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01 July, 2007:
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Putonghua Finals Pronunciation Guide

The Following is a guide to the final sounds of Putonghua based on English pronunciations. Keep in mind that it is not a guide to the pronunciation of letters, but to the pronunciation of the sounds of a language. Also remember that the English sounds used below are NOT exact equivalents to those of Chinese. There is no replacement for hearing and imitating the pronunciation of a native speaker. Our Finals Chart takes a more detailed look at syllable finals.

a- sounds like the “a” in car
o/uo- sounds like the “who” in whoa
ou- sounds like the “ow” in low
e- sounds like the “oo” in book
(ch)i- sounds like the “i” in hill
i- sounds like the “ee” in see
ao- sounds like the “ow” in how
ei- sounds like the “ay” in say
ü- sounds like the “u” in the French “tu” (Sorry to use another foreign language, but this is a sound that does not exist in English)
n- sounds like the “n” in ton
ng- sounds like the “ng” in talking

In general, the finals are more intuitive than the initials, although there are a few important features to remember, especially when reading Pinyin:

in Hanyu Pinyin, i is pronounced like the “ee” in see, unless it follows a retroflex initial (zh-, ch-, sh-, r-) or a voiceless affricate (z-, c-, s-). After these initials, -i is pronounced as a buzz.

-ü- is a vowel that is completely foreign to English. It is a high front rounded vowel. This sound is similar to the French “u” in tu. The easiest way to learn how to pronounce it is to say the “ee” in sweet, then round your lips as if you’re getting ready to kiss someone or whistle. Once you have figured out how to pronounce -ü-, you should understand why it cannot be pronounced after a retroflex initial!

After the alveolar-palatal affricates (j-, q-, x-) there can only be a high front vowel (-i- or –ü-). Therefore, in these situations, the umlaut (the two dots above the ü) are omitted in Pinyin.

The semi-vowels u, ü, and i can occur either as a final or at the beginning of a word (in which case the word is said to not have an initial. When these sounds occur initially, they are transcribed differently, but they maintain the same pronunciation:

“i” is written as “y” at the beginning of a syllable
“ü” is written as “yu” at the beginning of a syllable
“u” is written as “w” at the beginning of a syllable

For a more detailed look at Putonghua finals that includes IPA spellings, Click Here.

For a guide to the pronunciation of syllable initials, Click Here.