Sensible Pinyin Course: Basic Compounds

This is part of our Sensible Pinyin Course. To see an overview of the course check out this Sensible Pinyin Course homepage

In this lesson we’ll be moving rapidly through the basic (non-nasal) compound finals. If you missed the introduction to compounds be sure to read it first so that we are all on the same page.

I’ll be introducing a small group of compound sounds and providing a short quiz before moving onto the next group.

There are lots of compounds but if you’ve got a good grip of the basic vowel sounds then picking up the compounds should be rapid. So let’s get started!


First Group : ai, ao, ei, ou

We’ll start with the compounds that begin with a, e and o. In each of these compounds start with the first vowel sound and slide into the next in the same breathe.

If you are having difficulty go over the basic vowel sounds again. All the compounds are built from the basic vowel sounds so if your basic vowels are strong learning the compounds will be much easier.

ai: “ai” as in lie, bye, bike, high, ay carumba!

Ai, Bai, Pai, Mai, Dai, Tai, Nai, Lai, Gai, Kai, Hai, Zai, Cai, Sai, Zhai, Chai, Shai

Start with the pinyin a and slide it into the p

ao: “ow” in how, down.

Ao, Bao, Pao, Mao, Dao, Tao, Lao, Gao, Kao, Hao, Zao, Cao, Sao, Zhao, Chao, Shao, Rao

ei: “ay” as in cake, say, gay

Bei, Pei, Mei, Fei, Dei, Nei, Lei, Gei, Kei, Hei, Zei

ou “oh” as is low

Ou, Pou, Mou, Fou, Dou, Tou, Nou, Lou, Gou, Kou, Hou, Zou, Cou, Sou, Zhou, Chou, Shou, Rou

Second Group: ia, ie, iu , iao

All of the compounds in this group staer with i followed by other vowels. Start with the i sound and slide into the next vowel. Need a recap on i? Check our basic vowels section again and then come back. If you know the basic vowels then these compounds are much easier to pick up.

ia: “ya” in maya, playa 

Ya, Lia, Jia, Qia, Xia

A combination of Chinese i and a.

We write this sound as “ya” when there is no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.

ie: “yeh”/”yeah”

Ye, Bie, Pie, Mie, Die, Tie, Nie, Lie, Jie, Qie, Xie

Combination of Chinese i and e. Slide from the i sound straight into the e in the same breath.

When not preceded by an initial ie is simply written “ye”.

iu: “iou”

You, Miu, Diu, Niu, Liu

Like the pinyin y + English “ow” sound in go. A little bit like Old McDonald’s “E-I-E-I-O” but just the first E and last O and greatly softened. Sigh, best to just listen to the recording!

Slide the Chinese i sound into the Chinese u in the same breathe and you’ll be good to go.

When not preceded by a consonant iu is written as “you”.

iao: “ya” in maya, playa followed by English w.

Yao, Biao, Piao, Miao, Diao, Tiao, Niao, Liao

Sounds a bit like “yow” when in pain. Slide the Chinese i into the compound ao we learned above. So, if you like, this is a “compound compound”. Don’t worry – there aren’t many like this!

Spelled “yao” when there is no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.

Third Group: ua, ui, uo, uai

These are the u based compounds. Start with the Chinese u sounds and slide into the next vowel to achieve these compounds.

ua: “wah” as in aqua

Wa, Gua, Kua, Hua, Zhua, Chua, Shua, Rua

Combination of u and a. You know the drill. Start with the u sound and slide into the a. Go slowly at first then up to natural speed.

When not preceded by an initial ua is written as “wa”.

ui: “way” as in way, weigh.

Wei, Dui, Tui, Gui, Kui, Hui, Zui, Cui, Sui, Zhui, Chui, Shui, Rui

A combination of u and i, sliding from one to the other in a single breathe. Sounds a bit like the English “way” or “weigh”.

Wei is used where there is no consonant at the beginning of the syllable.

uo: “woah” with less audible “a” sound. War, quark, quartz.

Wo, Duo, Tuo, Nuo, Luo, Guo, Kuo, Guo, Zuo, Cuo, Suo, Zhuo, Chuo, Shuo, Ruo

Combination of u and o. Sounds like the English “woah!”

“Wo” is used when there is no consonant in front of the uo.

uai: “why”

Wai, Guai, Kuai, Huai, Zhuai, Chuai, Shuai

Sounds like the English “why”. uai is created by starting with the Chinese u sound and sliding to ai, a compound we studied above.

Used alone uai is written “wai”.

Fouth Group:  üe

A nice short group of a single compound: üe!

üe: “ooue”

Yue, Nüe, Lüe, Jue, Que, Xue

Combination of ü and e. If the ü/u distinction is still difficult review the lesson on ü/u.

üe can only follow consonants that go before ü. Remember Jonny Quest XY? Same deal here. For the same reasons Jüe, Qüe and Xüe are written Jue, Que, Xue.

Wrapping Up

Those are all the basic compound sounds. We’ve moved through a lot of material in this lesson but it shouldn’t have felt too complicated – compounds really are a matter of putting together sounds you already know to make new sounds.

If you have a solid enough foundation in the basic vowels then the compounds ought not to present too many difficulties. Just take your time to make each of the individual vowel sounds and slide them together into the compound.

In the next lesson we’ll look at the final remaining compounds – the nasal compounds. Thankfully these are just some of the compounds we’ve just studied but with the endings modified by adding a -n or -ng. See you there!

This is part of our Sensible Pinyin Course. To see an overview of the course check out this Sensible Pinyin Course homepage