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 (45)


May 18, 2022 19:58 Reply

Mr.SHARON MARKS(United States) said:

I don’t know how to pronounce s or ü those ones are very hard for me I feel the others aren’t that hard but just those two are very hard to pronounce.


Aug 30, 2021 02:45 Reply



Sep 10, 2021 01:28
Mr.OM PRAKASH GAUTAM(Nepalyi) replied:



Feb 14, 2021 10:07 Reply

Ms.MOUREEN(Tanzania) said:

I'm trying to learn this alphabets but i can't understand at all to me i have understood numbers from 1 - 90


Jun 24, 2020 10:33 Reply

Mr.NADIA(Bangladesh) said:

It's very good......I understand 60% Chinese language but I can't pronounce it correctly......The voice clips of this web help me very much......


Apr 22, 2020 10:14 Reply

Ms.HANSINI(India) said:

Please help me to learn. I trying but I'm not able to understand at all. pronunciation is much confusing.if any one there could me please do.

Jun 23, 2020 03:27
ZHAOYE replied:

Hello, I'm a master majoring in teaching Chinese to speakers of Other Languages in Shanghai, have two years of working experience. Feel free to contact me if you need a native Chinese tutor.

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