Use this tool to add tone marks to pinyin or to convert tone number (e.g. hao3) to tone marks.

Although you can use the red buttons to add tone marks, we highly recommend you use the number method (e.g. hao3) for speed and placement of the accent above the correct vowel. [Hint: Type "v" for "ü"]
Note: You do not need to use this tool to enter pinyin in this dictionary.

The Definitive Guide to Pinyin & Chinese Pronunciation

It will only take 8 minutes to read this post!

Pinyin: An Introduction

Pinyin 拼音 (pīn yīn), is the romanized translation of Chinese characters. Pinyin was introduced after a language reform during the 1950s, instigated by Zhou Enlai 周恩来 (zhōu ēn lái). He believed that a phonetic system was necessary in order for people to learn how to pronounce Chinese characters. Zhou Enlai worked alongside linguist, Zhou Youguang 周有光 (zhōu yǒu guāng) to create Hanyu Pinyin 汉语拼音 (hàn yǔ pīn yīn). Hanyu (another way to say ‘Chinese language’) Pinyin used the Latin alphabet, which Zhou Youguang believed would help connect China to the western world.

Zhou Youguang is known as the ‘Father of Pinyin’ and recently celebrated his 110th birthday!

Although Pinyin is based on the Latin alphabet, the sounds that are created when letters make a word, do not sound the same as English.

For example, based on our understanding that in English, the letter ‘z’ makes a sound found in ‘zebra’, ‘zoo’ and ‘buzz’, and is made with the tongue at the front of the mouth. If we look at the romanization of the Chinese city, Shenzhen 深圳 (shēn zhèn), we would assume that the second word ‘zhèn’, would be spoken with the same ‘z’ sound. However, in Pinyin, when the letters ‘z’ and ‘h’ are found together, they make a sound more similar to ‘j’, as in ‘jog’ or ‘jump’.

You’ve probably already noticed that Pinyin often has a mark above a vowel, and this indicates which tone to use. A tone is a sound, that as in music is determined by pitch and strength. It can also indicate emotions. We’ll get to the tone markers shortly, but first let’s focus on how to pronounce Pinyin.

Why Pinyin is Important

Even though Pinyin is ‘based’ on the Latin alphabet, it still needs to be learned. Many people want to skip Pinyin and go straight to Chinese characters, but there are several reasons why learning Pinyin is essential to learning Chinese properly.

  1. The pronunciation of some Pinyin is not the same as the pronunciation of the Latin letter.
  2. There are sounds that do not exist in the English language.
  3. Pinyin also shows the tone of a Chinese character.
  4. Pinyin acts as a base for learning Chinese characters. Once you’ve learned Pinyin, you can get going with characters!

You can read more about some Pros and Cons about learning Pinyin here.

How to Pronounce Pinyin

As I mentioned in the introduction, even though pinyin uses the Latin alphabet, the pronunciation is not the same as its romanized counterpart, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to learn Chinese without listening to it and speaking it. You can take a look at the Pinyin chart below and see all the different sounds in the Chinese language.

  a ai ao an ang o ong ou e ei en eng er i ia iao ie iu ian iang in ing iong u ua uo ui uai uan un uang ueng ü üe üan ün
a ai ao an ang o ou e en eng er yi ya yao ye yu yan yang yin ying yong wu wa wo wei wai wan wen wang weng yu yue yuan yun
b ba bai bao ban bang bo bei ben beng bi biao bie bian bin bing bu
p pa pai pao pan pang po pou pei pen peng pi piao pie pian pin ping pu
m ma mai mao man mang mo mou me mei men meng mi miao mie miu mian min ming mu
f fa fan fang fo fou fei fen feng fu
d da dai dao dan dang dong dou de dei deng di diao die diu dian ding du duo dui duan tun
t ta tai tao tan tang tong tou te tei teng ti tiao tie tian ting tu tuo tui tuan dun
n na nai nao nan nang nong nou ne nei nen neng ni niao nie niu nian niang nin ning nu nuo nuan nüe
l la lai lao lan lang long lou le lei leng li lia liao lie liu lian liang lin ling lu luo luan lun lüe
g ga gai gao gan gang gong gou ge gei gen geng gu gua guo gui guai guan gun guang
k ka kai kao kan kang kong kou ke kei ken keng ku kua kuo kui kuai kuan kun kuang
h ha hai hao han hang hong hou he hei hen heng hu hua huo hui huai huan hun huang
z za zai zao zan zang zong zou ze zei zen zeng zi zu zuo zui zuan zun
c ca cai cao can cang cong cou ce cen ceng ci cu cuo cui cuan cun
s sa sai sao san sang song sou se sen seng si su suo sui suan sun
zh zha zhai zhao zhan zhang zhong zhou zhe zhei shen sheng zhi zhu zhua zhuo zhui zhuai zhuan zhun zhuang
ch cha chai chao chan chang chong chou che chen cheng chi chu chua chuo chui chuai chuan chun chuang
sh sha shai shao shan shang shou she shei shen sheng shi shu shua shuo shui shuai shuan shun shuang
r rao ran rang rong rou re ren reng ri ru rua ruo rui ruan run
j ji jia jiao jie jiu jian jiang jin jing jiong ju jue juan jun
q qi qia qiao qie qiu qian qiang qin qing qiong qu que quan qun
x xi xia xiao xie xiu xian xiang xin xing xiong xu xue xuan xun

