Pinyin [Chin. pinyin zimu = phonetic alphabet], system of romanization of Chinese written characters, approved in 1958 by the government of the People's Republic of China and officially adopted by it in 1979. Its use replaces that of the more complex Wade-Giles system (1859; modified 1912), among others. The reasons for adopting Pinyin included promoting a national language, establishing a means for writing non-Chinese (minority) languages in China, and encouraging foreigners to learn Chinese. Pinyin is not used officially in Taiwan.

Pinyin, more formally Hanyu pinyin, is the most common Standard Mandarin romanization system in use. Hanyu means the Chinese language, and pinyin means "spell sound", or the spelling of the sound. Developed by a government committee in the People's Republic of China, the system was initially approved by the Chinese government on February 11, 1958 . The International Organization for Standardization adopted pinyin as the international standard in 1979, and since then it has been adopted by many organizations worldwide. It will also be the official romanization system in the Republic of China (Taiwan) starting in 2009 . It is used to teach Chinese schoolchildren and foreign learners the standard pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, to spell Chinese names in foreign publications and to enter Chinese characters on computers.


In 1954, the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China (PRC) created a Committee for the Reform of the Chinese Written Language. This committee developed Hanyu pinyin based upon existing systems of that time (Gwoyeu Romatzyh of 1928, Latinxua Sin Wenz of 1931, and the diacritic markings from zhuyin). The main force behind pinyin was Zhou Youguang. Zhou was working in a New York bank when he decided to return to China to help rebuild the country after the war. He became an economics professor in Shanghai. The government assigned him to help the development of a new romanization system. The switch to language and writing largely saved him from the wrath of the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong.

A first draft was published on February 12, 1956. The first edition of Hanyu pinyin was approved and adopted at the Fifth Session of the 1st National People's Congress on February 11, 1958. It was then introduced to primary schools as a way to teach Standard Mandarin pronunciation and used to improve the literacy rate among adults. In 2001, the Chinese Government issued the National Common Language Law, providing a legal basis for applying pinyin.


Pinyin superseded older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles (1859; modified 1892) and Chinese Postal Map Romanization, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic instruction in mainland China. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese in 1982 (ISO 7098:1982, superseded by ISO 7098:1991). The United Nations adopted it as an official and standardized Mandarin romanization system in 1986. It has also been accepted by the government of Singapore, the Library of Congress, the American Library Association, and many other international institutions.

The spelling of Chinese geographical or personal names in pinyin has become a standard or most common way to transcribe them in English. It has also become a useful tool for entering Chinese language text into computers.

Chinese speaking Standard Mandarin at home use pinyin to help children associate characters with spoken words which they already know; however, for the many Chinese who do not use Standard Mandarin at home, pinyin is used to teach them the Standard Mandarin pronunciation of words when they learn them in elementary school.

Pinyin has become a tool for many foreigners to learn the Mandarin pronunciation, it is used to explain the grammar and spoken Mandarin together with hanzi. Like zhuyin, it is used as a phonetic guide in books for children but also dialect speakers and foreign learners. Books containing both Chinese characters and pinyin are popular with foreign learners of Chinese, pinyin's role in teaching pronunciation to foreigners and children is similar to furigana-based books (with hiragana letters written above or next to kanji) in Japanese or fully vocalised texts in Arabic ("vocalised Arabic") but as mentioned above, pinyin is also the main romanisation method.


The correspondence between letter and sound does not follow any single other language, but does not depart any more from the norms of the Latin alphabet than many European languages. For example, the aspiration distinction between b, d, g and p, t, k is similar to that of English, but not to that of French. Z and c also have that distinction; however, they are pronounced as [ts], as in languages such as German, Italian, and Polish, which do not have that distinction. From s, z, c come the digraphs sh, zh, ch by analogy with English sh, ch; although this introduces the novel combination zh, it is internally consistent in how the two series are related, and represents the fact that many Chinese pronounce sh, zh, ch as s, z, c. In the x, j, q series, x rather resembles its pronunciation in Catalan, though q is more novel and its pronunciation is similar to the ch in China. Pinyin vowels are pronounced similarly to vowels in Romance languages. More information on the pronunciation of all pinyin letters in terms of English approximations is given further below.

