Stroke order

From Academic Kids

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Chinese character 人; rén, « human », write in order, from black to red

Stroke order refers to the way of writing Chinese characters. Each character is made up of a number of "strokes" (Chinese characters were originally encarved, then written using a brush) which must be written in a prescribed order. A stroke is a single movement of the writing instrument.

Stroke order can refer to the numerical order in which strokes are written, or to the direction in which the writing instrument (brush, pen, or pencil) must move in writing a particular stroke.

There are precise rules for stroke order which are intended to maximize ease of writing and reading, to ease the process of learning to write (when one has learned the rules, one can infer the stroke order of most characters) as well as to aid in producing uniform characters. While children must learn and use correct stroke order in school, adults may ignore or forget the normalised stroke order for certain characters, or develop idiosyncratic ways of writing. While this is rarely a problem in day-to-day writing, in brush-writing and Calligraphy stroke order is of extreme importance; incorrectly ordered or written strokes can produce a visually unappealing or, occasionally, incorrect character.

The normalisation of stroke order in Chinese characters is what allows readers to correctly identify hand written characters and, notably, the Grass script style in Chinese calligraphy, by recreating in imagination the sequence of movements used to write the character.

The precise number of characters in existence is disputed. Estimates range from 40,000 to 80,000, but literacy in Chinese requires knowledge of approximately 3,000-5,000 and Japanese 2,000-3,000 characters. The number of strokes per character for most characters is between three and thirty, but the possible number of strokes ranges between one and approximately seventy, though characters with more than thirty strokes are rare.

Stroke order rules

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1. Write from left to right, and from top to bottom.

As a general rule, characters are written from left to right, and from top to bottom. For example, among the first characters usually learned is the word "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.

This rule applies also to more complex characters. For example, 校 can be divided into two. The entire left side (木) is written before the right side. There are some exceptions to this rule, mainly occurring when the right side of a character has a lower enclosure (see below), for example 誕 and 健. In this case, the left side is written first, followed by the right side, and finally the lower enclosure.

When there are upper and lower components, the upper components are written first, then the lower components, as in 品 and 襲.

2. Horizontal lines are written from left to right; vertical lines are written from top to bottom

3. Horizontal before vertical

When strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes: the character for "ten," 十, has two strokes written as follows: 一 → 十.

4. There are some circumstances where the vertical stroke is written first, usually when the bottom-most stroke is horizontal, such as in 田 or 王.

5. Cutting strokes last

Vertical strokes that "cut" through a character are written last, as in 書 and 筆.

Horizontal strokes that cut through a character are written last, as in 母 and 海.

6. Diagonals right-to-left before left-to-right

Right-to-left diagonals (ノ) are written before left-to-right diagonals (乀): 文.

7. Centre verticals before outside "wings"

Vertical centre strokes are written before vertical or diagonal outside strokes; left outside strokes are written before right outside strokes: 小 and 水.

8. Outside before inside

Outside enclosing strokes are written before inside strokes; bottom strokes are written last (see 4): 日 and 口. This applies also to characters that have no bottom stroke, such as 同 and 月.

9. Left vertical before enclosing

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.

10. Bottom enclosing strokes last

Bottom enclosing strokes are always written last: 道, 週, 画.

11. Dots and minor strokes last

Minor strokes are usually written last, as the small "dot" in the following: 玉.

Types of strokes

There are some 30 distinct types of strokes recognized in Chinese characters, including compound strokes (many of these have no agreed-upon name):

  • Horizontal stroke 一
  • Vertical stroke 丨
  • Left diagonal stroke 乀
  • Right diagonal stroke ノ
  • "Dot" `
  • "Left uptick" 亅
  • "Right uptick"

The Eight Principles of Yong makes the calligrapher practice basic strokes like the above ones.zh:笔顺 fr:Composition d'un sinogramme


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