Different from English, a Chinese “word” is either one Chinese character or a combination of Chinese characters used together to express one idea.
Most Chinese words consist of two characters, where each character is considered a word component.
For example, the Chinese word for “airplane” is 飞机 (fēi jī).
It contains two components 飞 (fēi) - "fly” and 机 (jī) - "machine”.
“Cell phone” is 手机 (shǒu jī).
It contains two components: 手 (shǒu) - "hand” and 机 (jī) - "machine”.
“Helicopter” is 直升机 (zhí shēng jī).
It's made up of three components: 直 (zhí) - "straight”, 升 (shēng) - "ascend”, and 机 (jī) - "machine”.
So basically, each Chinese word is made by shuffling or recycling different Chinese word components or Chinese characters.
In the case of the word component 机 (jī) - "machine", please note that it cannot be used alone as a word. As I said, most Chinese words are two characters. To really say the word “machine” in Chinese, it’s 机器 (jī qì) which consists of the word components 机 (jī) - "machine” and 器 (qì) - "instrument”.
Simplified characte Vs. Traditional
Traditional characters are the original set of Chinese characters that have been used since long ago in China's history. They are usually made up of many complicated strokes.
Around 1950, the People's Republic of China (PRC) began standardizing a simplified version of many of these complex characters.
This simplification began as the PRC's attempt at decreasing nationwide illiteracy. One major difference: simplified characters have fewer strokes.
For example, the common character 邊 (biān) - "side" has 18 strokes in traditional form, while its simplified form (边) only has 5.
The good news is, 20% of traditional and simplified characters are written exactly the same way, so you’ll automatically be able to read some of both!
If you’re planning to travel or live in either Hong Kong or Taiwan, you’ll mostly see traditional characters, however, if you plan to travel mostly in Mainland China or Singapore—where simplified characters are standard—you should learn simplified characters. If you plan to travel to all Mandarin speaking countries, you should know both simplifeid and traditional.
Basic Writing Rules
Writing characters in the correct stroke order can greatly facilitate learning and memorization. Correct stroke order is also vital to produce visually appealing characters.
Traditionally, Chinese is written in vertical columns from top to bottom; the text runs from the right toward the left of the page. Modern Chinese uses the familiar western layout of horizontal rows from left to right, read from the top of the page to the bottom.
- From top to bottom (从上到下)
- From left to right (从左到右)
- Horizontal before vertical (先横后竖)
- Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right ( 先撇后捺)
- Outside before inside (从外到内)
- Inside before outside (从内到外)
- Inside before bottom enclosing ( 先里头后封口)
- Center verticals before outside "wings" ( 先中间后两边)
- Cutting strokes last ( 相交笔画后写)
- Left vertical before enclosing ( 先左竖后封口)
- Top or upper-left dots first ( 点在上边或左上先写 )
- Inside or upper-right dots last ( 点在右上或里边后写)
1. From top to bottom (从上到下)
As an example, the character 二 (two), which has two strokes, is written with the top stroke first and then the lower stroke. This rule applies also to other characters with Above to Below structure, such as 全, the top component 人 is written before the lower component 王. Click the following characters to see more animated character examples: 古, 苗, 早, 要, 息, 童, 员, etc.
2. From left to right (从左到右)
Among the first characters usually learned is the number one 一. This character has one stroke which is written from left to right. Again, this rule applies to all the characters withLeft to Right structure such as 叶 (leaf), the left component 口 (mouth), which is a radical, is written first and then the right component 十 (ten). You can view more examples: 听, 拉, 把, 好, 你, 吗, 他, etc.
3. Horizontal before vertical (先横后竖)
When strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes. As an example, the character 十 (ten) has two strokes. The horizontal stroke 一 is written first, followed by the vertical stroke. The following are more examples: 干, 井, 工, 本, 王, 土, 七, etc
4. Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right ( 先撇后捺)
As in 人(person), right-to-left diagonals (ノ) are written before left-to-right diagonals (乀). Same rule applies to: 又, 文, 大, 八, 父, 合, 全, etc.
5. Outside before inside (从外到内)
Outside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokes, for examples 同, 月, 闪, 向, etc. This rule applies to the characters with Surround from Upper Left structure (左上包围结构), such as 厘, 危, 友, 发, or Surround from Upper Right structure (右上包围结构), such as 乌, 可, 包, 乃, or Surround from Above structure (上包围结构), such as 冈, 闭, 凤, 问.
6. Inside before outside (从内到外)
This rule applies to the characters with Surround from Below structure (下包围结构), such as 凶, 凿, 鼎, 凼 or characters with Surround from Lower Left structure (左下包围结构), such as 达, 运, 建 etc.
7. Inside before bottom enclosing (先里头后封口)
If there is a bottom stroke, the bottom stroke is written last. For an example, for the character 因, the outside enclosing strokes are written first, followed by the inside component 大 and then the bottom horizontal stroke. The same pattern you can find in 田, 国, 日, 四， 回, etc.
8. Center verticals before outside "wings"( 先中间后两边)
For the character 小, the center 亅 comes first before the two dots. Same rule applies to character 水, 永, 来, 乐, etc.
9. Cutting strokes last ( 相交笔画后写)
Vertical strokes that "cut" through a character are written after the horizontal strokes they cut through, as in 中, 干, 羊.
10. Left vertical before enclosing ( 先左竖后封口)
Left vertical strokes are written before enclosing strokes. In the following two examples, the leftmost vertical stroke (丨) is written first, followed by the uppermost and rightmost lines (┐) (which are written as one stroke): 日 and 口. This rule applies to most of the characters with Full Surround structure, such as 田, 国, 日, 四， 回, etc.