Sounds

There are 19 initials and 51 finals in Cantonese.  These combine to form about 590 sounds.  A word consists of  (initial) + final + tone.  In some cases the initial can be omitted.

To hear a particular initial or final, you can use the Cantonese Sound Chart.

Initials:

b, ch, d, f, g, gw, h, j, k, kw, l, m, n, ng, p, s, t, w, y

The initial Ng often gives learners difficulty.  It is a nasal sound much like "mmm, mmm".  While this sound is very important and is always used in "proper" Cantonese, many contemporary speakers are beginning to omit this initial sound.  A learner who cannot pronounce the sound correctly at first can simply omit the sound and speak the final, however it is recommended to use the sound if possible.

The initial /N/ is also special in that it is often changed into an [L] sound.  So the word "night" in English would be pronounced "light".  The reverse, however is not true. Initial /L/ sounds do not become [N] sounds.  In general, any initial /N/ sound can be changed to an [L] and it won't even be noticed.   The [N] pronunciation is often heard in formal readings/formal speech.  In casual speech, it may seem unnatural or overly formal to some natives.

Finals

Below is a list of the Cantonese finals.  Notes on more difficult sounds follow below.

aa

a

e

eu

i

o

u

yu

aam

am

 

 

im

 

 

 

aan

an

 

eun

in

on

un

yun

aap

ap

 

 

ip

 

 

 

aat

at

 

eut

it

ot

ut

yut

aak

ak

ek

euk

ik

ok

uk

 

aang

ang

eng

eung

ing

ong

ung

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aai

ai

ei

eui

 

oi

ui

 

aau

au

 

 

iu

ou

 

 

"a" vs. "aa"   The single "a" is like the "u" in fun (American accent) when followed by a consonant, while "aa" is similar to the "a" in yawn.  When "a" is the entire final- as in "fa", "ma", "gwa", "ha", "pa", etc., it is pronounced the same as "aa".  The question particle "ma" () is a special case.  It is pronounced both ways under different circumstances.

au - pronounced like you dropped a hammer on your toe "ow".

"i" - the "i" sound is always pronounced as a long "ee" sound.  You could rewrite "team" as "tim" using Yale Romanization and it would be pronounced the same, however, it would ruin a very good saying about unselfishness.

eu-  pronounce the vowels short as you would separately and stick them together.  It's like you make a sound to ask a question "eh?" but then get hit in the stomach.

eui vs. oi    These two sound a lot alike, but there  is a difference.  Practice the eu sound and then add a long "ee" at the end for the former.  The later just sounds like "oy".

eung and euk-   These are trouble spots.  There's like a slight "r" sound in there when you blend the vowels together.

u  The "u" sound is pronounced similar to "oo" but not exactly.


Up | Why Natives Should Learn | Romanization Converter | Cantonese Sounds | Cantonese Tones | Why Learn Romanization?

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