First things first: Let’s learn/master/review Pinyin.

28 Jan

Pinyin is incredibly helpful. It’s going to allow us to type, to read, and to learn new vocab. If you’re like me, though, your pinyin might be a little rusty from long disuse. Let’s review and take a quick refresher course. (If you need to learn from scratch, with audio, check out this page.)

There are 37 distinct sounds in Mandarin. Most characters (we’ll get to the others later) consist of one initial(声母 -shēngmǔ) and one final (韵母 – yùnmǔ). Here is a fantastic chart at a fantastic site, I recommend you print it out and hang somewhere you can see it – mine is hanging in my bedroom right now. My plan is to read this chart over and over again until I can pronounce every syllable correctly.


If you’re uncertain about any of the pronunciations, here is a chart with audio covering every possibility and their four tones. I linked to the one because it’s easier on the eyes, but this is a good resource to check your pronunciations on.

In learning the pronunciations of the shēngmǔ (the bpmf on the top of most charts), there is a mnemonic that most Chinese students learn and practice. Memorize it and repeat it to yourself: it’ll be worth it in the long run. It’s pretty simple. If you refer back to the fantastic chart at a fantastic site, you can see that the shēngmǔ are the horizontal options. The mnemonic follows that, and is pronounced, “Bō, pō, mō, fō, dē, tē, nē, lē, gē, kē, hē, zī, cī, sī, zhī, chī, shī, rī, jī, qī, xī.”

Seems kind of long, yeah? That’s what I thought. However, if you divide it like a phone number, it becomes: “Bō, pō, mō, fō / dē, tē, nē, lē / gē, kē, hē / zī, cī, sī / zhī, chī, shī, rī / jī, qī, xī.” Much better. Definitely memorize if you’re at all uncertain about the shēngmǔ pronunciations.

799px-Pinyin_accents.svg   Our four main tones. (Image from Pf. Immel from Wikimedia Commons)

So far so good? Don’t worry, I have more to confuse you. We shouldn’t forget about the medial tones. Remember, the Chinese think about syllables as having 1 – 3 parts.

A one part word would be 阿 – ā (as in 阿姨 – āyī – aunt), consisting of only of a yùnmǔ (a).

A two part word would be 八 – bā (eight), which has both a shēngmǔ (b) and a yùnmǔ (a).

A three part word would be 表 – biǎo (clock), which consists of a shēngmǔ (b), a medial (i), and a yùnmǔ (ǎo).  Let’s talk about the medials.

Here is a link to everything you need to know about medials. Basically, there are three: i, u, and ü. They are written in three part words, but they are written differently when they begin a word. Repeat: they are written differently when they begin a word. “i” is written as “y”, as in 牙 – yá (teeth). “u” is written as “w”, as in 王 – wáng (king). “ü” is written as “yu”, as in 月 – yùe (moon).

And I’m assuming most know the pronunciations of the yùnmǔ, as they’re pretty similar to the English pronunciations. If anyone needs review, check yourself on the chart with audio.

And lastly, in writing hànyǔ pīnyīn, there are some basic rules. Again at, here is a concise explanation of all the rules you will ever need. I’m thinking that the focus should be on the “General” section, but it might be a good idea to bookmark this page for future reference. In general, words and concepts are written as one (think of examples like, 对不起 – duìbuqǐ (sorry) or 朋友 – péngyou (friend)).

[Update: Another pīnyīn rule to note! The accent marks always go on the 韵母, not the medials. That means 叫 should be jiào, not jìao. For more info, check out this post, where I confess my mistake.]

And there you have it. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Edits?

Vocab from this post:

汉语拼音 - Hànyǔ Pīnyīn - Chinese language pinyin

拼音文字 – Pīnyīn Wénzì  – Phonetic alphabet, alphabetical writing system

声母 -shēngmǔ

韵母 – yùnmǔ


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