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Blog Mistake Alert! Broke a Few Pīnyīn Rules

9 Mar

Just the one pīnyīn rule, actually. Still, I’m glad I caught the error now, rather than later – imagine if I had been feeding you incorrect pīnyīn for years. Forget about the problems that might have caused you – just think about all of the posts I would have to go back and correct! Just terrible. 😀

I’ve just been informed that I’ve been mistyping certain pīnyīn words in my posts. Whoops.

In my defense, the mistake is apparently a common one amongst Mandarin learners. It’s a matter of where you put the tone accent in the word. I don’t know about anyone else, but I basically just assumed that all tone accents went directly after the 声母 (shēngmǔ), or the initial of the word. (See my pīnyīn post if these terms sound unfamiliar.) I discovered today, though, that this rule I invented doesn’t always apply.

Generally speaking, it works. Take the common example “ma”. Mā is 妈,  má is 麻,  and so on. However, this isn’t the case with words that have medials, like “mian” or “yuan”.

In these words, the accent does not directly follow the 声母. The way I’ve been typing them so far (mìan, yǔan) is incorrect. It should actually be miàn and yuǎn. Why? Accents – as I learned today – do not go on medials, only on 韵母 (yùnmǔ – finals). Again, see the pīnyīn post if you feel fuzzy on the definitions.


mìan ( 😦 ) = bad / miàn (面) = good.

yuǎn (远) = good / yǔan ( 😦 ) = bad.

You probably didn’t need that, but it helps me to remember. 😀

A final summary of the pīnyīn rule: the accent always goes on the 韵母 (yùnmǔ – final), which does not always come directly after the  声母.

I’ll go back to correct my previous posts as soon as possible, but please just bear my convention error in mind for now. Thanks, everyone.

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

How to type Pīnyīn tone marks on a Mac

28 Jan

See what I did in the title? Pretty great, huh?

Yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself. Pīnyīn is helpful to know for representing characters, but sometimes you need to actually type the pīnyīn tone marks. And it turns out that there’s an easy way to do that!

Not that I really figured it out – credit actually goes to this guy’s page. If you’re good with reading, then you can just go to his page. But for those of us who like pictures, the picture process is below.

Open “System Preferences” and click on “Language and Text”.


From there, open the fourth tab, named “Input Sources”.


Scroll down the left-hand column until you reach “U.S. Extended”. Tick the box and untick “U.S.” (You could keep U.S., but I haven’t found a reason too. All of the keys are the same, just plus some extra.)


Go to the little flag in the upper-right corner, and scroll to select it if necessary.


And you’re good to go! The shortcuts for the tone marks are as follows:

Again taken from the page:

”  Tone 1 (flat) mā – Option + a, then hit a vowel key
Tone 2 (rising) má – Option + e, then hit a vowel key
Tone 3 (falling-rising) mǎ – Option + v, then hit a vowel key
Tone 4 (falling) mà – Option + `, then hit a vowel key

ǚ – Option + V, then hit V
ǜ – Option + `, then hit V  ”

Update: Also Option + u , then u will give you ü.

When you use these shortcuts, you get the little tone mark floating above where the vowels is going to be. Release both Option + _, then select your vowel. For example, in order to get the ī in Pī, I would type Option + a, then release both the keys and select i.

IMG_1938   ->   IMG_1940

Ta-da! It takes some getting used too – right now it takes me a ridiculously long time to type a single pīnyīn word – but I’m thinking that practice will make perfect. Many thanks to! If you have time, check it out. It’s an extremely cool blog/resource that covers everything from traveling light to writing your own textbook. And even better, he’s studying Chinese as well.

Hope this came in handy – edits and additional tips are welcome.