11. Initials z, c, and s

This lesson introduces the initials z, c, and s, with finals introduced in previous lessons. These initials may be followed by many finals that begin with a, e, o, or u.

 aeouu
zzazezouzu
ccacecoucu
ssasesousu

Remember also that possible combinations do not always produce viable syllables in all four tones.

Listen to a few examples of syllables formed with z, c, and s.

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
early/morning
dirty
soap
magazine
premier (political office)
grandmother
yesterday
left
seat
breakfast
grass lawn
restaurant/dining hall
vegetable/dish
toilet
intelligent
error
three
umbrella
pine tree
speed
garlic
lock

What did you notice about these initials? The first two may sound strange to you, but English does have equivalents to these sounds. In English, however, these sounds are used to end syllables but not to initiate syllables. The sound represented in Pinyin by the letter “z” is similar to the sound at the end of the English word “beds.” The “c” is like the sound at the end of the word “sits.” You may have noticed also that the difference between “z” and “c” is aspiration. The “z” sound has no aspiration whereas the “c” is aspirated. The “s” in Pinyin is very similar to the English “s.”

As you observed in the examples above, z, c, and s can be followed by a number of finals that start with a, e, o, and u. These initials cannot, however, be followed by the front vowels “i” or “ü.”

 i (ee)ü
z--
c--
s--

You may recall from lessons 7, 8, 9, and 10 that some initials can form syllables without a sound that non-linguists easily recognize as a vowel.Sometimes these are called “consonantal syllables.” The initials z, c, and s are among the initials that can form “consonantal syllables.” You may also recall that the Pinyin system requires that each syllable include a vowel, in part so that the tone mark can be placed above a vowel. Because these initials cannot be followed by the sound normally represented by the letter “i”, the developers of Pinyin “borrowed” the letter i to complete the “consonantal syllables” formed with these initials.

 iüi[](placeholder “i”)
z--zi
c--ci
s--si

Now listen to some examples of “consonantal syllables” formed with these initials.

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
word/character
purple
funds
self
dictionary
grandson
benevolent
embroidery
this
thought/thinking
company
four
driver
garlic

Here is one additional aspect of spelling syllables with these initials. You may remember in the lesson on o, uo, and ou that the letters “o” and “uo” represent the same sound. After some initials, that sound is spelled “o” and, after others, it is spelled “uo.” After the initials presented in this lesson, the correct spelling is “uo.”       Here is a chart and some examples to illustrate this spelling, as well as some examples with the final “ou,” to help you remember the difference.

 ouoou
z-zuozou
c-cuocou
s-suosou

Some of these examples are repeated from above. And some are nearly tongue twisters!

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
to search for
approximately (left-right)
to play music on a musical instrument
to go left
to gather together
error
file (tool)

Listening Quiz

Dictation Quiz

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