The pronunciation of Chinese is generally given in terms of initials and finals, which represent the segmental phonemic portion of the language. Initials are initial consonants, while finals are all possible combinations of medials (semivowels coming before the vowel), the nucleus vowel, and coda (final vowel or consonant).

Initials and Finals

Unlike in European languages, initials and finals (or rhyming sounds) - and not consonants and vowels - are the fundamental elements in pinyin (and most other phonetic systems used to describe the Han language). Nearly each Chinese syllable can be spelled with exactly one initial followed by one final, except in the special syllable 'er' and when a trailing 'r' is considered part of a syllable (see below). The latter case, though a common practice in some sub-dialects, is rarely used in official publications.

Even though most initials contain a consonant, finals are not simple vowels, especially in compound finals i.e., when one "final" is placed in front of another one. For example, [i] and [u] are pronounced with such tight openings that some native Chinese speakers (especially when singing or on stage) pronounce yī (clothes, officially pronounced as /i/) as /ji/, wéi (to enclose, officially as /uei/) as /wei/ or /wuei/. The concepts of consonants and vowels are not incorporated in pinyin or its predecessors, despite the fact that the Roman alphabets are used in pinyin. In the entire pinyin system, there is not a list of consonants, nor a list of vowels.


In each cell below, the first line indicates the IPA, the second indicates pinyin.

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Retroflex Alveolo-
Palatal Velar
Plosive [p]
Nasal [m]
Lateral approximant [l]
Affricate [ts]
Fricative   [f]
[ʐ] 1
Approximant     [w] 2
  [ɻ] 1
[j] 3
1 /ɻ/ may phonetically be /ʐ/ (a voiced retroflex fricative). This pronunciation varies among different speakers, and is not two different phonemes.
2 the letter "w" may be considered as an initial or a final, and may be pronounced as /w/ or /u/
3 the letter "y" may be considered as an initial or a final, and may be pronounced as /j/ or /i/

Note: Letters "y" and "w" are not included in table of initials in the official pinyin system. They are used as spelling aids in place of "i", "u" and "ü" when there are no other initials, and carry the pronunciations of the corresponding finals. Consonants /j/ and /w/ are not officially used for these letters; they are absent from standard Chinese.

Conventional order (excluding w and y), derived from the zhuyin system, is:

b p m f d t n l g k h j q x zh ch sh r z c s


In each cell below, the first line indicates IPA, the second indicates pinyin for a standalone (no-initial) form, and the third indicates pinyin for a combination with an initial. Other than finals modified by an -r, which are omitted, the following is an exhaustive table of all possible finals. 1

The only syllable-final consonants in standard Mandarin are -n and -ng, and -r which is attached as a grammatical suffix. Chinese syllables ending with any other consonant is either from a non-Mandarin language (southern Chinese languages such as Cantonese, or minority languages of China), or it indicates the use of a non-pinyin Romanization system (where final consonants may be used to indicate tones).

Nucleus Coda Medial
Ø i u y
a Ø [a]
i [aɪ]
u [ɑʊ]
n [an]
-üan 2
ŋ [ɑŋ]
ə Ø [ɤ]
-uo/-o 3
-üe 2
i [eɪ]
u [oʊ]
n [ən]
-ün 2
ŋ [əŋ]

1 /ər/ (而, 二, etc.) is written as er. For other finals formed by the suffix -r, pinyin does not use special orthography; one simply appends -r to the final that it is added to, without regard for any sound changes that may take place along the way. For information on sound changes related to final -r, please see Standard Mandarin.
2 "ü" is written as "u" after j, q, x, or y.
3 "uo" is written as "o" after b, p, m, or f.
4 It is pronounced [ʊŋ] when it follows an initial, and pinyin reflects this difference.

In addition, ê [ɛ] is used to represent certain interjections.

Rules given in terms of English pronunciation

All rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximate, as several of these sounds do not correspond directly to sounds in English.

