Stroke order rule 5 – prominent middle first

Some shapes and kanji find their balance through a central prominent stroke (or strokes) that acts as a centre of gravity. Smaller satellite strokes are located on the left and the right side of the central stroke, forming a balanced/symmetrical shape.

See the diagram below.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 小 chiisai 'small', 当 ataru 'to hit', 水 mizu 'water', 承 uketamawaru 'to hear'. It illustrates stroke order rule 5: the prominent middle stroke is written first.
chiisai ‘small’, ataru ‘to hit’, mizu ‘water’ and uketamawaru ‘to hear’.

The brown stroke in chiisai acts as the centre of gravity, or what I call the “prominent middle”. The two red strokes are the satellites. Stroke order rule 5 says:

When a prominent middle stroke (or group of strokes) is surrounded by symmetrical satellite shapes, the prominent middle stroke is written first.

Stating the obvious, the remaining satellite strokes are written left to right, and top to bottom, as usual. It is also important to notice that the satellite strokes don’t have to be exactly symmetrical, as in mizu, where the left side and the right side are written differently.

In the case of uketamawaru, the prominent middle is not a single stroke, but several strokes. This is more rare but seen sometimes.

A common mistake: crown triplets

Pay close attention to the crown shapes in the characters below. In the first two characters, SHOU and DOU, the brown stroke in the crown is a prominent middle, and the red strokes are the satellite shapes. You could see them as big brother and two twin brothers.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 肖 SHOU 'resemblance', 堂 DOU 'hall', 巣 su 'nest' and 蛍 hotaru 'firefly'. It illustrates the difference of two types of triplet crown strokes: one that has a prominent middle stroke, and one where all strokes have equal weight.
Comparing the crown strokes in su ‘nest’ and hotaru ‘firefly’.

In the remaining two characters, su and hotaru, the three strokes in the crown are peers: there is no prominent stroke, they are all equal. You could see them as triplets. For this reason they are written normally, i.e. left to right.

These shapes are very common and must not be confused!

More satellite shapes

It is not uncommon for a prominent middle stroke to support multiple satellites, or for satellite strokes to be arranged in a slightly asymmetrical way.

We can see this in the characters koori, motomeru and uyauyashii.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 氷 koori 'ice', 求 motomeru 'to seek', and 恭 uyauyashii 'respectful'. It presents more kanji with a prominent middle stroke and satellite strokes around.
koori ‘ice’, motomeru ‘to seek’ and uyauyashii ‘respectful’.

In the kanji koori, the satellites are asymmetrical, but the character as a whole remains balanced. On the other hand, the prominent middle and the satellites in uyauyashii are not very balanced. The prominent middle stroke (7th stroke) has only one satellite on the left side, and two satellites on the right side, but the rule still applies.

Exceptions: fire and heart

We have two bold exceptions to the prominent middle rule: the shape hi ‘fire’ and the shape risshinben ‘heart’.

In the diagram below I present these two shapes, and the related kanji hi, aki, JOU and SEI.

Kanji stroke diagram showing the kanji 火 hi 'fire' and the related kanji 灯 hi 'light' and 秋 aki 'autumn'; it also shows the shape 忄 risshinben 'heart' and the related kanji 情 JOU 'feeling' and 性 SEI 'character'. It illustrates exceptions to the prominent first rule.
hi ‘fire’, hi ‘light’ and aki ‘autumn’; risshinben ‘heart’, JOU ‘feeling’ and SEI ‘nature/character’.

In this case the peripheral smaller strokes are written first, and the central prominent stroke(s) are written last. These shapes are very very common and their stroke order should be practised until fully memorised.

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