June 10, 2013

Pinyin confusions

Pinyin is a system, which is used to transcribe the sounds of Mandarin Chinese into the Roman alphabet. It is used wherever a transcription of Chinese is needed (city names - Beijing, Shanghai, people’s names - Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao etc.) and also but not exclusively as an input method for Chinese in computers and other devices.

Since the pronunciation of Roman letters in the many languages that use them differs from language to language, when Pinyin was created, it wasn't possible to design a system that would be universal for every language that uses Roman letters. This means, that the letters used in Pinyin are not always pronounced as they would be in your language. In other words, in Pinyin, a j is not a j and an x is not an x.

Furthermore, pinyin is also confusing because of another thing. Sometimes two different Roman letters represent the same sound and sometimes two different sounds are represented by the same one Roman letter (see below). This is confusing, because students might not initially realize that syllables like wo, shuo and po for instance share exactly the same sound.  

Sounds that are written in a different way, but represent the same sound*:

wo, shuo, po - rhyme with 我 (wo)

dui, hui, wei, shei - rhyme with 累 (lei)
wen, dun, shun - rhyme with 文 (wen)

Same letter used to represent a different sound:

ci, shi - rhyme with 日 (ri)


bi, li - rhyme with 以 (yi)

xun, jun - rhyme with (yun)


shun, dunrhyme with (wen)

shu, chu, zhu - rhyme with 五 (wu)


xu, qu, ju - rhyme with 於 (yu)

Inspired by mnmlist.com. I tried to write this post in no more than 4 paragraphs :)

* as pronounced in Taiwan


  1. personally ,i think pinyin is actually very scientifically .the reason you have Doubt about it is because you don't know the rules about pinyin.
    . here is a link for your question, this should explain pretty well. https://www.zhihu.com/question/23148320 see the answer with over 60 agreements.

  2. Hello and thank you for your comment.

    The point is, that it doesn't matter that it has scientific backing today. It is confusing and the scientific backing is useless to the average user of pinyin (99.99999999% of users).

  3. Hello,thanks for the reply

    your Chinese is very good,so i think you know the rules of pinyin pretty well.but i wouldn't say "confusing". just a little bit exception . maybe it's because i am native speaker,i never get confused by pinyin .who knows, :)



  4. Then that is the reason, why it is not confusing to you:)

    We spend 2 weeks in the Chinese department just learning pinyin properly.


    1. 你会不会觉得成语特别有用或特别没用呢?

    2. 你会不会觉得成语特别有用或特别没用呢?

    3. 你好。從哪個方面來說呢