅行。(xiè ěr dùn xǐ huan zuò huǒ chē dào chù lǚ xíng.) = Sheldon likes to travel everywhere by train. (Someone’s a Big Bang Theory fan…)
圣 (shèng) – holy, sacred
The 土 (tǔ) radical in this character makes a lot of sense to me but to really understand this character you need to look at the traditional character, 聖 (shèng). In the traditional character 壬 (rén) represents ‘man’ who is skilled and above average. A man 壬 (rén) with good listening skills (represented by an ear) 耳 (ěr) and good discourse (口 – kǒu) is a holy one. It was said in ancient China, that people with big ears (shown on the left side of the character) were incredibly wise and intelligent.
Here are some bigrams that include the character 圣 (shèng):
自由和爱一样神圣，所以不要以爱之名去束缚他人。(zì yóu hé ài yī yàng shén shèng, suǒ yǐ bù yào yǐ ài zhī míng qù shù fù tā rén.) = Freedom and love are both sacred, so we must not restrict others in the name of love.
If you’re interested in learning Chinese, you can check out our Written Chinese Dictionary!