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The "a" vowel

The first vowel you want to learn in pinyin is "a." It can combine with all of those easy sounds you already learned in part 1 of this guide, so it's a great place to start.

Pinyin's Main "a" Vowel Sound

Although the "a" sound in Chinese can vary a little bit, and is slightly changed when followed by a "-n" or a "-ng" sound, it should sound more or less consistent in the syllables introduced in this section. Remember that you can click on the sounds in the chart fragment to hear audio.

  • -a sounds like the "a" sound in the English words "ah" or "ha" or "father".
  • -ai sounds like the "ai" in the English words "Thai" and "aisle".
  • -ao sounds pretty much like the word "Tao"/"Dao" which we've imported into English from Chinese, or the "ow" in the English word "how", but with a rather muted “w” sound at the end.
  • -an sounds similar to “on” (minus a strong “aw” sound like in “lawn”) but you may also hear a hint of the vowel sound in the English word “can”. This sound doesn't match up to English sounds perfectly, but it's not hard to approximate.
  • -ang sounds similar to the "ong" sound in the word "King Kong". Because you have the nasalized "-ng" ending, the "a" vowel changes slightly, but that's not something you should have to worry about too much.

Pinyin Chart Fragment

This is just a part of the full pinyin chart, limited to the sounds we've covered so far.

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-a- -a -ai -ao -an -ang -e- -o- -i- -u- -ü-
b-
ba
[pɑ]
ㄅㄚ
pa
bai
[paɪ̯]
ㄅㄞ
pai
bao
[pɑʊ̯]
ㄅㄠ
pao
ban
[pan]
ㄅㄢ
pan
bang
[pɑŋ]
ㄅㄤ
pang
b-
p-
pa
[pʰɑ]
ㄆㄚ
p'a
pai
[pʰaɪ̯]
ㄆㄞ
p'ai
pao
[pʰɑʊ̯]
ㄆㄠ
p'ao
pan
[pʰan]
ㄆㄢ
p'an
pang
[pʰɑŋ]
ㄆㄤ
p'ang
p-
m-
ma
[mɑ]
ㄇㄚ
ma
mai
[maɪ̯]
ㄇㄞ
mai
mao
[mɑʊ̯]
ㄇㄠ
mao
man
[man]
ㄇㄢ
man
mang
[mɑŋ]
ㄇㄤ
mang
m-
f-
fa
[fɑ]
ㄈㄚ
fa
fan
[fan]
ㄈㄢ
fan
fang
[fɑŋ]
ㄈㄤ
fang
f-
d-
da
[tɑ]
ㄉㄚ
ta
dai
[taɪ̯]
ㄉㄞ
tai
dao
[tɑʊ̯]
ㄉㄠ
tao
dan
[tan]
ㄉㄢ
tan
dang
[tɑŋ]
ㄉㄤ
tang
d-
t-
ta
[tʰɑ]
ㄊㄚ
t'a
tai
[tʰaɪ̯]
ㄊㄞ
t'ai
tao
[tʰɑʊ̯]
ㄊㄠ
t'ao
tan
[tʰan]
ㄊㄢ
t'an
tang
[tʰɑŋ]
ㄊㄤ
t'ang
t-
n-
na
[nɑ]
ㄋㄚ
na
nai
[naɪ̯]
ㄋㄞ
nai
nao
[nɑʊ̯]
ㄋㄠ
nao
nan
[nan]
ㄋㄢ
nan
nang
[nɑŋ]
ㄋㄤ
nang
n-
l-
la
[lɑ]
ㄌㄚ
la
lai
[laɪ̯]
ㄌㄞ
lai
lao
[lɑʊ̯]
ㄌㄠ
lao
lan
[lan]
ㄌㄢ
lan
lang
[lɑŋ]
ㄌㄤ
lang
l-
z-
za
[tsɑ]
ㄗㄚ
tsa
zai
[tsaɪ̯]
ㄗㄞ
tsai
zao
[tsɑʊ̯]
ㄗㄠ
tsao
zan
[tsan]
ㄗㄢ
tsan
zang
[tsɑŋ]
ㄗㄤ
tsang
z-
c-
ca
[tsʰɑ]
ㄘㄚ
ts'a
cai
[tsʰaɪ̯]
ㄘㄞ
ts'ai
cao
[tsʰɑʊ̯]
ㄘㄠ
ts'ao
can
[tsʰan]
ㄘㄢ
ts'an
cang
[tsʰɑŋ]
ㄘㄤ
ts'ang
c-
s-
sa
[sɑ]
ㄙㄚ
sa
sai
[saɪ̯]
ㄙㄞ
sai
sao
[sɑʊ̯]
ㄙㄠ
sao
san
[san]
ㄙㄢ
san
sang
[sɑŋ]
ㄙㄤ
sang
s-
g-
ga
[kɑ]
ㄍㄚ
ka
gai
[kaɪ̯]
ㄍㄞ
kai
gao
[kɑʊ̯]
ㄍㄠ
kao
gan
[kan]
ㄍㄢ
kan
gang
[kɑŋ]
ㄍㄤ
kang
g-
k-
ka
[kʰɑ]
ㄎㄚ
k'a
kai
[kʰaɪ̯]
ㄎㄞ
k'ai
kao
[kʰɑʊ̯]
ㄎㄠ
k'ao
kan
[kʰan]
ㄎㄢ
k'an
kang
[kʰɑŋ]
ㄎㄤ
k'ang
k-
h-
ha
[xɑ]
ㄏㄚ
ha
hai
[xaɪ̯]
ㄏㄞ
hai
hao
[xɑʊ̯]
ㄏㄠ
hao
han
[xan]
ㄏㄢ
han
hang
[xɑŋ]
ㄏㄤ
hang
h-
-a- -a -ai -ao -an -ang -e- -o- -i- -u- -ü-

Pinyin's Alternate "a" Vowel Sounds

The letter "a" in pinyin can actually make different sounds as well, when it is part of the "-ian" and "-üan" finals. Those sounds will be covered in later sections of this guide.

For now, let's move on to the "e" vowel.

Sources and further reading