Pronunciation of initials

Pinyin IPA Explanation
b [p] unaspirated p, as in spit
p [pʰ] aspirated p, as in pit
m [m] as in English mum
f [f] as in English fun
d [t] unaspirated t, as in stop
t [tʰ] aspirated t, as in top
n [n] as in English nit
l [l] as in English love
g [k] unaspirated k, as in skill
k [kʰ] aspirated k, as in kill
h [x] like the English h if followed by "a"; otherwise it is pronounced more roughly (not unlike the Scots ch or Russian х (Cyrillic "kha")).
j [tɕ] like q, but unaspirated. While this exact sound is not used in English, the closest match is the j in ajar, not the s in Asia.
q [tɕʰ] like cheek, with the lips spread as when you say ee.
x [ɕ] like she, with the lips spread as when you say ee. The sequence "xi" is like Japanese .
zh [ʈʂ] ch with no aspiration (a sound between joke and church, tongue tip curled more upwards); very similar to merger in American English, but not voiced
ch [ʈʂʰ] as in chin, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to nurture in American English, but strongly aspirated
sh [ʂ] as in shoe, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to marsh in American English
r [ʐ] Similar to the English z in azure, but with the the tongue curled upwards, like a cross between English "r" and French "j". In Cyrillised Chinese the sound is rendered with the letter "ж".
z [ts] unaspirated c (something between suds and cats)
c [tsʰ] like ts in bats, however more aspirated
s [s] as in sun
w [u] as in water. Note that "wu" is pronounced somewhere between wooed and ude.
y [i] as in yellow. Note that "yi" is pronounced somewhere between yield and eel. "Yu" is a different sound altogether, as it represents "ü" in initial position.

Pronunciation of finals

The following is an exhaustive list of all finals in Standard Mandarin. Those ending with a final -r are listed at the end.

To find a given final:

  1. Remove the initial consonant. For zh-, ch-, sh-, both letters should be removed, they are single consonants spelt with two letters.
  2. Although y- and w- are consonants nevertheless they may be considered as part of finals and do not remove those.
    1. Syllables beginning with y- and w- may be considered as standalone forms of finals "i, u, ü" and finals beginning with "i-, u-, ü-".
  3. If a syllable begins with j-, q-, x-, or y-, and the final is -u or starts with -u-, then change -u or -u- to -ü or -ü-.

Pinyin IPA Final-only form Explanation
-i [z̩], [ʐ̩] n/a Displayed as an "i" after: "zh", "ch", "sh", "r", "z", "c" or "s". After "z", "c" or "s", sounds like a prolonged "zzz" sound. After "zh", "ch", "sh" or "r", sounds like a prolonged American "r" sound. In some dialects, pronounced slightly more open, allowing a clear-sounding vowel to pass through (a high, central, unrounded vowel, something like IPA /ɨ/; say 'zzz' and lower the tongue just enough for the buzzing to go away).
a [ɑ] a as in "father"
o [uɔ] o starts with English "oo" and ends with a plain continental "o".
e [ɤ], [ə] e a back, unrounded vowel, which can be formed by first pronouncing a plain continental "o" (AuE and NZE law) and then spreading the lips without changing the position of the tongue. That same sound is also similar to English "duh", but not as open. Many unstressed syllables in Chinese use the schwa (idea), and this is also written as e.
ê [ɛ] (n/a) as in "bet". Only used in certain interjections.
ai [aɪ] ai like English "eye", but a bit lighter
ei [ei] ei as in "hey"
ao [ɑʊ] ao approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o
ou [ou̯] ou as in "so"
an [an] an starts with plain continental "a" (AuE and NZE bud) and ends with "n"
en [ən] en as in "taken"
ang [ɑŋ] ang as in German Angst, including the English loan word angst (starts with the vowel sound in father and ends in the velar nasal; like song in American English)
eng [ɤŋ] eng like e above but with ng added to it at the back
ong [ʊŋ] n/a starts with the vowel sound in book and ends with the velar nasal sound in sing'
er [ɑɻ] er like English "are" (exists only on its own, or as the last part of a final in combination with others - see bottom of this list)
Finals beginning with i- (y-)
i [i] yi like English "ee", except when preceded by "c", "ch", "r", "s", "sh", "z" or "zh"
ia [iɑ] ya as i + a; like English "yard"
io [iɔ] yo as i + plain continental "o". Only used in certain interjections.
ie [iɛ] ye as i + ê; but is very short; e (pronounced like ê) is pronounced longer and carries the main stress (similar to the initial sound ye in yet)
iao [iɑʊ] yao as i + ao
iu [iou̯] you as i + ou
ian [iɛn] yan as i + ê + n; like English yen
in [in] yin as i + n
iang [iɑŋ] yang as i + ang
ing [iŋ] ying as i but with ng added to it at the back
iong [iʊŋ] yong as i + ong
Finals beginning with u- (w-)
u [u] wu like English "oo"
ua wa as u + a
uo [uɔ] wo as u + o; the o is pronounced shorter and lighter than in the o final
uai [uaɪ] wai as u + ai
ui [ueɪ] wei as u + ei; here, the i is pronounced like ei
uan [uan] wan as u + an
un [uən] wen as u + en; like the on in the English won
uang [uɑŋ] wang as u + ang; like the ang in English angst or anger
n/a [uɤŋ] weng as u + eng
Finals beginning with ü- (yu-)
ü [y] yu as in German "üben" or French "lune" (To get this sound, say "ee" with rounded lips)
ue [yɛ] yue as ü + ê; the ü is short and light
üan [yɛn] yuan as ü + ê+ n;
ün [yn] yun as ü + n;
Finals that are a combination of finals above + r final
ar [ɑɻ] like ar in American English "art"
er [ɤɻ] as e + r; not to be confused with er final on its own- this form only exists with an initial character before it
or [uɔɻ] as o + r
air [ɑɻ] as ar
eir [ɝ] as schwa + r
aor [ɑʊɻ] as ao + r
our [ou̯ɻ] as ou + r
anr [ɑɻ] as ar
enr [əɻ] as schwa + r
angr [ɑ̃ɻ] as ang + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized
engr [ɤ̃ɻ] as eng + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized
ongr [ʊ̃ɻ] as ong + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized
ir [iəɻ] as i + schwa + r
ir [əɻ] after "c", "ch", "r", "s", "sh", "z", "zh": as schwa + r.
iar [iɑɻ] as i + ar
ier [iɛɻ] as ie + r
iaor [iɑʊɻ] as iao + r
iur [iou̯ɻ] as iou + r
ianr [iɑɻ] as i + ar
inr [iəɻ] as ir
iangr [iɑ̃ɻ] as i + angr
ingr [iɤ̃ɻ] as i + engr
iongr [yʊ̃ɻ] as i + ongr
ur [uɻ] as u + r
uar [uɑɻ] as u + ar
uor [uɔɻ] as uo + r
uair [uɑɻ] as u + ar
uir [uɝ] as u + schwa + r
uanr [uɑɻ] as u + ar
unr [uəɻ] as u + schwa + r
uangr [uɑ̃ɻ] as u + angr
ür [yəɻ] as ü + schwa + r
üer [yɛɻ] as ue + r
üanr [yɑɻ] as ü + ar
ünr [yəɻ] as ü + schwa + r



