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Stroke order rule 4 – crossing horizontal first

This rule is exemplified by the kanji too ‘ten’, which we have seen in stroke direction rule 1 and rule 2. The crossing horizontal first rule says:

When two strokes intersect forming a plus shape (), the horizontal stroke is written first.

The next diagram shows the kanji tsuchi, nanatsu, GO, SUN, ki.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 土 tsuchi 'earth', 七 nanatsu 'seven', 午 GO 'noon', 寸 SUN 'measurement', 木 ki 'tree'. It illustrates stroke order rule 4: the crossing horizontal stroke is written first.
tsuchi ‘earth’, nanatsu ‘seven’, GO ‘noon’, SUN ‘measurement’, ki ‘tree’.

If we take GO into consideration, we can see that the highlighted horizontal (3rd) stroke is written before the vertical (4th) stroke. This rule should be intuitive to most people as the plus (+) symbol used in mathematics is written in the same way.

Exceptions: the rice field and the king

There are two major exceptions to stroke order rule 4 that should be memorised and practised. They are:

  • ta ‘rice field’ type exceptions, and
  • OU ‘king’ type exceptions.

In the diagram the highlighted crosses constitute the exception, which is to say that in these shapes the vertical stroke is written first, as the stroke diagram clearly indicates.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 田 ta 'rice field' and 王 OU 'king'. It illustrates two exceptions to stroke order rule 4: in these two kanji the stroke order is the opposite.
ta ‘rice field’ and OU ‘king’.

In the next diagram:

  • the kanji YUU and kado contain ta-type exceptions;
  • the kanji ao and ikiru contain OU-type exceptions.
Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 由 YUU 'reason' and 角 kado 'corner' with 田 ta type exceptions; and the kanji 青 ao 'blue' and 生 ikiru 'to live' with 王 OU type exceptions.
YUU ‘reason’, kado ‘corner’, ao ‘blue’ and ikiru ‘to live’.

I would like to present another well concealed OU-type exception in the character omoi ‘heavy’.

The diagram compares OU and omoi, highlighting in red the strokes that can be considered to play a similar role in the stroke-balance of the two characters. The OU-type exception is shown in brown.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 重 omoi 'heavy' which contains an 王 OU type exception.
The stroke order of omoi ‘heavy’ compared with OU.

The kanji omoi is an important character to master in your kanji stroke order learning. Practice writing it until it is committed to muscle memory. My advice is: write it 30 times a day for one week.

Exception: the old bird

There is one more notable exception to stroke order rule 4 which could be described like so:

A vertical stroke is written first when it is crossed by two or more horizontal strokes, and it is touching but not crossing a lower horizontal stroke.

I called this exception the furutori ‘old bird’ type exception because it is exemplified in the shape furutori.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the shape 隹 furutori 'old bird', and the kanji 勤 tsutomeru 'to work for', 確 tashika 'sure', 馬 uma 'horse'. It illustrates the old bird exception to the crossing horizontal first stroke order rule.
furutori ‘old bird’, tsutomeru ‘to work for’, tashika ‘sure’ and uma ‘horse’.

The diagram shows the shape furutori, and the kanji tsutomeru, tashika and uma.

Let’s put our lens on the kanji uma. Stroke order rule 4 says that the vertical strokes should be written first, but uma is a furutori-type exception, which means that three conditions are met.

  1. A vertical stroke (3rd stroke) is crossed by two or more horizontal strokes (4th and 5th strokes);
  2. the vertical stroke is touching a lower horizontal stroke (6th stroke);
  3. the vertical stroke is not crossing the lower horizontal stroke.

I would advise practising these characters until you become perfectly fluent with them.

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