Chinese Pinyin

Hanyu Pinyin: Formation of the Mandarin Vowels and Chinese Consonants

What is Hanyu Pinyin?

Hanyu Pinyin (literally written as 汉语拼音)means “Chinese Spell-Out Sound”. It is more commonly called “Pinyin” for short. The Hanyu Pinyin system uses a series of consonants and vowels to spell out the Mandarin pronunciation of a Chinese character.

The Hanyu Pinyin system was created by the Chinese linguists during the 1950s for a Chinese Government project. One of them is Zhou Yaoguang and also known as the “Father of Pinyin”, who passed away in 2017 (Age: 111). The inauguration of the first version of Hanyu Pinyin was on 11 February 1958 at the Fifth Session of the 1st National People’s Congress.

Because of the existence of this brilliant system to romanise the Chinese characters phonetically, it opens up the opportunity for foreigners to learn Chinese in a much simpler way with English alphabets that are familiar to many of them.

Learning how to read Hanyu Pinyin is essential for everyone learning a new Chinese character or phrase. With the Pinyin alphabet English spelling in place, anyone can learn to pronounce a new word or sentence just by looking at the Pinyin even when no one is there to teach you how to pronounce.

What are the Chinese Vowels and Chinese 4 Tones?

The Chinese vowels are characterized by one of the Chinese 4 Tones with an accent mark [ ¯ ′ ˇ ` ] or none for words with a neutral tone. Sometimes, for ease of writing and reading, we use the number 1, 2, 3, 4 to represent the Chinese accents accordingly.

Note: In all my posts, I will only use Hanyu Pinyin with Chinese accents because this is the traditional way and a proper method of learning. The more you look at these Chinese Pinyin words with accent marks, the faster you will recognize them in future.

In total, how many vowels are there?

总共 有多少个 韵母 呢?
Zǒng gòng yǒu duō shǎo gè yùn mǔ ne?

A total of 24 vowels. 6 single vowels, 9 double vowels, and 9 nasal vowels.

总共有 24个韵母。6个单韵母,9个复韵母 和 9个鼻韵母。
Zǒng gòng yǒu èr shí sì gè yùn mǔ. Liù gè dān yùn mǔ, jiǔ gè fù yùn mǔ hé jiǔ gè bí yùn mǔ.

韵母 | The vowel is also known as 元音 or 母音.

韵母 也称为 元音 或 母音。
Yùn mǔ yě chēng wèi yuán yīn huò mǔ yīn.


  • Single Vowel: a、o、e、i、u、ü
  • Double Vowel: ai、ei、 ui、ao、 ou、iu、ie、üe、 er
  • Nasal Vowel: an、en、in、un、ün、ang、eng、 ing、ong

What is the Accent Placement Rule for Chinese Pinyin with more than one vowel?

The accents are always placed on top of the Chinese vowels in Hanyu Pinyin. If [simple_tooltip content=’diphthong’] two vowels[/simple_tooltip] meet, put the accent on the vowel that comes first in the following Chinese vowel sequence of [ a o e i u ü ].

Yào 要 (means ‘want’). The [ a ] comes before [ o ].
Ruò 弱 (means ‘weak’). The [ o ] comes before [ u ].

* It is also worthwhile to note that two vowels – [ a ] and [ e ] will never meet together in the same pinyin word.

What are Chinese Consonants?

A consonant is a basic speech sound in which the breath is partly obstructed and can be used by adding a vowel to form a syllable.

There are arguments on whether there are 21 or 23 Chinese consonants in Hanyu Pinyin system. Officially, it is 21 Chinese consonants and later, [ y ] and [ w ] is added.

The [ y ] sounds like [ i ], and [ w ] sounds like [ u ] as the Singular vowel. When practising the sound of the Chinese consonants, [ y ] and [ w ] should be included because they can be combined with other vowels to form another sound.

The 23 Chinese consonants are b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, j, q, x, zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s, y and w.

The consonants are divided into groups of words with the same suffixes. Take a look at the Chinese consonants on the left column of Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Chart with Audio to have an idea of the similar types of suffix family.

In Hanyu Pinyin, altogether, how many consonants are there?

汉语拼音 一共 有几个 声母 呢?
Hàn yǔ pīn yīn yī gòng yǒu jǐ gè shēng mǔ ne?

Hanyu Pinyin has altogether 23 consonants.

汉语拼音 一共有 23个声母。
Hàn yǔ pīn yīn yī gòng yǒu èr shí sān gè shēng mǔ.

声母 | Consonant is also known as 辅音 or 子音.

声母 也称为 辅音 或 子音。
Shēng mǔ yě chēng wèi fǔ yīn huò zǐ yīn.


How to Type Chinese on Phone with Consonants?

Another useful aspect of learning the Chinese Pinyin is to make use of the first consonant letter to type out the whole Chinese sentence quickly without spelling out all the Pinyin when you are typing out a Chinese text using your mobile phone.

I am not able to capture a screenshot from my phone to show you because the function does not allow. However, I have done an example of the screenshot from Google Translate on my desktop to show you below.

How to Type Chinese on Phone

What did you do today?

Nǐ jīn tiān zuò le shén me?


Do note that the phone function supporting the Chinese text typing might not allow you to form many words at one time. Only three words are shown each time from my Sony Xperia phone.

After a few more seconds of waiting, my mobile phone displayed the entire text like the image above, provided that the consonant alphabets make sense to the Pinyin system for forming a ‘commonly used sentence’.

This function will help you to type the Chinese texts very fast. Not only that, it helps people who have a problem with the full Hanyu Pinyin spelling. You only have to remember the first or first two alphabets to form most words.

Youtube Video of Chinese Vowels and Consonants

Here is a Youtube video that would help you greatly to practice Chinese vowels and consonants. Before learning to speak Mandarin, they have to get the basic sound right to handle more complex Chinese syllabus later.

In school during the start of every Chinese lesson, we have to read out all the vowels and consonants every day as a warm-up and get all the sounds ingrained into our brain.

You should try and make it a habit to practice them as much as you can as to improve the fluency of spoken Mandarin fast. That was what we do in school so you could also do the same.

Now that you have a sound understanding of the Chinese vowels and consonants, the next post will explain why you have to Pay Attention to the Chinese Tones and Accent if You are Serious to Learn Mandarin in the long run.


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