Chinese Pinyin (Chinese Phonetics)

Pinyin, short for Hanyu Pinyin, means 'phonetic symbols'. Pin means 'spell(ing)' and Yin means 'sound(s)' is a system of phonetic transcriptions of standard Chinese. As the saying goes, Chinese Pinyin is a kind of Chinese pronunciation.

Chinese Letters

There are 26 letters which are important parts in Chinese Pinyin as follow : ɑ, o, e, i, u, ǖ, b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, ɡ, k, h, j, q, x, z, c, s, r, y, w.

The Chinese language is a monosyllabic language, meaning each character has only one syllable. Chinese syllables consist of initials and finals, which are made up of 26 letters, sometimes only one and occasionally a few. As the name implies, an initial is used at the beginning of a syllable while a final is the following parts in that syllable. For instance, 我 (wo) consists of an initial "w" and a final "o"; 上(shang) consists of an initial "sh" and a final "ang". Most finals are complete syllables in themselves, which are called whole-syllable, e.g. a (啊), o (哦).

A list of Chinese initials, finals and whole-syllables
  • b
  • p
  • m
  • f
  • d
  • t
  • n
  • l
  • g
  • k
  • h
  • j
  • q
  • x
  • zh
  • ch
  • sh
  • r
  • z
  • c
  • s
  • y
  • w
  • a
  • o
  • e
  • i
  • u
  • ǖ
  • ai
  • ei
  • ui
  • ao
  • ou
  • iu
  • ie
  • ǖe
  • er
  • an
  • en
  • in
  • un
  • ün
  • ang
  • eng
  • ing
  • ong
  • zhi
  • chi
  • shi
  • ri
  • zi
  • ci
  • si
  • wu
  • yi
  • yu
  • ye
  • yue
  • yuan
  • yin
  • yun
  • ying

Based on the pronunciation, Chinese Pinyin can be divided into vowels and consonants. While pronouncing a vowel, the air stream comes from the lungs and meets with no obstruction. Conversely, if it is obstructed in one way or another, it becomes a consonant. Vowels include a, o, e, i u, ü, ê i-, -i, er and consonants include b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s, ng.

Chinese Tones

Chinese language is also a tone language. It consists four basic tones, indicated by the tone graphs:

  • the first tone
  • /the second tone
  • the third tone
  • and the forth tone

Some syllables are pronounced both light and short, which is called the neutral tone and lacks a tone-graph representation in writing, e.g.

ba men

Different tones may indicate different meanings. e.g.

Mā (妈mother) má (麻hemp) mǎ (马horse) mà (骂to curse)

When there is only one vowel in a syllable, the tone-graph is put above the vowel, such as wǒ (我). While there are two or more vowels in the final of a syllable, the tone-graph falls on the main vowel, as in luò. If the graph is above the vowel i, the dot of i is omitted, e.g. nī, ní, nǐ, nì.

When the two 3rd tones come together, the first tone changes into 2nd. e.g.

你好 (nǐ hǎo) is actually pronounced as ní hǎo

When a syllable in the 3rd tone proceeds a syllable in the 1st, 2nd, 4th or neutral tone, it is pronounced in the half 3rd tone, that is , the tone only falls and doesn't rise, e.g.


Whilst most Chinese characters have only one Pinyin, there are however some with more than one. They are called polyphones. Their pinyin differs as the meaning differs

便 is pronounced as "biàn" in 方便 (convenient)
and "pián" in 便宜 (cheap)

乐 is pronounced as " lè" as in 快乐(happy)
and "yuè" in 音乐 (music)

Next: Chinese Characters

Comments (32)


Apr 18, 2019 06:47 Reply

Mr.ONLOOKER(Australia) said:

I spent 18 months ( 2 x 3 hours / week ) learning Mandarin.
First lesson was pronounciation (Bejing accent), reading/writing characters, reading/writing Pinyin.
Second lesson was chatting with Beijing native, or listening to his children’s stories, to learn everyday speaking.

At first any sentence sounded like one long sound.
Slowly, over time, recognisable ‘sounds’, ie., words, began to stand out in that long noise.

It takes time, persistence, and not being embarrassed at how you sound.
Eventually, you’ll get there.

At that stage I started to re-do every lesson, right from the start.
Converting Pinyin into both simplified, then traditional, characters.
Converting traditional characters to simplified and English.

Hard work, but in time I was a complete lesson ahead of the class, which meant the actual class became revision.
At that time I listened in when Chinese people were talking, for example on the train, to try and further my knowledge & understanding.

Unfortunately I stopped due to career commitments, yet 30 years down to road, words still pop into my head.
I also picked up a smattering of Spanish.

Now, if I try to think of something in Spanish, or Mandarin, invariably a word from the other language pops into my head before English.

Start slowly, and simply, but retain perseverance.
Learn one word/character at a time.
Break-down multiple words into component characters and meanings.

Stick with it.
Don’t get discouraged or disheartened.
Practice, practice, then practice again.

I found it easier to learn characters by using a traditional writing brush, but, I wrote on old newspapers, one sheet per character.
This ‘exaggeration’ meant that when I later wrote in normal pen, the character had a stronger definition (handwriting?)

Hope all this helps someone


Jan 10, 2019 09:32 Reply

Mr.YEET said:

hi i love Chinese people and their language

Feb 11, 2019 07:26
Mr.KUNTHEA replied:

where are you now?


Nov 12, 2018 15:58 Reply

Mr.MASUM(Bangladesh) said:

very helpful.... thanks


Oct 23, 2018 11:24 Reply

Mr.SMALLS(USA) said:

pls reply


Oct 23, 2018 11:23 Reply

Mr.SMALLS(USA) said:

i like chinese thank you for help me out very much appreciated.

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