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The Pronunciation of Mandarin Pinyin
by Mary Ansell, copyright 1998


"Pinyin", used in the People's Republic of China since 1958, is a system which uses the Latin alphabet to represent the sounds of Mandarin Chinese. Pinyin is used extensively in Mandarin dictionaries and phrasebooks. Here, the rules for pronouncing Mandarin pinyin are explained by comparing the sounds of Mandarin with those of Canadian English. First consonants and then vowels are discussed.


Pinyin consonants which can begin a syllable


b is pronounced like b as in "bell", but is pronounced more lightly than in English.

c is pronounced like ts as in "hats".

ch is pronounced like ch as in "chalk", with the tongue curled back somewhat.

d is pronounced like d as in "day", but is pronounced more lightly than in English.

f is pronounced like f as in "five".

g is pronounced like g as in "go", but is pronounced more lightly than in English.

h is pronounced like h as in "how", but is pronounced further back in the throat, and is accompanied by a stronger puff of air than in English.

j is pronounced like j as in "jeep", with the tongue forward.

k is pronounced like k as in "kite", but is accompanied by a stronger puff of air than in English.

l is pronounced like l as in "like".

m is pronounced like m as in "month".

n is pronounced like n as in "nine".

p is pronounced like p as in "pen", but is accompanied by a stronger puff of air than in English.

q is pronounced like ch as in "cheep", with the tongue forward.

r is pronounced with the tongue curled back as for l in "laugh", but with the tip of the tongue not touching the roof of the mouth.

s is pronounced like s as in "sand", but is pronounced more strongly than in English.

sh is pronounced like sh as in "shop", with the tongue curled back somewhat.

t is pronounced like t as in "ten", but is accompanied by a stronger puff of air than in English.

w is pronounced like w as in "wood".

x is pronounced like sh as in "sheep", with the tongue forward.

y is pronounced like y as in "yes"; except that the syllable yi is pronounced like ee as in "bee".

z is pronounced like ds as in "weeds".

zh is pronounced like j as in "jam", with the tongue curled back somewhat.



Pinyin vowels, and combinations of letters which can end a syllable


a is pronounced like a as in "father".

ai is pronounced like i as in "fine".

an is pronounced like an as in "fan".

ang is pronounced like ong as in "song".

ao is pronounced like ow as in "how".



e is pronounced like e as in French "le"; except after i or y, where it is pronounced like e as in "yet".

ê is pronounced like e as in "yet".

ei is pronounced like a as in "late."

en is pronounced somewhat like en as in "ten".

eng is pronounced like ung as in "rung".

er is pronounced somewhat like er as in "mermaid"; r is pronounced with the tongue curled back somewhat.



i   After b, d, j, l, m, n, p, q, t and x,  the letter i is pronounced like ee as in "bee".

However, after c, ch, r, s, sh, z and zh,  the letter i is not pronounced like ee as in "bee". Instead, after the initial consonant has been pronounced, the position of the tongue remains unchanged, and a voiced sound is made. For example, si is pronounced like s as in "so", immediately followed by z as in "zoo".

ia is pronounced like yaw as in "yawn".

ian is pronounced like "yen".

iang is pronounced like y as in "yes", followed by ong as in "song".

iao is pronounced like yow as in "yowl".

ie is pronounced like ye as in "yet".

in is pronounced like in as in "pin".

ing is pronounced like ing as in "sing".

iong is pronounced like y as in "yes", followed by o as in "note", followed by ng as in "ring".

iu is pronounced like yo as in "yodel".



o is pronounced somewhat like o as in "hot", but with the mouth not as wide open.

ong is pronounced like o as in "note", followed by ng as in "ring".

ou is pronounced like o as in "note".



u is pronounced like oo as in "too"; except after j, q, x and y, where it is pronounced like u as in French "une".

ua is pronounced like wa as in "watch".

uai is pronounced like "why".

uan is pronounced like wan as in "wander"; except after j, q, x and y, where it is pronounced like u as in French "une", followed by wen as in "went".

uang is pronounced like w as in "wet", followed by ong as in "song".

ue is pronounced like üe (see below).

ui is pronounced like "way".

un is pronounced like oo as in "moon", followed by un as in "under"; except after j, q, x and y, where it is pronounced like French "une".

uo is pronounced like w as in "wet"; followed by a sound pronounced somewhat like o as in "hot", but with the mouth not as wide open.



ü is pronounced like u as in French "une".

üe is pronounced like u as in French "une", followed by we as in "went".  

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