Chinese Syllables (Name)

Chinese syllables* usually contain three parts: an initial* (like, g, k, or h), a final* that contains at least one vowel* (for example, a, ao, or ing), and a tone* marking.

Initial Sounds

Pinyin* letters b, p, m, f are pronounced similarly to sounds in English.

bā eight (as in “spaghetti”)
pò broken (as in “park”)
míng name (as in “mother”)
fàn rice / meal (as in “father”)

Chinese Names

In Chinese, the family name comes first, followed by the given name (or what me might call first name in English). In the example below,  (a family name) is the family name and 华 huá (a given name) is the given name.

你叫什么 Nǐ jiào shénme What’s your name?
李华 Lǐ huá Hua Li

It is common in China for people to call each other by their family names. To ask someone’s family name, you can use xìng (to be family-named). 

什么 Nǐ xìng shénme What’s your family name?

Asking Questions with 呢 (ne)

(ne) is used at the end of a sentence to ask things like And you? or What about her? It normally answers a question that’s just been asked while directing the question to someone else.

你叫什么? Nǐ jiào shénme? What’s your name?
我叫安娜,你呢? Wǒ jiào ān, nǐ ne? My name is Anna


  • A syllable is a sound chunk that contains one vowel. In Chinese, each character represents a syllable.
  • An initial is a sound that begins a syllable. Most Chinese initials are consonants (like “p”, “k”, “s”).
  • A final is a sound that ends a syllable. All Chinese finals contain at least one vowel (like “a”, “ao”, “ing”)
  • Vowels are sounds like “a”, “e”, “i”. They are pronounced with air flowing freely through your mouth.
  • Tone refers to the pitch (for example, the highness or lowness) of a sound. In Chinese, tone can change the meaning of a word.
  • Pinyin – letters from the Roman alphabet used to represent Chinese sounds.
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