Pinyin differs from other romanizations in several aspects, such as the following:

  • Syllables starting with u are written as w in place of u (e.g. ueng is written as weng). Standalone u is written as wu.
  • Syllables starting with i are written as y in place of i (e.g. iou is written as you). Standalone i is written as yi.
  • Syllables starting with ü are written as yu in place of ü (e.g. üe is written as yue).
  • ü is written as u when there is no ambiguity (such as ju, qu, and xu), but written as ü when there are corresponding u syllables (such as and ). In such situations where there are corresponding u syllables, it is often replaced with v on a computer, making it easier to type on a standard keyboard.
  • When preceded by a consonant, iou, uei, and uen are simplified as iu, ui, and un (which do not represent the actual pronunciation).
  • As in zhuyin, what are actually pronounced as buo, puo, muo, and fuo are given a separate representation: bo, po, mo, and fo.
  • The apostrophe (') is often used before a, o, and e to separate syllables in a word where ambiguity could arise, especially when omitting tone marks, e.g., pi'ao vs. piao (票), and Xi'an (西安) vs. xian (先).
  • Eh alone is written as ê; elsewhere as e. Schwa is always written as e.
  • zh, ch, and sh can be abbreviated as , ĉ, and ŝ (z, c, s with a circumflex). However, the shorthands are rarely used due to difficulty of entering them on computers.
  • ng has the uncommon shorthand of ŋ.
  • The letter v is unused (except in spelling foreign languages, languages of minority nationalities, and some dialects), despite a conscious effort to distribute letters more evenly than in Western languages.

Most of the above are used to avoid ambiguity when writing words of more than one syllable in pinyin. For example uenian is written as wenyan because it is not clear which syllables make up uenian; uen-ian, uen-i-an and u-en-i-an are all possible combinations whereas wenyan is unambiguous because we, nya, etc. do not exist in pinyin. See the pinyin table article for a summary of possible pinyin syllables (not including tones).

