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Getting started with Chinese 3
Getting started with Chinese 3

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1.1 Finals (Vowels)

Altogether, there are 35 finals (vowels) in standard Mandarin Chinese. A final can be a single vowel or a compound vowel.

Here are six single vowels:

a sounds like the a sound in the English word ‘father

e sounds like the English exclamation sound uh

i sounds similar to the ea sound in the English word ‘tea

o sounds similar to the English word ‘or

u sounds similar to the oo sound in the English word ‘food

ü sounds similar to the ew sound in the French word ‘few

When ‘o’ is in the following syllables: bo, po, mo, fo, wo, it sounds like -uo, which is in between a oo- and a uh sound in English.

Also note that when the single final i is preceded by the initials z, c, s, zh, ch, sh and r, it is not pronounced in the same way as it is after j, q, x, for example. It is a short vowel extension of the initials preceding it. Go to the section on initials to hear how it is pronounced with z, c, s, zh, ch, sh and r.

Now listen to the above six single vowels, known as ‘finals’. You can also view the transcript.

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There are 29 compound finals (vowels), i.e. vowel sounds containing two single finals or which combine finals with the nasal sound n or ng.

Compound finals that start with a and o

  • ai sounds similar to the i sound in the English word ‘bike

  • ao sounds similar to the ow sound in the English word ‘how’’

  • an sounds similar to the on sound in the English word ‘concert’ and with a hint of the sound an in the word ‘can

  • ang sounds similar to the sound on in the English words ‘Congo’ or ‘congregation

  • ou sounds similar to the oe sound in the English word ‘toe

  • ong sounds similar to the on in ‘ding-dong’ sound in the English words ‘bone’ or ‘phone’ but with an 'ng' sound at the end

Listen to the above six compound vowels, also known as ‘compound finals’:

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Compound finals that start with i
ia i + a
ie i + ei, sounds similar to the ye sound in the English word ‘yes
iao i + ao
iu i + ou, but spelt iu
ian i + an, sounds similar to the English word ‘yen’, as in the Japanese currency
in sounds similar to the in sound in the English word ‘tin
ing sounds similar to the ing sound in the English word ‘sing
iang i + ang, sounds similar to the English word ‘young
iong i + ong

Listen to compound finals that start with i:

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Compound finals that start with e
ei sounds similar to the ey sound in the English word ‘hey
en sounds similar to the un sound in the English word ‘hunt
eng sounds similar to the ung sound in the English word ‘hung

Note there is a combination of e + r, which does not count as a compound final. It is pronounced with a combination of ir in ‘dirty’ with the retroflex r.

Listen to compound finals that start with e:

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Compound finals that start with u
ua u + a
uai u + ai
uan u + an
uang u + ang, sounds similar to the won sound in the English word ‘wonder
ui u + ei, sounds similar to the wai sound in the English word ‘wait
un u + en
ueng u + eng
uo u + o, sounds similar to the English word ‘war

Listen to compound finals that start with u:

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Compound finals that start with ü
üe  ü + ie
üan    ü + an
ün ü + the nasal sound n, sounds similar to the n in the French word ‘une

Listen to compound finals that start with ü:

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