10. The Initial r

This lesson introduces the initial r, with finals introduced in previous lessons.

Here are some exemplars with finals covered in previous lessons.

Character and PinyinEnglish equivalent
wind; coil
give way; yield
human being

What do you hear in these syllables? You may have noticed that the Chinese r sounds a bit different from the r in American English. Can you hear the difference? Can you imitate it?

Here is a tip that will help you pronounce a Chinese r more accurately. Look at yourself in the mirror and say the English words red rose. Did you notice that, when you make an r sound at the beginning of a word in English, the lips are pushed forward, almost making a little circle? Now try saying the same phrase, this time with your lips stretched tight in an exaggerated smile. Notice how this changes the sound. The Chinese r is pronounced without rounding the lips. We can call it the smiling r ! Try this technique when you imitate the words in the exemplar set above.

There is one more important aspect to the initial r. It cannot be combined with the i vowel. As with the other retroflexes zh, ch and sh, the letter i has been borrowed to serve as placeholder for the tone mark. Here is the most common word with this spelling:

Listening Quiz

Listen to the audio below and select the Pinyin equivalents of what you hear.

Dictation Quiz

Listen to the audio and write down the Pinyin you hear, including the tone. You can type in your answer with a diacritic mark (mā) or with the tone as the number (ma1).

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