Chinese Pronunciation

Pinyin Section 15

Ü with Easy Consonants

The Mandarin vowel sound ü is the most difficult vowel sound for most English speakers because this vowel sound does not exist in the English language (it does exist in German, however). To make the basic ü sound, make a continuous "ee" sound. As you make the sound, round your lips into the position they would need to be in to make an "oo" sound. By making the "ee" sound in your mouth with your lips in the "oo" position, you are pronouncing Mandarin's ü sound.

When the ü vowel sound forms a syllable by itself, it is written yu. It is very important to note that the umlaut (the two dots over the u) is not written. The correct pinyin is yu, not yü, even though the sound produced is the ü sound and not the basic u sound of Section 11. This trend applies to all the pinyin syllables in this section beginning with "y", as well as some of the pinyin syllables in Section 16.

The Mandarin vowel sound ü combines with an "eh" e sound to make üe. This sound is very similar to the ie sound of Section 8, replacing the i sound with a ü sound. When it composes a syllable all by itself, ü is written yue.

While the syllable üan may appear to be a straightforward combination of ü and an, the "an" actually makes a slightly different sound from what you learned in Section 1. In this case, the pinyin an is pronounced a lot like the English "en" (like "end" without the "d"). When üan forms a syllable all by itself, it is written yan (but sounds more like the English word "yen").

The syllable ün (not to be confused with the syllable un of Section 12) sounds like the ü sound plus an "een" or "ween" sound on the end. When it is a syllable unto itself, ün is written yun. To the beginner, the syllable may sound something like "yween." For accurate pronunciation it is important to keep in mind, however, that the syllable begins with a ü sound rather than a "y" sound.

Besides the pinyin syllables beginning with a "y," there are also four other syllables in this section: nü, nüe, lü, lüe. They are pronounced just like yu and yue, replacing the "y" with the n and l sounds. Please note that for these syllables and these syllables only, the umlaut (the two dots over the u) is written. This is done in order to distinguish the syllables nü and lü from the syllables nu and lu (Section 11). The umlauts are also written in nüe and lüe for consistency.

Linguist's Note:

The following are the IPA symbols for this section's pinyin vowel sounds:

Mandarin: ü [y]
Mandarin: üe [yɛ]
Mandarin: üan [yɛn]
Mandarin: ün [yn]

Listen to the sounds of this section and try repeating them by clicking on the syllables below:

  ü üe üan ün
  yu yue yuan yun
n nüe    
l lüe