Chinese Initials and Finals

Chinese Initials and Finals

The pronunciation and spelling of Chinese characters are generally given in terms of initials (i.e. consonants) and finals (possible combinations of vowels and consonants). The following two tables describe the pronunciation of each Chinese initial and final in pinyin and how they are approximated in the Chinese Blockbuster series using the five European languages.

Table 1: Pronunciation of initials

Pinyin Sound description European equivalent
b Not aspirated, between b and p. b
c Sounds like t followed by s (cats) or German z (Zeitung). Pronounced strongly aspirated. English ts
German z
ch Strongly aspirated, as English or Spanish ch (chin, chofer) or Italian ce (cenare). English ch, tsh

Spanish ch
Italian ce


d t not aspirated, between d and t. d


f As English f. f


g k not aspirated, between g and k. Hard g


h Like Scottish ch (loch), English or German h (Hund), French or German r (roue, raus) and Spanish j (jefe). English h

French r

Spanish j

German h, r

j Similar to the English pronunciation of the letter G, not aspirated. English: Soft j, g. Thee for pinyin starting with ji.

French dj. French or German du and dü for pinyin starting with ju.

Italian soft g

k Strongly aspirated k. Hard c, k, qu
l As English l. l
m As English m. m
n As English n. n
p Strongly aspirated p. p
q Similar to an aspirated pinyin j. Sounds like English ch (cheek), Italian c (cin cin), Spanish ch (bachiller) and French Canadian t when followed by u (tulipe). English ch

French t for pinyin starting with qu

Italian ci

Spanish ch

r Between English r and French j (bonjour). English r

French j

s As English s (sun). s and soft French c
sh As English s, ch and sh (sure, chandelier, shoe) or French ch (chêne). English s, sh

French ch

German sch

t Strongly aspirated t. t
w As English w (water). English w
x A sound between s (sea) and sh (shoe). English s, c, sh

French s, c, ch

Spanish s, c

German sch and ‘special’ s

y As in yes. Pronounced like English letter e when written yi and like French u when written yu. English e, i, y

French u, eu, hu, hi, hy (h is silent in French)

z Sounds like d followed by s (suds) or Italian z (pizza). English ds, dz, z

Italian z

zh Rather like English soft j or g (joke, genetic). English soft j, g

French dj

Italian g


 Table 2: Pronunciation of finals

Pinyin Sound description European equivalent
a Like English a in father. a
ai Like English eye or aisle. English ai, ay, eye, i

French ail, aille

Italian ai

Spanish ai, ay

German ai, ei

an As in tan, except when following an initial y-; it is then pronounced yen. an in most languages + French anne and German ahn
ang As in angst. anc, ang, ank + French agne
ao As in how or cow. English ao, ar, aw, ou, ow

French ao, ar

Italian ao

e Like e in her or u in duh. English, French or German e
ei As in hay, eight or the letter a. English a, ai, ay, e, ei

French é, ez

Italian e

Spanish e

en As in open, taken. en
eng As in open with an appended g. eng in most languages + English ong, onk, ung, unk

and French ogne

er As in army. English ar, aur
i Like ee in bee or ea in tea.


When it follows initials z-, c-, s-, zh-, ch-, sh- or r-, it is either not pronounced, like pinyin zi where it sounds somewhat like dzzzz, or it sounds like an English vowel followed by the letter r, like er of snatcher or ur of sure.

English e, ea, ee, er, or, ur

French i, y

German eu

ia As in yard. English ea-a, e-a

Italian or Spanish ia

ian Like yen. English ian, ien, eyenne

French i-aine, ienne

Italian or Spanish ien

iang Like yang. English ee-ang, ee-ank, e-hang, iang

French i-ang, iant

iao As in yowl or meow. English e-ow, ee-ar, gnar, illar

French i-a-eau, iao, iar, illard

Italian or Spanish iao

ie As in yes. English ie

French iait, ie, iè, illait

Italian ie

Spanish ie, ille

in As in sin. in + French ine
ing As in bombing. inc, ing, ink + Italian inq
io, iu As in yoga or yo-yo. English eo, ea-o, ee-o

French or Italian io + Spanish illo

iong Like young. French ion
o, ou As in so or dough. o in all languages + English oa, ou, ough, ow and French eau
ong As in young. English ong, onk, oung, ung, unk

French ogne, on

Italian on

u Like English oo, as in booby-trap, except after initials j-, q-, x- and y- (as described below). u in most languages + English ew, oo and French aou, ou


u, ü When written with a diaeresis or after initials j-, q-, x- and y- with no diaeresis, it is pronounced like German ü (Tschüss) or French u (tulipe). French u

German ü

ua As in suave. English oua, ua, wa

French oi, oua

Spanish ua

uai Like English why. English ew-i, why, wi

French ouaille

Spanish uay

uan As in Don Juan, except after initials j-, q-, x- and y- (see below). uan in most languages + English wan and French ouan, ouanne, ou-en
uan After initials j-, q-, x- and y-, pronounced as French u + an. French uan
uang Like Wang. English ew-ang, ew-ank, u-ang, wang

French ouen, ou-eng, ou-enk

Spanish uanc, uang

ue, üe Sounds like French u + è, as in duel. French eu-e, uai, ue, uè, ué

German ü-e

ui Like way. ue in most languages + English oe, ooey, ua, way and French oué, ouer
un Sounds like u + en, except after initials j-, q-, x- and y- (see below). English oon, un

French oune

German un

un After initials j-, q- and x-, pronounced as French u + n. French une, unne

German ün, ühn

uo As in duo, jewel. English uo, wo

French ou-eau

Italian uo

Spanish ullo, uo

German u-ho