For other uses see Pinyin (disambiguation).
Pinyin, more formally Hanyu pinyin, is the most commonly used Romanization system for Standard Mandarin. Hanyu is the Han (Chinese) language, and pinyin means "phonetics", or more literally, "spelling sound" or "spelled 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 1982 , and since then it has been adopted by many organizations worldwide. Since January 1, 2009, it is also the official romanization system in the Republic of China (commonly known as Taiwan).  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Pinyin superseded older romanization systems such as Wade-Giles (1859; modified 1892) and Chinese Postal Map Romanization, and replaced zhuyin as the method of Chinese phonetic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for Standardization (ISO) adopted pinyin as the standard romanization for modern Chinese in 1982 (ISO 7098:1982, superseded by ISO 7098:1991).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).
Unlike in European languages, initials (Simplified Chinese: 声母; Traditional Chinese: 聲母; Pinyin: shengmu) and finals (Simplified Chinese: 韵母; Traditional Chinese: 韻母; Pinyin: yunmu, 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 (Simplified Chinese: 复韵母; Traditional Chinese: 複韻母; Pinyin: fuyunmu), 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 (Simplified Chinese: 衣; Traditional Chinese: 衣, clothes, officially pronounced as ) as , wéi (Simplified Chinese: 围; Traditional Chinese: 圍, to enclose, officially as ) as or . 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.
|2 or 3|
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).
Technically, i, u, ü without a following vowel are finals, not medials, and therefore take the tone marks, but they are more concisely displayed as above. In addition, ê and syllabic nasals like m are used as interjections.
All rules given here in terms of English pronunciation are approximate, as several of these sounds do not correspond directly to sounds in English.
|b||unaspirated p, as in spit|
|p||strongly aspirated p, as in pit|
|m||as in English mum|
|f||as in English fun|
|d||unaspirated t, as in stop|
|t||strongly aspirated t, as in top|
|n||as in English nit|
|l||as in English love|
|g||unaspirated k, as in skill|
|k||strongly aspirated k, as in kill|
|h||like the English h if followed by "a"; otherwise it is pronounced more roughly (like the Scots ch or Russian х (Cyrillic "kha")).|
|j||like q, but unaspirated. Not unlike the j in jingle. Not the s in Asia, despite the common English pronunciation of "Beijing".|
|q||like cheek, with the lips spread as when you say ee. Strongly aspirated.|
|x||like she, with the lips spread as when you say ee. The sequence "xi" is like Japanese し shi.|
|zh||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||as in chin, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to nurture in American English, but strongly aspirated|
|sh||as in shoe, but with the tongue curled upwards; very similar to marsh in American English|
|r||Similar to the English z in azure, but with 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||unaspirated c (something between suds and cats)|
|c||like ts in bats, but strongly aspirated|
|s||as in sun|
|w||as in water.*|
|y||as in yes.*|
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:
|Pinyin||IPA||Form with zero initial||Explanation|
|-i||,||n/a||-i is a buzzed continuation of the consonant following z-, c-, s-, zh-, ch-, sh- or r-.|
(In all other words, -i has the sound of bee; this is listed below.)
|a||a||as in "father"|
|o||o||starts with English "oo" and ends with a plain continental "o".|
|e||,||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||(n/a)||as in "bet". Only used in certain interjections.|
|ai||ai||like English "eye", but a bit lighter|
|ei||ei||as in "hey"|
|ao||ao||approximately as in "cow"; the a is much more audible than the o|
|ou||ou||as in "so"|
|an||an||starts with plain continental "a" (AuE and NZE bud) and ends with "n"|
|en||en||as in "taken"|
|ang||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||eng||like e above but with ng added to it at the back|
|ong||weng||starts with the vowel sound in book and ends with the velar nasal sound in sing|
|er||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)|
|colspan=4||Finals beginning with i- (y-)|
|i||yi||like English bee.|
|ia||ya||as i + a; like English "yard"|
|io||yo||as i + plain continental "o". Only used in certain interjections.|
|ie||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||yao||as i + ao|
|iu||you||as i + ou|
|ian||yan||as i + ê + n; like English yen|
|in||yin||as i + n|
|iang||yang||as i + ang|
|ing||ying||as i but with ng added to it at the back|
|iong||yong||as yu + ong|
|colspan=4||Finals beginning with u- (w-)|
|u||wu||like English "oo"; pronounced as ü after j, q, x and y|
|ua||wa||as u + a|
|uo||wo||as u + o; the o is pronounced shorter and lighter than in the o final|
|uai||wai||as u + ai|
|ui||wei||as u + ei; here, the i is pronounced like ei|
|uan||wan||as u + an; pronounced as üan after j, q, x and y|
|un||wen||as u + en; like the on in the English won; pronounced as ün after j, q, x and y|
|uang||wang||as u + ang; like the ang in English angst or anger|
|ong||weng||as u + eng|
|colspan=4||Finals beginning with ü- (yu-)|
|u, ü||yu||as in German "üben" or French "lune" (To get this sound, say "ee" with rounded lips)|
|ue, üe||yue||as ü + ê; the ü is short and light|
|uan||yuan||as ü + ê+ n;|
|un, ün||yun||as ü + n;|
|colspan=4||Finals that are a combination of finals above + r final|
|ar||like ar in American English "art"|
|er||as e + r; not to be confused with er final on its own- this form only exists with an initial character before it|
|or||as o + r|
|eir||as schwa + r|
|aor||as ao + r|
|our||as ou + r|
|enr||as schwa + r|
|angr||as ang + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized|
|engr||as eng + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized|
|ongr||as ong + r, with ng removed and the vowel nasalized|
|ir||as i + schwa + r|
|ir||after "c", "ch", "r", "s", "sh", "z", "zh": as schwa + r.|
|iar||as i + ar|
|ier||as ie + r|
|iaor||as iao + r|
|iur||as iou + r|
|ianr||as i + ar|
|iangr||as i + angr|
|ingr||as i + engr|
|iongr||as i + ongr|
|ur||as u + r|
|uar||as u + ar|
|uor||as uo + r|
|uair||as u + ar|
|uir||as u + schwa + r|
|uanr||as u + ar|
|unr||as u + schwa + r|
|uangr||as u + angr|
|ür||as ü + schwa + r|
|üer||as ue + r|
|üanr||as ü + ar|
|ünr||as ü + schwa + r|
Pinyin differs from other romanizations in several aspects, such as the following:
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).
