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The "e" vowel

The "a" vowel is a pretty easy one. Time to take on a vowel that is just slightly trickier. The "e" in Mandarin Chinese is slightly tricky because it can be pronounced in two different ways. You simply have to memorize when it makes one sound and when it makes the other.

Pinyin's Main "e" Vowel Sound

The main sound that pinyin "e" makes is a rather unexpected "uh" sound, totally different from both the short "e" sound in "pen" in English, and the long "e" sound in "see".

  • -e sounds kind of like the English "duh" or "uhhh" sound (like somone thinking or getting punched in the stomach).
  • -en sounds how you'd expect; the above "-e" sound followed by the "-n" sound. It's kind of like the "un" sound in the English word "sun", but not exactly the same.
  • -eng also sounds how you'd expect; the above "-e" sound followed by the "-ng" sound. It's kind of like the "ung" sound in the English word "sung", but not exactly the same.

An Alternate "e" Vowel Sound

Now that you know the main sound that "e" makes in pinyin, you also need to learn a different sound it makes (which also appears in the chart fragment below).

  • -ei sounds like the vowel in the English word "eight" or the Japanese brand "Seiko".

Pinyin Chart Fragment

This is just a part of the full pinyin chart, limited to the sounds we've covered in this section.

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-a- -e- -e -ei -en -eng -er -o- -i- -u- -ü-
∅-
e
[ɯ̯ʌ]
e
ei
[eɪ̯]
ei
en
[ən]
en
eng
[əŋ]
eng
er
[ɑɻ]
erh
∅-
b-
bei
[peɪ̯]
ㄅㄟ
pei
ben
[pən]
ㄅㄣ
pen
beng
[pəŋ]
ㄅㄥ
peng
b-
p-
pei
[pʰeɪ̯]
ㄆㄟ
p'ei
pen
[pʰən]
ㄆㄣ
p'en
peng
[pʰəŋ]
ㄆㄥ
p'eng
p-
m-
me
[mɯ̯ʌ]
ㄇㄜ
me
mei
[meɪ̯]
ㄇㄟ
mei
men
[mən]
ㄇㄣ
men
meng
[məŋ]
ㄇㄥ
meng
m-
f-
fei
[feɪ̯]
ㄈㄟ
fei
fen
[fən]
ㄈㄣ
fen
feng
[fəŋ]
ㄈㄥ
feng
f-
d-
de
[tɯ̯ʌ]
ㄉㄜ
te
dei
[teɪ̯]
ㄉㄟ
tei
den
[tən]
ㄉㄣ
ten
deng
[təŋ]
ㄉㄥ
teng
d-
t-
te
[tʰɯ̯ʌ]
ㄊㄜ
t'e
teng
[tʰəŋ]
ㄊㄥ
t'eng
t-
n-
ne
[nɯ̯ʌ]
ㄋㄜ
ne
nei
[neɪ̯]
ㄋㄟ
nei
nen
[nən]
ㄋㄣ
nen
neng
[nəŋ]
ㄋㄥ
neng
n-
l-
le
[lɯ̯ʌ]
ㄌㄜ
le
lei
[leɪ̯]
ㄌㄟ
lei
leng
[ləŋ]
ㄌㄥ
leng
l-
z-
ze
[tsɯ̯ʌ]
ㄗㄜ
tse
zei
[tseɪ̯]
ㄗㄟ
tsei
zen
[tsən]
ㄗㄣ
tsen
zeng
[tsəŋ]
ㄗㄥ
tseng
z-
c-
ce
[tsʰɯ̯ʌ]
ㄘㄜ
ts'e
cei
[tsʰeɪ̯]
ㄘㄟ
ts'ei
cen
[tsʰən]
ㄘㄣ
ts'en
ceng
[tsʰəŋ]
ㄘㄥ
ts'eng
c-
s-
se
[sɯ̯ʌ]
ㄙㄜ
se
sen
[sən]
ㄙㄣ
sen
seng
[səŋ]
ㄙㄥ
seng
s-
g-
ge
[kɯ̯ʌ]
ㄍㄜ
ke
gei
[keɪ̯]
ㄍㄟ
kei
gen
[kən]
ㄍㄣ
ken
geng
[kəŋ]
ㄍㄥ
keng
g-
k-
ke
[kʰɯ̯ʌ]
ㄎㄜ
k'e
kei
[kʰeɪ̯]
ㄎㄟ
k'ei
ken
[kʰən]
ㄎㄣ
k'en
keng
[kʰəŋ]
ㄎㄥ
k'eng
k-
h-
he
[xɯ̯ʌ]
ㄏㄜ
he
hei
[xeɪ̯]
ㄏㄟ
hei
hen
[xən]
ㄏㄣ
hen
heng
[xəŋ]
ㄏㄥ
heng
h-
-a- -e- -e -ei -en -eng -er -o- -i- -u- -ü-

Other "e" Vowel Sounds

Later on you'll learn that pinyin "e" makes a sound similar to -ei in the final -üe, but we're leaving that for another section.

Now let's move on to the "i" vowel.

Sources and further reading