Spelling Rules

Tone marks

Syllables that begin with i, u, ü

zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s vs. j, q, x

-iou, -uei, -uen

Tone Sandhi (3rd tone + 3rd tone)

Tonal change of yī & bù

Tone marks:
Tone mark is placed over a syllable if the syllable has:

1. Only one vowel (a, o, e, i, u, ü): over the vowel

ex. tán, bō, dǐ, è

2. Two vowels (ao, ou, ei, ai): over the first vowel

ex. bái,  pǎo, něi, ài

3. Medial (i, u, ü) + one vowel: over the vowel

ex. dié, liǎn, luè, zhuāng

Syllables that begin with i, u, ü:
“i, u, ü” can be either vowels or medials in a syllable. Here’s how you spell it out:

i as a vowel

add y

-in --> yin 
-ing --> ying

i as a medial

replace i with y

-ian --> yan
-ie --> ye

u as a vowel

replace u with w

-u --> wu
-uo --> wo

u as a medial

replace u with w

-uan --> wan
-uei --> wei

ü as a vowel

add y

-ü --> yu

ü as a medial

add y

-üan --> yuan
-üe --> yue

zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s vs. j, q, x:
The finals that can go immediately after these two sets of initials happens to be mutually exclusive.
Check Compound Finals to see the contrast in the pinyin table.

zh, ch, sh, r, z, c, s

1. + vowels
2. + medial “u”

ex. cāo, shé, rì, zǒu
ex. zhuó, chuān, ruì

j, q, x

1. + i
2. + ü

ex. jiàn, qiū, xióng
ex. jù qún xuǎn

-iou, -uei, -uen:
The spelling of these three syllables change when they are preceded by a initial.

without initials

-iou --> you
-uei --> wei
-uen --> wen

with initials

d + -iōu --> diū  (o is dropped)
d + -uēi --> duī (e is dropped)
d + -uēn --> dūn (e is dropped)

Tone Sandhi (3rd tone + 3rd tone):
When two 3rd tones are put together, the first 3rd tone is raised to a 2nd tone.
Ex. “nǐhǎo” is pronounced  “níhǎo” ;  “hěnhǎo” is pronounced “hénhǎo”.

Tonal change of yī and bù:
The tones of yī and bù change, depending on the syllables that follow them immediately.

yī (一: the number “one”)

yī --> yì + 1st, 2nd, 3rd tone

ex. yìtiān (one day),  yìnián (one year),  yìkǒu (one bite)

yī --> yí + 4th tone

ex. yíkuài (one dollar)

bù (不: no; not)

bù --> bù + 1st, 2nd, 3rd tone

ex. bùsuān (not sour),  bùtián (not sweet),  bùkǔ (not bitter)

bù --> bú + 4th tone

ex. búlà (not spicy)

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