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).
The pinyin system also uses diacritics to mark the four tones of Mandarin. The diacritic is placed over the letter that represents the syllable nucleus, unless that letter is missing (see below). Many books printed in China use a mix of 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 ("") rather than the standard style of the letter ("") found in most fonts. The official rules of Hanyu Pinyin, however, specify no such practice.
(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:
The words are "mother", "hemp", "horse", "scold" and a question particle, respectively.
Before the advent of computers, many typewriter fonts did not contain vowels with macron or caron diacritics. Therefore, 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 given the number 0 or 5, e.g. ma5 for 吗/嗎, an interrogative marker).
|Tone||Tone Mark||Number added to end of syllable|
in place of tone mark
|First||macron ( ˉ )||1||mā||ma1|
|Second||acute accent ( ˊ )||2||má||ma2|
|Third||caron ( ˇ )||3||mǎ||ma3|
|Fourth||grave accent ( ˋ )||4||mà||ma4|
|"Neutral"||No mark |
or dot before syllable (·)
Pinyin tone marks appear primarily above the nucleus of the syllable, for example as in kuài, where k is the initial, u the medial, a the nucleus, and i the coda. (See above.) Except in the case of syllabic nasals like m, where the nucleus of the syllable is a consonant, the diacritic will be carried by a vowel.
When the nucleus is /ə/ (written e or o), and there is both a medial and a coda, the nucleus may be dropped from writing. When the coda is a consonant n or ng, the only vowel left is the medial i, u, or ü, and so this takes the diacritic. However, when the coda is a vowel, it is the coda rather than the medial which takes the diacritic. This occurs with syllables ending in -ui, from wei, and in -iu, from you (wèi → -uì; yòu → -iù). That is, finals have priority, as long as they are vowels: if not, the medial takes the diacritic.
An algorithm to find the correct vowel letter (when there is more than one) is as follows:
If the tone is written over an i, the dot above the i is omitted, as in yī.
An trema 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 lü (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 trema, as in lǘ.
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 yú, not as yǘ. 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 trema 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 jü. Genuine ambiguities only happen with nu/nü and lu/lü, which are then distinguished by a trema (diacritic).
Many fonts or output methods do not support a trema 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.
Although nüe written in nue, and lüe written in lue won't be confusing, nue or lue is not correct according the rules. You should use nüe and lüe. However, some Chinese input method (e.g. Microsoft Pinyin IME) both support nve/lve(here v is for ü) and nue/lue.
The Republic of China (located in Taiwan) adopted Tongyong pinyin, a modification of Hanyu pinyin, as the official romanization system on the national level between October 2002 and January 2009, when it switched to Hanyu pinyin. The romanization system in use became a political issue, much of it centered on issues of national identity, with proponents of Chinese reunification favoring Hanyu pinyin, the official romanization system used in the People's Republic of China as well as internationally, and proponents of Taiwanese independence favoring the use of the locally developed Tongyong pinyin.
The adoption of Tongyong pinyin was an administrative order that could be overruled by local governments. Some localities with governments controlled by the Kuomintang, most notably Taipei, Hsinchu, and Kinmen County, overrode the order and converted to Hanyu pinyin before the January 1, 2009 national-level switch,  though with a slightly different capitalization convention than mainland China. As a result, the use of romanization on signage in Taiwan was, and still 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 led to odd situations: for instance, in Taipei there were inconsistent romanizations shown in freeway directions: freeway signs, under the control of the central government, used Tongyong, while surface street signs, under the control of the city government, used, and still use, Hanyu Pinyin.
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.
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|
See also: Tibetan pinyin
Pinyin is now used by foreign students learning Chinese as a second language.
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 a 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.
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 Ziguang Pinyin IME 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.
Activate the "US Extended" keyboard (found in the "Input Menu" tab of the "International' section of the System Preferences) and then do:
Chinese Input Method Editor (IME)
Translates simplified or traditional Chinese to pinyin (with tone marks) and English.
Adds inline or pop-up pinyin annotations for snippets of Traditional or Simplified Chinese text or web sites.
Displays pinyin with tone marks for traditional or simplified Chinese text. Pinyin is displayed after each Chinese word.
Translate English, Simplified or Traditional Chinese to pinyin (with tone marks) Free.