Stroke order (simplified Chinese: 笔顺; traditional Chinese: 筆順; pinyin: bǐshùn; ) refers to the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character (or Chinese derivative character) are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and in Vietnamese. They are known as Hanzi in (Mandarin) Chinese, kanji in Japanese, Hanja in Korean, and Hán tự in Vietnamese.
Chinese characters are basically logograms constructed with strokes. Over the millennia a set of generally agreed rules have been developed by custom. Minor variations exist between countries, but the basic principles remain the same, namely that writing characters should be economical, with the fewest hand movements to write the most strokes possible. This promotes writing speed, accuracy, and readability. This idea is particularly important since as learners progress, characters often get more complex. Since stroke order also aids learning and memorization, students are often taught about it from a very early age in schools and encouraged to follow them.
The Eight Principles of Yong (永字八法 Pinyin: yǒngzì bā fǎ) uses the single character 永, meaning “eternity”, to teach eight of the most basic strokes in Regular Script.
- Write from top to bottom, and left to right.
- As a general rule, strokes are written from top to bottom and left to right. For example, among the first characters usually learned is the number one, which is written with a single horizontal line: 一. This character has one stroke which is written from left to right.
- The character for “two” has two strokes: 二. In this case, both are written from left to right, but the top stroke is written first. The character for “three” has three strokes: 三. Each stroke is written from left to right, starting with the uppermost stroke.
- The Chinese character meaning “person” (人 animation, Mandarin Chinese: rén, Cantonese Chinese: yàhn, Korean: in, Japanese: hito, nin; jin). The character has two strokes, the first shown here in dark, and the second in red. The black area represents the starting position of the writing instrument.
- This rule also applies to the order of components. For example, 校 can be divided into two. The entire left side (木) is written before the right side (交). There are some exceptions to this rule, mainly occurring when the right side of a character has a lower enclosure (see below).
- When there are upper and lower components, the upper components are written first, then the lower components, as in 品 and 星.
- Horizontal before vertical 十
- When horizontal and vertical strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes: the character for “ten,” 十, has two strokes. The horizontal stroke 一 is written first, followed by the vertical stroke → 十.
- In the Japanese standard, a vertical stroke may precede many intersecting horizontal strokes if the vertical stroke does not pass through the lowest horizontal stroke.
- Character-spanning strokes last 聿-
- Vertical strokes that pass through many other strokes are written after the strokes through which they pass, as in 聿 and 弗.
- Horizontal strokes that pass through many other strokes are written last, as in 毋 and 舟.
- Diagonals right-to-left before diagonals left-to-right 文
- Right-to-left diagonals (丿) are written before left-to-right diagonals (乀): 文.
- Note that this is for symmetric diagonals; for asymmetric diagonals, as in 戈, the left-to-right may precede the right-to-left, based on other rules.
- Center before outside in vertically symmetrical characters 水
- In vertically symmetrical characters, the center components are written before components on the left or right. Components on the left are written before components on the right, as in 兜 and 承.
- Enclosures before contents 回
- Outside enclosing components are written before inside components; bottom strokes in the enclosure are written last if present, as in 日 and 口. (A common mnemonic is “Put people inside first, then close the door.”) Enclosures may also have no bottom stroke, as in 同 and 月.
- Left vertical before enclosing 口
- Left vertical strokes are written before enclosing strokes. In the following two examples, the leftmost vertical stroke (|) is written first, followed by the uppermost and rightmost lines (┐) (which are written as one stroke): 日 and 口.
- Bottom enclosures last 道
- Bottom enclosing components are usually written last: 道, 建, 凶.
- Dots and minor strokes last 玉
- Minor strokes are usually written last, as the small “dot” in the following: 玉, 求, 朮.
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