Pinyin 拼音

2. Initials b p m f d t n l g k h - 声母

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A Mandarin syllable consists of three components: an initial, a final and a tone. Pinyin uses the same letters as the English alphabet except for the letter v plus the addition of ū. All of the consonants represent basically the same sound that they have in English with the following exceptions:

  • The letters b, d, and g are really the unaspirated versions of p, t, and k. This simply means that they are pronounced in the way the letters p, t, and k are pronounced after the letter s (as in spy, stay, and sky). The difference is subtle enough that, unfortunately, many Chinese phrasebooks do not bother to point out this crucial difference.
  • The letters q, x, z, and c are pronounced more like the letters ch, sh, ds, and ts in cheap, she, suds, and cats, respectively.
  • The letters zh, ch, sh, r are known as the retroflex initials, meaning that they should be pronounced with the tongue curled backwards.
It takes a lot of practice to get these initials sound correct, especially for zh, ch, sh since they are unique for Chinese. No other language has this way to speak. Also q, x, z, c are easily been confused with same letter in western languages.


Click to each pinyin below to listen to its sound and say it as close as you can. Pay attention to tones.

          ba                    bo                              
                                                            
          ma          me                                        
                                                            
          da          de                                        
          ta                                                  
                    ne                                        
          la          le          lo          li          lu