Download Your Pinyin Chart

Once you’ve learned these sounds, you’re well on the way to mastering Chinese!

To learn how to read and speak Pinyin using the chart, you can do the following:

1. Copy the Pinyin you want to learn

Copy From the Pinyin Chart

2. Open a new browser tab, and open

Written Chinese Online Dictionary

3. Paste the Pinyin into the search bar, and hit ‘ENTER’ on your keyboard, or tap the ‘magnifying glass’ search icon.

Search for the Pinyin

4. Look at the list of words that appear, and choose an example that has the first tone of ‘ – ’ above the pinyin.

Choose the First Tone Pinyin

5. Press the audio button and listen to the pronunciation.

Tap Audio Button

You can see that the there are lots of patterns within the Chinese language. For example, once you understand that the pinyin ‘ao’ is pronounced like ‘ow’ (as in ‘ow! That hurt!) in English, you can begin to add the consonants and make new words.

How To Read Pinyin Tone Markers

Learning to use tones is imperative if you want to speak Chinese properly. You may have heard that tones are not necessary, and that you can ‘get by’ just fine without them. Infact, this is absolutely true and the reality is, that you will never manage fluency without them. It is far easier to learn tones right from the beginning than to realize after 6 months of studying that you should have really buckled down and learned them. It’s super difficult to backtrack and learn it once you’re already several months (or even years) into speaking Chinese.

This is especially important for those of you who are in China and ‘learning’ Chinese, as it’s much easier to become complacent about doing some serious studying.

Although the line markers are a common way to read the tone of a word, you may also see Pinyin marked with a number and be colour coded.

Both our Online Dictionary and mobile app have the function to change from markers to numbers and for the Pinyin to have colours or not. It’s completely your choice!

Tone SettingsTo change the tone settings in the Written Chinese Dictionary, tap on the Menu button and then go to Settings.

The 5 Tones of Mandarin Chinese

There are 5 ‘tones’ in Mandarin Chinese. A tone 声调 ( shēng diào) refers to the way a character should be spoken. Tones can often be one of the difficult parts of learning Chinese, but the most important reason why you need to learn tones, is because pinyin + tone = a word. So, if either the Pinyin or tone changes, it creates a new word.

Don’t panic! It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Remember that Pinyin is just the basis of your Chinese learning. Once you’ve grasped these concepts, you can begin to introduce Chinese characters and much of what you’ve learned won’t be so intimidating!

Using the Pinyin ‘ma’, the 5 tones are as follows: mā má mǎ mà ma

If you click on each of the 5 ‘ma’s, you will be taken to the Online Dictionary where you can listen to the different tones. (Don’t forget to press the audio button to listen!)

mā/ma1 – if a vowel has a flat line above it, the pinyin is spoken with a flat high tone. This is know as the first tone.

má/ma2 – if a vowel has a upward line above it, then the pinyin is spoken with a rising tone. This is known as the second tone.

mǎ/ma3 – if a vowel has a ‘v’ shape above it, then the pinyin is spoken with a dipped tone and this is known as the third tone.

mà/ma4 – if a vowel has a downward line above it, then the pinyin is spoken with a down tone and this is known as the fourth tone.

ma/ma5 – if the pinyin has no line, then the pinyin has no tone. This is known as the fifth tone.

Technically, a fifth tone pinyin does have a tone, but it is dependent on the character that comes before it. As a beginner, this is something to be aware of, but not something to panic about!

Test Your Tones!

Once you’ve listened to the different tones, you can test yourself using our tone trainer. Even if you’re brand new to Chinese, this can help train your ear to hearing the five different tones.

Written Chinese Tone Trainer

Perfect Your Chinese Pronounciation

So, now that you’ve learned the importance of Pinyin, you can make a start on using the Pinyin Chart, to perfect your Chinese pronounciation from the very beginning of your Chinese adventure!

Download Your Pinyin Chart

To continue your Chinese learning on-the-go, get our Written Chinese Dictionary mobile app. You can learn more about our Chinese Learning Toolkit here! You can also click on the links below to download it for your iOS and Android devices!
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