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Chinese character stroke order rules

The character 永 with numbered arrows showing stroke orderTo learn Chinese characters as effectively as possible, it’s important to get the stroke order right. As you get a feel for the correct sequence, it becomes a lot easier to memorise characters. Using the correct stroke order also helps your characters look balanced and elegant.

Here’s a set of stroke order rules to put into practice when learning to write hanzi.

1. Top to bottom

Strokes at the top of the character are written before those lower down.

三 (sān): three

Stroke order for 三

立 (lì): to stand

立 stroke order

2. Left to right

Strokes on the left should be written before strokes on the right.

八 (bā): eight

八 stroke order

吃 (chī): to eat

吃 stroke order

3. Horizontal before vertical

Horizontal strokes (一) should be written before vertical strokes (丨).

十 (shí): ten

十 stroke order

千 (qiān): thousand

千 stroke order

4. Centre first in symmetrical characters

In characters with a fairly symmetrical structure, the central stroke should be written first.

小 (xiǎo): small

小 stroke order

水 (shuǐ): water

水 stroke order

5. Character spanning strokes last

If there is a stroke that cuts across or spans several other strokes, it should be written last.

王 (wáng): king

王 stroke order

申 (shēn): to extend, to explain

申 stroke order

6. Close frames last

The contents of an enclosure should be completed first, and the frame closed afterwards.

日 (rì): sun

日 stroke order

回 (huí): to return

回 stroke order

Summary

  • Top to bottom
  • Left to right
  • Horizontal before vertical
  • Centre first in symmetrical characters
  • Character spanning strokes last
  • Close frames last

These rules can be broken for certain characters. As you learn to write characters, these rules will become internalised until they seem totally natural. The exceptions, too, will lodge in your memory so that you won’t need to think about them consciously.

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