Pinyin Course: Basic Consonants

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

The basic pinyin consonant set in Chinese is:

B,  p, m, f, d, t, n, l

Why am I calling these consonants “basic”? Because they are roughly equivalent to the English sounds. This means we’ll be able to move through them fast this section.

Consonant sounds in Chinese are also called initials. The majority of characters are composed of one initial and one final – ie. One consonant followed by the vowel or vowel compound. We’ll cover the basic initials now and start to add them to the basic finals (vowels) we learned previously.

  a e i o u
b ba bi bo bu
p pa pi po pu
m ma me mi mo mu
f fa fo fu
d da de di du
t ta te ti tu
n na ne ni nu
l la le li lu

Remember, the text descriptions given are just to get you in the right area but are not accurate. ALWAYS listen and repeat according to the native speaker recordings. If in doubt the recording not the text is correct! 

B: b sound in boy or boat.


The pronunciation of b in Chinese is very similar to that in English. The b in Chinese is slightly softened to approach p. There is less exhalation than in the English b.

P: p sound in pay or top

The pronunciation of p is also very similar to the English. There is slightly more “aspiration” (air escaping the mouth) in the Chinese p. You should feel a strong burst of air leaving the mouth – to check hold your hand in front of your mouth.

Note: B and P are very similar. The best way to check if you are on track is to hold your hand in front of your mouth when saying these sounds – you should feel air with the p but not the b.

M: m sound in mail, mat.

Again, nice and close to English so shouldn’t be problematic. Keep your lips tightly pressed together. Before you open your mouth to release the “m” you’ll feel your lips lightly vibrating.

F: f sound in fat, fair, five, fast.

Same as English – sorry not much to say here! You’ll be glad of this once we get to the more tricky sounds!

D: d sound in dark, down, dance.

Slightly softened compared to the English d.

T: t sound in tall, top.

Similar to English but with no exhalation.

T is to D as P is to B. Both T and P are “aspirated”, requiring a more forceful exhalation than their un-aspirated cousins d and b.

Again, when making the t sound hold your hand in front of your mouth to check for the puff of air.

N: n sound in name, near, nurse, nine.

Keep the pronunciation of n shorter than the English. Otherwise very similar.

L: l sound as in look, luck, lunch.

Again, very similar to English. Now you see why I called these the “basic consonants”!

Too similar to English? Bit boring? Don’t worry, we’ll get to all those fun looking x’s and zh’s soon!

Hit Get Started below to test your knowledge with a quiz.

[slickquiz id=2]

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