Capitalization and word formation

Although Chinese characters represent single syllables, Mandarin Chinese is a polysyllabic language. Spacing in pinyin is based on whole words, not single syllables. However, there are often ambiguities in partitioning a word. Orthographic rules were put into effect in 1988 by the National Educational Commission (国家教育委员会, pinyin: Guójiā Jiàoyù Wěiyuánhuì ) and the National Language Commission (国家语言文字工作委员会, pinyin: Guójiā Yǔyán Wénzì Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuì).

  1. General
    1. Single meaning: Words with a single meaning, which are usually set up of two characters (sometimes one, seldom three), are written together and not capitalized: rén (person); péngyou (friend), qiǎokèlì (chocolate)
    2. Combined meaning (2 characters): Same goes for words combined of two words to one meaning: hǎifēng (sea breeze); wèndá (Q&A), quánguó ('pan-national')
    3. Combined meaning (4 or more characters): Words with four or more characters having one meaning are split up with their original meaning if possible: wúfèng gāngguǎn (seamless steel-tube); huánjìng bǎohù guīhuà (environmental protection planning)
  2. Duplicated words
    1. AA: Duplicated characters (AA) are written together: rénrén (everybody), kànkàn (to have a look), niánnián (every year)
    2. ABAB: two characters duplicated (ABAB) are written separated: yánjiū yánjiū (to study, to research), xuěbái xuěbái (snow-white)
    3. AABB: A hyphen is used with the schema AABB: láilái-wǎngwǎng (go back and forth), qiānqiān-wànwàn (numerous)
  3. Nouns and names (míngcí): Nouns are written in one: zhuōzi (table), mùtou (wood)
    1. Even if accompanied by a prefix and suffix: fùbùzhǎng (vice minister), chéngwùyuán (conductor), háizimen (children)
    2. Words of position are separated: mén wài (outdoor), hé li (in the river), huǒchē shàngmian (on the train), Huáng Hé yǐnán (south of the Yellow River)
      1. Exceptions are words traditionally connected: tiānshang (in the sky), dìxia (on the ground), kōngzhōng (in the air), hǎiwài (overseas)
    3. Surnames are separated from the given name: Lǐ Huá, Zhāng Sān. If the given name consists of two syllables, it should be written as one: Wáng Jiàngguó.
    4. Titles following the name are separated and are not capitalized: Wáng bùzhǎng (minister Wang), Lǐ xiānsheng (Mr. Li), Tián zhǔrèn (director Tian), Zhào tóngzhì (comrade Zhao).
    5. The forms of addressing people with Lǎo, Xiǎo, and A are capitalized: Xiǎo Liú ([young] Ms. Liu), Dà Lǐ ([great] Mr. Li), A Sān (Ah San), Lǎo Qián ([senior] Mr. Qian), Lǎo Wú ([senior] Ms. Wu)
      1. Exceptions are: Kǒngzǐ (Master Confucius), Bāogōng (Judge Bao), Xīshī (a historical person), Mèngchángjūn (a historical person)
    6. Geographical names of China: Běijīng Shì (City of Beijing), Héběi Shěng (Province of Hebei), Yālù Jiāng (Yalu River), Tài Shān (Mt. Taishan), Dòngtíng Hú (Lake Donting), Táiwān Hǎixiá (Taiwan strait)
    7. Non-Chinese names translated back from Chinese will be written by their original writing: Marx, Einstein, London, Tokyo
  4. Verbs (dòngcí): Verbs and their suffixes (-zhe, -le and -guo) are written as one: kànzhe/kànle/kànguo (to see/saw/seen), jìngxíngzhe (to implement). Le as it appears in the end of a sentence is separated though: Huǒchē dào le (The train [has] arrived).
    1. Verbs and their objects are separated: kàn xìn (read a letter), chī yú (eat fish), kāi wánxiào (to be kidding).
    2. If verbs and their complements are each monosyllabic, they are written together, if not, separated: gǎohuài ("to make broken"), dǎsǐ (hit to death), huàwéi ("to become damp"), zhěnglǐ hǎo (to straighten out), gǎixiě wéi (rewrite a screenplay)
  5. Adjectives (xíngróngcí): A monosyllabic adjective and its reduplication are written as one: mēngmēngliàng (dim), liàngtāngtāng (shining bright)
    1. Complements of size or degree (as xiē, yīxiē, diǎnr, yīdiǎnr) are written separated: dà xiē (a little bigger), kuài yīdiānr (a bit faster)
  6. Pronouns (dàicí)
    1. The plural suffix -men directly follows up: wǒmen (we), tāmen (they)
    2. The demonstrative pronoun zhè (this), nà (that) and the question pronoun nǎ (which) are separated: zhè rén (this person), nà cì huìyì (that meeting), nǎ zhāng bàozhǐ (which newspaper)
      1. Exceptions are: nàli (there), zhèbian (over here), zhège (this piece), zhème (so), zhèmeyàng (that way)... and similar ones.
  7. Numerals and measure words (shùcí hé liàngcí)
    1. Words like /měi (every, each), mǒu (any), běn (that), gāi (that), (mine, our), are separated from the measure words following them: gè guó (every nation), gè gè (everyone), měi nián (every year), mǒu gōngchǎng (a certain factory), wǒ xiào (our school).


