Graphical etymology
well; well crib; town; community
kun: i
names: ino sai hi
strokes: 4
radical: (no. 7) (Nelson uses 丿, no. 4)
a well; CL: 口 kǒu; neat; orderly;
pinyin: jǐng
strokes: 4
radical: (no. 7) (Nelson uses 丿, no. 4)

Graphical etymology

井 gives a bird’s eye view of a well constructed with wooden beams. For some time the variant 丼 (which adds a dot at the center) was used but later scribes returned to writing plain 井. In later times the variant was adopted in Japan for writing a completely unrelated word.¹


In oracle bone inscriptions 井 was not only used for “well,” but for other man-made holes in the ground as well. Only when the graph was created at the time of the Zhou was 井 restricted to the sense of “well.”² See for a graph that preserves the general sense of a man-made hole.


  1. Ochiai, 2016, p. 541. Ochiai characterizes the variant 丼 as a kokuji 国字 (a character “made in Japan”) suggesting that 丼 happens to have the same shape of the earlier variant of 井, but is actually a different graph.
  2. Ibid.

Additional details for 井

Morohashi: 258 1.0519
Item no. in Henshall: 1470
SKIP code: 4-4-3
Four corner code: 5500.0
Korean reading: jeong
Unihan English meanings (for Chinese):
well, mine shaft, pit
Unihan on: SEI SHOU
Unihan kun: I IDO
Unihan pinyin: jǐng