5. Initials (g, k, h) and Finals (e, ei, en, eng)

This lesson introduces the initials g, k, and h, and the finals e, ei, en, and eng. The first two initials sound quite similar to equivalent phonemes in English but, like the initials in the previous lesson, there are some subtle differences. The Chinese h sound is a bit different from the h sound in American English but is generally not difficult for speakers of American English to learn.

New Initials and Finals:


In this set of initial and final combinations, there is only one combination that does not form a viable syllable for modern Standard Chinese. This does not mean, of course, that all of the possible combinations are used to form syllables in all four tones.

Below are some audio exemplars of real words formed by some of the syllables in this chart.

First listen to exemplars of syllables formed by the new initials in this lesson with finals introduced in the previous lessons. Remember that this is an exercise in listening for distinctions in sound, not in vocabulary building. We have included the English translations just as a reminder that these are real syllables with meanings.

Character and PinyinEnglish equivalent
cover or lid
bow (as in bow and arrow)
sound of laughter
sea or ocean

What did you notice about the consonants at the beginnings of those syllables?  Do the g and k sounds seem the same as the equivalent sounds in English? Did you notice a subtle difference?

You may have guessed that the distinction between g and k sounds in Chinese is analogous to the distinction between b and p sounds and the d and t that you learned in the previous lesson.

The Standard Chinese g is unvoiced and unaspirated. The k sound is also unvoiced, but aspirated.

Try proving this to yourself.

Say “guard my cake” with your fingers on your voicebox. The English g is voiced and you may feel your voice box vibrating as you begin the word guard. What is the difference between that sound and the sound for c and k in cake?

Now try to say the Chinese word gān (liver) with an unvoiced g. Try repeating the Chinese word with an unvoiced, aspirated k.

If you cannot reproduce the distinctions right away, do not be concerned. Keep listening until you can “repeat” the sounds in your head and then try to reproduce the sounds to match the mental models you have created.

Now, what about the h sound in Chinese?

Say the English name Harry Houdini. Listen carefully to the h sound.

Now repeat the Chinese words hǎi (ocean) and hán (cold). You may need to go back and listen to the recordings of these exemplars again. What do you notice? You may have discovered that the Chinese h sometimes sounds more “gravelly” or even phlegmy. The Chinese h sound is produced in the back of the mouth, with the back of the tongue and the velum. Like “g” and ‘”k” in both Chinese and English, this is a velar sound. English, on the other hand, does not have a velar h. The English h is a glottal sound, formed further forward in the mouth than velar sounds. The important point here is not the technical anatomical distinction but the difference in the sounds. Can you hear the difference? Can you imitate it?

Now listen to the new initials with some new finals, including the simple final e and the complex finals ei, en, and eng.

Character and PinyinEnglish equivalent
to drink
to give
to gnaw

What do you notice about these finals? Are they similar or different from sounds in English?

Listening Quiz

Listen to the following syllables. Write down the Pinyin, including the tone. Then click below to check your answers.



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