The pinyin system also uses diacritics for the four tones of Mandarin, usually above a non-medial vowel. Many books printed in China mix fonts, with vowels and tone marks rendered in a different font than the surrounding text, tending to give such pinyin texts a typographically ungainly appearance. This style, most likely rooted in early technical limitations, has led many to believe that pinyin's rules call for this practice and also for the use of a Latin alpha ("ɑ") rather than the standard style of the letter ("a") found in most fonts. The official rules of Hanyu Pinyin, however, specify no such practice. Note that tone marks can also appear on consonants in certain vowelless exclamations.

  1. The first tone (Flat or High Level Tone) is represented by a macron (ˉ) added to the pinyin vowel:
  2. :
    ā (ɑ̄) ē ī ō ū ǖ Ā Ē Ī Ō Ū Ǖ
  3. The second tone (Rising or High-Rising Tone) is denoted by an acute accent (ˊ):
  4. :
    á (ɑ́) é í ó ú ǘ Á É Í Ó Ú Ǘ
  5. The third tone (Falling-Rising or Low Tone) is marked by a caron/háček (ˇ). It is not the rounded breve (˘), though a breve is sometimes substituted due to font limitations.
  6. :
    ǎ (ɑ̌) ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ Ǎ Ě Ǐ Ǒ Ǔ Ǚ
  7. The fourth tone (Falling or High-Falling Tone) is represented by a grave accent (ˋ):
  8. :
    à (ɑ̀) è ì ò ù ǜ À È Ì Ò Ù Ǜ
  9. The fifth or neutral tone (Neutral Tone) is represented by a normal vowel without any accent mark:
  10. :
    a (ɑ) e i o u ü A E I O U Ü

(In some cases, this is also written with a dot before the syllable; for example, ·ma.)

These tone marks normally are only used in Mandarin textbooks or in foreign learning texts, but they are essential for correct pronunciation of Mandarin syllables, as exemplified by the following classic example of five characters whose pronunciations differ only in their tones:

Traditional characters:

Simplified characters:

The words are "mother", "hemp", "horse", "scold" and a question particle, respectively.

Numerals in place of tone marks

Since before the advent of computers, many fonts did not contain vowels with macron or caron diacritics, a common convention for tone is to add a tone number at the end of individual syllables. For example, tóng is written tong2. The number used for each tone is as the order listed above (except the neutral tone, which is either not numbered or numbered zero, as in ma0 吗/嗎 (an interrogative marker).
Tone Tone Mark Number added to end of syllable
in place of tone mark
Example using
tone mark
Example using
First macron (ˉ ) 1 ma1 mɑ˥˥
Second acute accent (ˊ ) 2 ma2 mɑ˧˥
Third caron (ˇ ) 3 ma3 mɑ˨˩˦
Fourth grave accent (ˋ ) 4 ma4 mɑ˥˩
"Neutral" No mark
or dot before syllable (·)
no number

Rules for placing the tone mark

The rules for determining on which vowel the tone mark appears when there are multiple vowels are as follows:

  1. First, look for an "a" or an "e". If either vowel appears, it takes the tone mark. There are no possible pinyin syllables that contain both an "a" and an "e".
  2. If there is no "a" or "e", look for an "ou". If "ou" appears, then the "o" takes the tone mark.
  3. If none of the above cases hold, then the last vowel in the syllable takes the tone mark.

