Learn Chinese -- The 80/20 Guide to Chinese pronunciation - Part 2

“Just give me the basics!” That’s what this Chinese pronunciation guide is all about. It's all that you need to know Chinese pronunciation to get by. The 80% that’s important.


To continue with the basics of Chinese pronunciation...

Back to 80/20 guide to Chinese pronunciation Part 1

“So where do I place the tone marks?”

To place the tone marks, just follow these simple rules:

  1. In simple vowels the tone mark is placed over the vowel
  2. Exception: If the letter “i” has a tone mark over it, the dot is removed.”

    A1 e2 I3 o4 u1 ü3

  3. In compound vowels, the “a” always carries the tone mark. If “a” is not present, then the tone mark is placed over “o” or “e”
  4. Examples: Ai1 ao2 ia3 ua4, Ou1 uo2 ei3 ie4

  5. When “I” and “u” are found in a compound (two or three) vowel, the tone mark is always placed over the second vowel.
  6. Iu1 ui2 uai3

See, I told you that was easy!

What? What else is there to know about Chinese pronunciation using pinyin?

Introducing the “umlaut”...

This strange looking and sounding word – it’s derived from German and means “changed sound” – refers to the two dots .. over “u” like in ü and is pronounced like the “u” in French rue.

The two dots only appear after “n” or “l” like in

nü3, lü2, lüe4

When it is preceded by “j, q, x or y”, the two dots may be omitted.

One more thing to wrap up this 80/20 guide to Chinese pronunciation i.e. this information covers the 80% of vital information you need to get by and see effective results.

The 5th tone…

What? Didn’t you say there are only 4 tones?

Yes, I did. The 5th tone, known as a neutral tone is unlike the other 4 tones.

It is found only in a few characters and carries no meaning of their own. They function as suffixes to give a relaxed (light, soft and short) ending sound. The best examples are “ma ma” 妈妈and “pa pa” 爸爸. The second syllable is always pronounced softly.

Other examples are

Le 乐
Na 哪
De 的
Zi 子
Ma 嘛
A 啊
Ne 呢
Me 么
De 得
Ba 吧
De 地
Lie 咧
Men 们
Zhe 着

And, there is no tone mark for the neutral tone.

Here’s a list of two syllable words, in which the first syllable is stressed, and the second syllable is neutralized.


Ge1 ge1 = ge1 ge 哥哥 elder brotherMa1 ma1 = ma1 ma 妈妈 mother


Peng2 you3 = peng2 you 朋友friend
Ming2 bai3 = ming2 bai 明白understand

Third tone

Jie3 jie3 = jie3 jie 姐姐 elder sister

Fourth tone

Ba4 ba4 = ba4 ba 爸爸 father
Di4 di4 = di4 di 弟弟 younger brother
Mei4 mei4 = mei4 mei 妹妹 younger sister
Tai4 yang2 = tai4 yang 太阳 sun

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