Graphical etymology
orders; ancient laws; command; decree
on: REI
kun: iitsuke osa
names: nori ryou re
strokes: 5
radical: 人, 亻,𠆢 (no. 9)
lìng to order; to command; an order; warrant; writ; to cause; to make sth happen; virtuous; honorific title; season; government position (old); ◇ lǐng classifier for a ream of paper; ◇ líng see 脊令 líng; ◇ Líng see 令狐 Líng ;
pinyin: lìng lǐng líng Líng
strokes: 5
radical: 人, 亻,𠆢 (no. 9)

Graphical etymology

Early on 令 was used to write a word “order/command (something)”. In oracle bone inscriptions (OBI) 令 looks like , and depicts a kneeling person (seen from the side) and what appears to be 亼/ on top. A lot of scholars think that depicts a roof or the lid of a container.¹ Ochiai assumes that here depicts a roof, and suggests a “story” for 令 in which the kneeling person has been summoned to the palace to receive orders.² However, Chi Hsu-Sheng argues for being an inverted version of mouth 口/, which makes 令 a kneeling person with a mouth above him that gives him a command.³



See the article “What is 亼 as an element?” for a longer analysis.
令 is the first part of the name of Japanese era that began 1 May 2019.
See “What is the meaning of 令 in 令和?” for an explanation.


  1. Ochiai, 2016, p. 48; Seeley et al. p. 206; Schuessler, p. 387. In oracle bone inscriptions and early bronze inscriptions 令 was also used to write the word that was later written with 命.
  2. Ochiai, 2016, p. 48.
  3. Chi, p. 710 (referenced in Outlier).

Additional details for 令

Morohashi: 387 1.0615
Item no. in Henshall: 603
SKIP code: 2-2-3
Four corner code: 8030.7; 8022.7
Korean reading: ryeong
Unihan English meanings (for Chinese):
command, order; 'commandant', magistrate; allow, cause
Unihan on: REI RYOU
Unihan kun: IITSUKE OSA
Unihan pinyin: lìng
Unihan kZVariant: