Kanji Stroke Order


An understanding of the principles of kanji stroke order will make it much easier to use the Kanji Sketch Pad. The following rules apply to most kanji, although there are a few important exceptions.

Rule 1. Top to bottom, and left to right.

40px-三-orderLeftwards elements of a kanji are usually written before rightwards elements, and upper elements before lower elements.

This principle also applies to the direction of individual strokes. Horizontal strokes are written from left to right, and vertical strokes from top to bottom. Back-slash diagonals, like “\”, start at the top left and move down and to the right, satisfying both the top-down and left-right aesthetic simultaneously. Forward slash diagonals, like “/”, pose a special challenge: they can either be up-and-right diagonals, or down-and-left diagonals, and you need to remember which version of the rule they follow, the “go-right” rule or the “go-down” rule.

For example, the character for “three”, , has three horizontal strokes, each of which is written from left to right, and the top stroke is written first. The character for “river” has three vertical strokes, each of which is written from top to bottom, and the leftmost stroke is written first. The character for person has a left stroke, drawn first, and then a right stroke.

This rule also applies to the order of components. When there are left and right components, the left components are written first. For example, the kanji for “rest”, , consists of two sub-components. The left side (a radical based on , meaning “person”) is written before the right side (, meaning “tree”). When there are upper and lower components, the upper components are written first, as in the top tree radical of “forest”, .

Rule 2. Horizontal before vertical.

40px-十-orderWhen horizontal and vertical strokes cross, horizontal strokes are usually written before vertical strokes.

For instance, the character for “ten,” , has two strokes. The horizontal stroke is written first, followed by the vertical stroke.

There are a couple of important exceptions to this rule. In the Japanese kanji convention (as compared to the typical Chinese approach), a vertical stroke that finishes on a horizontal stroke, like an upside down T, is often written first, before the horizontal strokes that cross it. This allows the final horizontal to sweep across the bottom of the vertical, rather than requiring that the vertical apply the brakes and stop on the line. An example is , the kanji for “king”.

The other main exception is the final, character-spanning horizontal that passes through multiple vertical strokes, as described below for Rule 3.

Rule 3. Character-spanning strokes last.
40px-聿-orderVertical strokes that pass through several other strokes are written after the strokes they pass through.

For example, in 聿 (“brush”) and 弗 (“fluorine” or “dollar”), the verticals are last.

Horizontal strokes that pass through several other strokes are also written last, as in 毋 (the “not” radical) and (the “boat” radical). This usually trumps Rule 2.

Rule 4. Down-and-left diagonals before down-and-right diagonals.

40px-文-orderWhen two diagonals make a symmetrical “X”, as in (“sentence” or “writing”), the down-and-left diagonal (丿) is usually written before down-and-right diagonal (乀).

For asymmetrical diagonals, other rules often take precedence, as in 戈 (the “halberd” radical), so that the down-and-right diagonal comes first.

Rule 5. Centre before outside.

40px-水-orderIn vertically symmetrical characters, such as the water kanji , the central components are written first, before the side components.

Components on the left of the centre feature are then written before components on the right, as in 兜 and .

Rule 6. Enclosures before contents.
40px-回-orderEnclosing components are written before inside components.

Examples include and . If the enclosure has a horizontal bottom stroke, though, the enclosure is not completed until the contents are in place, as in and . (This is consistent with Rule 8, below.)

Rule 7. Boxes have a standard three-stroke sequence.

40px-口-orderBox-shapes are generally drawn in a three-stroke sequence: left-vertical “|” first, then the upper-and-rightmost sides as a single stroke ” ┐ “, and finally the bottom stroke “_” .

As mentioned in Rule 6, the contents of the box, if there are any, come before the bottom stroke.

Rule 8. Bottom enclosures last.
Bottom enclosing components are usually written last40px-道-order. Examples include , , and .

This is similar to the bottom-of-the-box rule mentioned in Rules 6 and 7. The enclosing component may itself be complex, like the left strokes of

Rule 9. Dots and minor strokes last.
Corrected-玉-orderMinor strokes are usually written last, as in the small “dot” of , , 朮.

On the other hand, high, central dots are often first, as in .