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草字头 Cao zi tou: The Grass Radical

Continuing on with our ‘radical’ series, I decided to give you some more information about 草字头 (cǎo zì tóu), the grass radical. 草字头 (cǎo zì tóu) means ‘grass on the head’ and is always found on the top of a character.

I really like 艹 because unlike some radicals, most of the characters featuring this radical ALL have something to do with plants and flowers.

There are very few characters that include 艹 where you have to stretch your imagination, and wonder “why do they use this radical?”. I also think it’s a good visual representation of grass, with 2 sprouts sticking up from the ground.

Let’s look at some of the most popular and useful characters that contain the grass radical, 艹(cǎo).

草 (cǎo) grass

(cǎo) – grass, weeds, straw

Although  (cǎo) is the pictograph of ‘grass’ it is commonly written as 草 (cǎo). The 艹 (cǎo)  radical is found on top of the ‘morning’ (zǎo).

草地 (cǎo dì) lawn

今天他忘记割草了。(jīn tiān tā wàng jì gē cǎo le.) He forgot to cut the grass today.

花 (huā) flower

(huā) – flower

Originally (huà) meant ‘to change’ or ‘a metamorphosis’ and depicted a man (rén) (人) rolling over. However, once  (cǎo) was added, it transformed into the character 花 (huā), meaning flower.

花园 (huā yuán) garden
鲜花 (xiān huā) fresh flowers

这些花是蓝色的。(zhè xiē huā shì lán sè de.) The flowers are blue.

蓝 (lán) blue

(lán) – blue, indigo plant

The 蓝 (lán) character is comprised of (jiān) and the grass radical. The 监 (jiān) character means ‘to supervise’ or ‘view’ and shows a man  (rén) looking into a dish (mǐn). The addition of 艹 has become to represent the colour blue, as the colour comes from the indigo plant.

蓝色 (lán sè) blue (colour)
蓝天 (lán tiān) blue sky

天空是蓝色的。(tiān kōng shí lán sè de.) The sky is blue.

茶 (chá) tea

(chá) – tea/tea plant

The tea leaf would be picked from the trees  (mù) by people 人 (rén).

The British feel similarly to the Chinese, that all trouble can be solved over a cup of tea.


“When you have tea and wine, you have many friends.” 

你想要喝茶还是喝咖啡?(nǐ xiǎng yào hē chá hái shì hē kā fēi?) = Would you like some tea or coffee?

英 (yīng) brave

(yīng) – brave

If you break down the character  (yīng), you’ll see (dà), originally referring to a strong or mature man, in a large space (mián). With the addition of 艹 (cǎo) this could suggest a brave man in a jungle.

英国 (yīng guó) – United Kingdom

英雄 (yīng xióng) hero

风吹散了蒲公英的种子。 (fēng chuī sàn le pú gōng yīng de zhǒng zi.) The wind blew away the seeds of the dandelion.

苏 (sū) revive

(sū) – revive

The original (traditional) character  (sū) suggests a person being revived by eating a meal of fish  (yú) and grain 禾 (hé) and is emphasised with the 艹 (cǎo) radical. The simplified version now combines the grass radical with the character for strength (lì) for a revival using physical strength.

复苏 (fù sū) is the bigram often used when referring to recovering from a health problem.

上个星期种的紫苏开始发芽了。(shàng gè xīng qī zhòng de zǐ sū kāi shǐ fā yá le.) The Perilla I planted last week has started sprouting.

菜 (cài) vegetable

(cài) – vegetable

菜 (cài) combines the phonetic (cǎi) which also means to ‘pick’ or ‘gather’ with the grass radical. This is a very literal character which combines both meaning, ‘to pick vegetables’ and character pronunciation.

蔬菜 (shū cài) produce / vegetable
白菜 (bái cài) cabbage

她喜欢吃蔬菜和水果。(tā xǐ huan chī shū cài hé shuǐ guǒ.) She likes to eat vegetables and fruit.

苦 (kǔ) bitter

(kǔ) – bitter, hardship

The character 苦 (kǔ) is often used to describe something that tastes bitter. As well as the grass radical 艹 and the mouth radical, (kǒu) is present alongside (shí) meaning 10. These two radicals create the character (gǔ) meaning old or ancient. 苦 can also be used to talk about hardship or suffering. The combination of 古 (gǔ) and 艹 (cǎo) could suggest the bad taste left after past hardships.

痛苦 (tòng kǔ) pain / suffering
艰苦 (jiān kǔ) difficult

他喜欢喝咖啡,虽然有一点苦。 (tā xǐ huan hē kā fēi, suī rán yǒu yī diǎn kǔ.) = He likes coffee, though it is a little bitter.

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