(y and w are not considered vowels for these rules.)

The reasoning behind these rules is in the case of diphthongs and triphthongs, i, u, and ü (and their orthographic equivalents y and w when there is no initial consonant) are considered medial glides rather than part of the syllable nucleus in Chinese phonology. The rules ensure that the tone mark always appears on the nucleus of a syllable.

The character "ü"

An umlaut is placed over the letter u when it occurs after the initials l and n in order to represent the sound [y]. This is necessary in order to distinguish the front high rounded vowel in (e.g. 驴/驢 donkey) from the back high rounded vowel in lu (e.g. 炉/爐 oven). Tonal markers are added on top of the umlaut, as in .

However, the ü is not used in other contexts where it represents a front high rounded vowel, namely after the letters j, q, x and y. For example, the sound of the word 鱼/魚 (fish) is transcribed in pinyin simply as , not as . This practice is opposed to Wade-Giles, which always uses ü, and Tongyong pinyin, which always uses yu. Whereas Wade-Giles needs to use the umlaut to distinguish between chü (pinyin ju) and chu (pinyin zhu), this ambiguity cannot arise with pinyin, so the more convenient form ju is used instead of . Genuine ambiguities only happen with nu/ and lu/, which are then distinguished by an umlaut diacritic.

Many fonts or output methods do not support an umlaut for ü or cannot place tone marks on top of ü. Likewise, using ü in input methods is difficult because it is not present as a simple key on many keyboard layouts. For these reasons v is sometimes used instead by convention. Occasionally, uu (double u), u: (u followed by a colon) or U (capital u) is used in its place.

Comparison chart

Pinyin in Taiwan

Taiwan adopted Tongyong pinyin, a modification of Hanyu pinyin, on the national level in October 2002. This has resulted in political controversy, much of it centered on issues of national identity, with proponents of Chinese reunification favoring Hanyu pinyin, used in the People's Republic of China, and proponents of Taiwanese independence favoring the use of Tongyong pinyin.

Localities with governments controlled by the Kuomintang, most notably Taipei City, have overridden the 2002 administrative order and converted to Hanyu pinyin, though with a slightly different capitalization convention than the Mainland. As a result, the use of romanization on signage in Taiwan is inconsistent, with many places using Tongyong pinyin but some using Hanyu pinyin, and still others not yet having had the resources to replace older Wade-Giles or MPS2 signage. This has resulted in the odd situation in Taipei in which inconsistent romanizations are shown in freeway directions, with freeway signs, under the control of the national government, using one system, but surface street signs, under the control of the city government, using the other.

Primary education in Taiwan continues to teach pronunciation using zhuyin annotation. Although the ROC government has stated the desire to use romanization rather than zhuyin in education, the lack of agreement on which form of pinyin to use and the huge logistical challenge of teacher training has stalled these efforts.

In 2008, the government announced plans to convert to Hanyu pinyin as the official romanization for Taiwan, effective January 1, 2009.

Other languages

Pinyin-like systems have been devised for other variants of Chinese. Guangdong Romanization is a set of romanizations devised by the government of Guangdong province for Cantonese, Teochew, Hakka (Moiyen dialect), and Hainanese. All of these are designed to use Latin letters in a similar way to pinyin.

In addition, in accordance to the Regulation of Phonetic Transcription in Hanyu Pinyin Letters of Place Names in Minority Nationality Languages (少数民族语地名汉语拼音字母音译转写法) promulgated in 1976, place names in non-Chinese languages like Mongol, Uyghur, and Tibetan are also officially transcribed using pinyin. The pinyin letters (26 Roman letters, ü, ê) are used to approximate the non-Chinese language in question as closely as possible. This results in spellings that are different from both the customary spelling of the place name, and the pinyin spelling of the name in Chinese:

Customary Official (pinyin for local name) Chinese name Pinyin for Chinese name
Shigatse Xigazê 日喀则 Rìkāzé
Urumchi Ürümqi 乌鲁木齐 Wūlǔmùqí
Lhasa Lhasa 拉萨 Lāsà
Golmud Golmud 格尔木 Gé'ěrmù

''See also: Tibetan pinyin

Comparison with other orthographies

Pinyin is now used by foreign students learning Chinese as a second language.

Pinyin assigns some Roman letters phonological values which are quite different from that of most languages.

