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Chinese Pinyin Lesson 4 – Pinyin Pronunciation and Spelling Rules 

 January 11, 2020

By  Vicky Yi

Hi, there! Nice to meet you again! In the previous lessons, we have learned almost everything about Pinyin. Today, you will learn some tips for making your Pinyin spelling and Chinese pronunciation more authentic. 

Some are just a little tiny spelling symbol, but they are easy to be ignored. Some are tone changing rules, need you spend some time to practice and understand. And some are pronunciation technique, a bit of difficult, even for some native Chinese speakers. In addition, I have prepared more content for you to practice pronunciation.

Let’s get started.

Sound distinction symbol

When syllables beginning with ɑ, o or e go after other syllables, pronunciation confusion might occur. In such cases, the sound distinction symbol (’) is used to distinguish the syllables, such as Tiān’ān Mén天安门 (Tian’an Men, an ancient building in the center of Beijing).

The retroflex –r final

Since Mandarin Chinese mainly uses Beijing dialect as the standard pronunciation, there are many retroflex syllables, which is one of the main features for Beijing dialect.

  • The spelling of a syllable with the retroflex ending requires adding “r” at the end of the original final.
  • In terms of its function, the retroflex ending r may only indicate slight changes in pronunciation without changing meanings, for example:
         ○ wánr玩儿 (play) and 
         ○ wán玩(play).
  • In other cases, it may be used to differentiate meanings, such as:
         ○ tóu头(head) and
         ○ tóur头儿(boss). 
  • To pronounce "r" in Chinese, it requires some technique: you should pronounce the simple final “e” first and then raise a little bit of your tongue, curl it back a little and then immediately relax it.

The retroflex mainly exists in northern China accent. For other native Chinese speakers in southern China, Taiwan and Singapore, this pronunciation is also very challenging for them.

If you can't pronounce r-ending well, don't be discouraged. If you can, then native speaker who cannot make this sound will be very jealous of you.

Tones Changing Rules:3+3 →2+3

When a third tone is followed by another third tone, the first third tone should be pronounced in a rising sound, as a second tone. For example, nǐ hǎo(Chinese character:你好means “hello” in English) is pronounced as ní hǎo.

Tones Changing Rules: Tones Changing of Character “一” (yī)

Originally, “一” should read as the first tone - yī. However, when “一” is followed by other characters with a first, second, or third tone, “一” should be pronounced as a fourth tone. And when “一” followed by other character with a fourth tone, “一” should be pronounced as a second tone.

Here are the examples.

Original Pinyin

Pinyin After Changing

Chinese

Characters

Meanings

yī xiē

xiē

一些

adj. some

yī zhí

zhí

一直

adv. always

yī qǐ

一起

adv. together

yī biān

biān

一边

one side; 

at the same time

yī diǎnr

diǎnr

一点儿

a few/little

yī gòng

gòng.

一共

adv.& pron. all

yī qiè

qiè

一切

pron. everything

yī bàn

bàn

一半

n.& adj. half

Tones Changing Rules: Tone Changing of Character “不” (bù)

Originally, “不” should read as the forth tone - . when “不” followed by other character with a forth tone, “不” should be pronounced as a second tone,a rising tone.

Here are the examples.

Original

Pinyin

Pinyin After Changing

Chinese

Characters

Meanings

bù kuài

kuài

不快

adj. upset

bù cuò

cuò

不错

not bad

bù yào

yào

不要

do not want

bù biàn

biàn

不变

adj. unchanged

Exercise

Unlike most languages, for Chinese, same syllables with different tones may convey different meanings. Therefore, it is necessary to make every tone accurate. 

Below are words made up of two Chinese characters,arranged in tone order, and the second character without tone mark is neutral tone. You can practice the following words as best as you can.

fēng zhēng

shā fā

fēi jī

qiū tiān

kite

sofa

airplane

autumn

— /

zhōng guó

huān yíng

xīn qíng

jīnnián

China

welcome

mood

this year

— V

shēn tǐ

xiāng shuǐ

jī chǎng

qiān bǐ

body

perfume

airport

pencil

— \

gong zuò

chī fàn

sheng qì

yī yuàn

work

eat meal

angry

hospital

tā men

gē ge

zhī dao

they

older brother

know

/ —

zuó tiān

céng jīng

nián xīn

nián qīng

yesterday

once

annual salary

young

/  /

cháng cháng

huáng hé

wén míng

rén mín

often

Yellow River

civilization

people

/  V

méi yǒu

rén kǒu

chá guǎn

chí jiǔ

do not have

population

tea house

lasting

/  \

chí dào

hún dàn

nán kàn

yàng

be late

asshole

ugly

the same

/

míng zi

shí hou

péng you

xué sheng

name

point of time

friend

student

V  —

lǎo shī

běi jīng

ěr jī

shuǐ bēi

teacher

Beijing

headphone

cup

V   /

xiǎo shí

kě néng

shuǐ píng

fǎ guó

hour

maybe

level

France

V   V

xiǎng fǎ

guǎng chǎng

kǒng zǐ

hěn hǎo

idea

square, plaza

Confucious

well

V   \

zhǔ fàn

dǎo luàn

xǐ cài

zhǔ yào

cook meal

make trouble

wash vegetables

main

V

jiǎo zi

hǎo ba

wǎn shang

zǎo shang

dumplings

all right

evening

morning

\  —

kè tīng

qì chē

dà shēng

fù qīn

living room

car

loudly

father

\   /

dì tú

sì shí

Lùn wén

tòu míng

map

forty

academic paper

transparent

\  V

rì běn

hàn yǔ

shàng hǎi

xiào guǒ

Japan

Chinese language

Shanghai

effect

\  \

zài jiàn

hàn zì

lǜ sè

xìng yùn

goodbye

Chinese character

green

lucky

\

xiè xie

dì fang

bà ba

yìng dù

thank you

place

dad

hardness

-r final

nǎr

zhèr

yī diǎnr

nǚ háir

where

here

a little/ few

girl

Keep Practicing…

Congratulations, you have already completed all the lessons of Pinyin, this is no small achievement. If you want to pronounce Chinese well, you need to practice a lot. You can try to practice these Pinyin in Mini-test above. 

The more you speak, the more opportunity you’ll get to practice them and the more perfect your Chinese will be! If you know any native Chinese-speakers, try and practice what you’ve learned with them.

Good luck and have fun!

Vicky Yi


Vicky Yi is a language enthusiast. She has some experience in teaching Chinese to foreigners. Previously a journalist in one of the most influential press media in China, she now devotes herself into experiencing various cultures and the beautiful world.

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