Learn to Read Chinese: Pinyin Final Sounds

Learn to Read Chinese: Pinyin Final Sounds

If you’re just getting started with Pinyin, start with our first two posts, What is Pinyin? and Pinyin Initial Sounds

As mentioned previously, Pinyin uses Roman letters to transcribe Chinese sounds. In Chinese, each character corresponds to one syllable (which can be one word, or part of a word). Chinese syllables consist of three elements: an initial sound, a final sound and a tone. Today we’re going to learn about final sounds.

There are three types of final sounds. Simple finals, compound finals, and nasal finals. As you take a look at the charts below, look at the initial sounds that combine with the final sound to make the character in the Chinese example. See if you can recognize any of the characters from the initial sounds you have already learned. 

SIMPLE FINALS

Final Sound English Sound EquivalentChinese Example 
apronounced as the a in “father” 妈 mā (mom)
epronounced as the er in “serve”客 kè (guest)
ipronounced as the ee in “bee一 yī (one)
opronounced as the o in “fox”我 wǒ (I)
upronounced as the woo in “wood”不 bù (not)
üpronounced as in German or French. Similar to lure (“ooh” with pursed lips)女 nǚ (woman)

COMPOUND FINALS

Final Sound English Sound EquivalentChinese Example 
aipronounced as the i in “bike”来 lái (come)
aopronounced as o in “now”好 hǎo (good)
eipronounced as the a in “may”美 měi (beau­tiful)
iapronounced as the y in “yes” and slide to a as in British “are”下 xià (below)
iaopronounced as the combination of the beginning consonant in “yes” and the o in “how”小 xiǎo (small)
iepronounced similar to the ye in “yes”.谢 xiè (thanks)
iou/iuiu is always pronounced as iou – pronounced as a slide from “y” as in “yes” to the “o” in “go久 jiǔ (long ago)
oupronounced as the o in “so有 yǒu (have)
uapronounced similar to the American “what” without “h” and “t”. Sounds like the English spelling “wah”花 huā (flower)
uaipronounced similar to the English word “why”快 kuài (fast)
üepronounced as a slide from pinyin “ü” (German “ü” or the French “u”) to the vowel “e”月 yuè (month)
uei/uipronounced similar to the sound in “wait”. It is spelt as “wei” when it stands as an independent syllable.喂 wéi (a greeting for answering the phone)
uoPronounced similar to the British English “war” . The spelling “wo” is used when it stands as an independent syllable.说 shuō (say)

NASAL FINALS

Final Sound English Sound EquivalentChinese Example 
anpronounced as the un in “fun安 Ān (peace)
enpronounced as the en in “taken很 hěn (very)
ianpronounced as the en in “yen天 tiān (sky)
inpronounced as the in in ‘pin心 xīn (heart)
uanpronounced as the an in “wan欢 huān (happy)
unpronounced as the on in “won准 zhǔn (stand­ard)
üanü as pronounced above +an元 yuán (dollar)
ünü as pronounced above +n军 jūn (army)
angpronounced as the ong in “song上 shàng (above)
engpronounced “e” is as described above, followed by the nasal “ng” sound朋 péng (friend)
iang/yangpronounced similar to “young”. The spelling “yang” is used when it stands as an independent a syllable两 liǎng (two)
ing/yingpronounced as the ing in “sing”. The spelling “ying” is used when there is no consonant in the beginning of a syllable.明 míng (bright)
iong/yongPinyin “y” + “u” + “ng”. The “o” is affected by “y”⑴ and so sounds similar to the vowel in “too”. The spelling “yong” is used when there is no consonant in the beginning.穷 qióng (poor)
ongpronounced “o” is as described above, followed by the nasal “ng” sound懂 dǒng (under­stand)
uang/wangThe spelling “wang” is used when it stands as an independent syllable.黄 huáng (yellow)

When first learning Pinyin it is very helpful to keep three general principles in mind:

  1. The relationship between any letter and any sound is arbitrary. A letter can represent one sound in English and another sound in Chinese.
  2. The same letter or combination of letters can sometimes be pronounced in more than one way in the same language. English has many examples of this, i.e. ough as used in ‘tough’, ‘though’,’through’, and ‘bough’.
  3. The pronunciation of a particular spelling combination does not always sound exactly the way it looks. Again, English has many examples, i.e. igh in ‘sigh’ or psy in ‘psychology’.

Reading along with someone (either in person, or a recording of a native speaker) will help you get the hang of reading Pinyin. Try some of our “newbie” or “beginner” lessons in the Du Chinese app and you’ll get it down in no time. 

Now that you know how to put together and pronounce your pinyin initial and final sounds, it’s time for the last piece of the puzzle: tones!

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