Pinyin is purely a representation of the sounds of Mandarin, therefore it lacks the semantic cues that Chinese characters can provide. It is also unsuitable for transcribing some Chinese spoken languages other than Mandarin.

Simple computer systems, able only to display only 7-bit ASCII text (essentially the 26 Latin letters, 10 digits and punctuation marks), long provided the most convincing argument in favor of pinyin over hanzi. Today, however, most computer systems are able to display characters from Chinese and many other writing systems as well, and have them entered with a Latin keyboard using an input method editor. Alternatively, some PDAs, tablet PCs and digitizing tablets allow users to input characters directly by writing with a stylus.

Entering toned pinyin on a computer

Mac OS X

Activate the "US Extended" keyboard (found in the "Input Menu" tab of the "International' section of the System Preferences) and then do:

  • Option-a and then to create the first tones: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū
  • Option-e and then to create the second tones: á, é, í, ó, ú
  • Option-v and then to create the third tone: ǎ, ě, ǐ, ǒ, ǔ
  • Option-` and then to create the fourth tone: à, è, ì, ò, ù
  • u and then Shift-Option-u and then Shift-Option- gives ǖ, ǘ, ǚ or ǜ.
  • v may be entered as a to produce a ü. For instance, Option-e v produces ǘ. Option-u u produces a ü without tone marks.


Many Chinese IMEs allow a pinyin toggle in addition to the simplified–traditional character toggle. The user can then type using pinyin with tone marks using the alphanumeric keys on a standard keyboard; the popular 紫光拼音输入法 is one such example. Pinyinput is a Windows-based IME that allows you to type toned pinyin with ease. Because it works at the system level, it will allow you to type pinyin with tones in any Windows program just as easily as you would type Chinese (in fact even easier, because you don't need to select the correct character). Activate the IME then start typing pinyin. Type a number from 1-4 after a pinyin syllable, and the corresponding tone will automatically be placed on the correct vowel of that syllable.

Further reading

  • Gao, J. K. (2005). Pinyin shorthand: a bilingual handbook = [Pinyin su ji fa]. Dallas, TX: Jack Sun. ISBN 1599712512
  • Kimball, R. L. (1988). Quick reference Chinese: a practical guide to Mandarin for beginners and travelers in English, Pinyin romanization, and Chinese characters. San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals. ISBN 0835120368
  • Wu, C.-j. (1979). The Pinyin Chinese-English dictionary. Hong Kong: Commercial Press. ISBN 0471275573

See also


  • Yin Binyong 尹斌庸 and Mary Felley (1990). Chinese Romanization. Pronunciation and Orthography (Hanyu pinyin he zhengcifa 汉语拼音和正词法). Beijing: Sinolingua. ISBN 7-80052-148-6 / ISBN 0-8351-1930-0.


External links

Pinyin courses


  • Add toned pinyin on top of Chinese characters
  • Convert Chinese characters to pinyin
  • Google IME: Chinese Input Method Editor (IME)
  • Loqu8 iNterpreter: Translates simplified or traditional Chinese to pinyin (with tone marks) and English.
  • Online pinyin annotation tool: Adds inline or pop-up pinyin annotations for snippets of Traditional or Simplified Chinese text or web sites.
  • Pinyin Annotation Tool Displays pinyin below any simplified Chinese text. Offers choice of annotating all characters or only less common characters, depending on skill level.
  • Pinyin Annotator Displays pinyin above any Chinese text (in Firefox) or next to individual words (in IE). Mouse over any word to see English translation. Save output to OpenOffice Writer format. Prints nicely. Also adds pinyin to any Chinese web page.
  • Pinyin Tone Tool Converts pinyin with tone numbers into pinyin with tone marks above the correct vowels. Doesn't require page re-loads.
  • Pinyin Translator: Displays pinyin with tone marks for traditional or simplified Chinese text. Pinyin is displayed after each Chinese word.
  • Pinyin4j: Java library supporting Chinese to various pinyin representations Supports Simplified and Traditional Chinese; target pinyin systems include Hanyu pinyin, Tongyong pinyin, Wade-Giles, MPS2, Yale, and Gwoyeu Romatzyh; supports multiple pronunciations of a single character; supports customized output, such as ü or tone marks.
  • Pinyinput An IME that outputs pinyin with tone marks and greatly simplifies the process of entering pinyin with tone marks on Windows.


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