Recognizing small differences in characters - "Sweat the little things"

Well, they are really "little", I mean the nuances of the characters in each following set that I've collected in my notebook. But, in fact, they did make me "sweat" for quite a little time. 


- The first set:

田 [tián] field

由 [yóu] oil

申 [shēn] express

甲 [jiǎ] shell/armour


- The second set:

百 [bǎi] hundred

目 [mù] eye

日 [rì] day

自 [zì] oneself

白 [bái] white


- The third set:

己 [jǐ] self

已 [yǐ] already


- The fourth set:

干 [gàn ] do

牛 [niú] cow/bull

午 [wǔ] noon

千 [qiān] thousand

于 [yú] in/from/to/than


- The fifth set:

头 [tóu] head

买 [mǎi] buy

卖 [mài] sell

实 [shí] solid/truth


Well, that's all I've got so far. If you have anything to add or some ideas to tackle the problem of distinguishing them accurately, please comment. Thanks a lot! :D


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Comment by Enrico Brasil on May 5, 2014 at 6:09am

I'd add 年 (nián - year) to the fourth set. Many students frequently confuse it with 午.

There could be also other sets:

Sixth set:

人 [rén] person

入 [rù] to enter

八 [bā] eigth

Seventh set:

米 [mǐ] rice

来 [lái] to come

未 [wèi] not

末 [mò] tip, end

朱 [zhū] red

禾 [hé] standing grain

木 [mù] wood

夫 [fū] husband

天 [tiān] day, sky

大 [dà] big

Eigth set:

了 [le] (particle)

子 [zǐ] son

孑 [jié] alone

孓 [jué] larva

Nineth set:

十 [shí] ten

土 [tǔ] earth

士 [shì] soldier

Tenth set:

夫 [fū] husband

天 [tiān] day, sky

大 [dà] big

犬 [quǎn] dog

太 [tài] very

丈 [zhàng] husband

Eleventh set:

木 [mù] wood

术 [shù] art

本 [běn] root

Twelvth set:

贝 [bèi] shell

见 [jiàn] to meet

Thirteenth set:

乃 [nǎi] to be

刀 [dāo] knife

力 [lì] power

为 [wéi] act

办 [bàn] to do

刃 [rèn] blade

九 [jiǔ] nine

丸 [wán] pellet

Fourteenth set:

与 [yǔ] and

马 [mǎ] horse

乌 [wū] crow

鸟 [niǎo] bird

Some of the characters I added are not "everyday use characters". But, well, just for the sake of knowledge. =)

Comment by Will Weisblatt on August 2, 2011 at 9:48am

甲 also means fingernail as in 指甲

Another character that closely resembles the third set is 巳 si4 as in 天干地支里面的辰巳午未

Comment by Brandon on July 26, 2011 at 7:15am

This pretty much looks like a list of all the characters I consistently get wrong so well done.  

I wrote a blog post a while back that included the 5th set that might help a tiny bit.

A Mnemonic for tones of buy and sell in Chinese

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