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Cantonese pronunciation guide (78 initials and finals explained)

Cantonese pronunciation guide (78 initials and finals explained)

Introduction

Learning Cantonese pronunciation is the first challenge faced by language learners.  With 22 consonants, 8 vowels and 2 syllabic consonants, there are 78 different initials and finals in Cantonese.  This sheer number can already drive learners crazy, if they cannot find materials made systematically and professionally, let alone Cantonese being a tonal language.

Therefore, we have designed this Cantonese pronunciation guide.  In this guide, we will introduce Cantonese romanization system to you with clear pronunciation graphics and professional narrations.  In addition to Cantonese romanization systems, you will acquire certain amount of knowledge on International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) after completing this pronunciation guide.

Do you know that Cantonese is classified as a language with large(7-14) vowel inventory by the World Atlas of Language Structures?

How to learn Cantonese pronunciation?

For learning Cantonese pronunciation, you have to learn a Cantonese romanization system, either Jyutping(粵拼) or Yale romanization of Cantonese(耶魯粵語拼音).  Cantonese romanization systems are numerous due to the lack of government-sponsorship.  Before learning with this lesson, make sure you understand the difference between Yale romanization in Cantonese and Jyutping and choose the romanization system you want to learn; we recommend learners to learn with Jyutping due to its convenience in typing and its system completeness.

The structure of Jyutping

It is important to understand how Jyutping works before learning Cantonese pronunciation.  Jyutping defines the pronunciation of a character based on its initial(聲母), final(韻母) and tone(聲調).  Initial comprises consonants(輔音)only; final may comprise a single vowel(元音), a combination of vowels or a combination of  vowel and consonant.  Initial is not necessary for pronouncing a character.

gaau1
paak3
sik6

Cantonese pronunciation: single vowels(單元音)

Single vowels(單元音)are sounds created with little or no audible friction in our vocal tract.  Syllabic consonants are consonants(輔音)that can be pronounced alone like a vowel.

Single VowelsSyllabic Consonants
aa e i o u yu oem ng

aa

Description: Open your mouth as large as you can naturally; lie your tongue on your lower jaw and extend it to the front; relax your lips.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɑ]: Open vowel height; Front vowel backness; unrounded vowel roundness

e

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel e front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel e side

Description: Open your mouth naturally; lie your tongue on your lower jaw and extend it to the front; slightly draw back your lips.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɛ]: Open-mid vowel height; Front vowel backness; unrounded vowel roundness

i

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel i front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel i side

Description: Close your mouth; extend your tongue to the front; draw back your lips.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: i]:  Close vowel height; Front vowel backness; unrounded vowel roundness

o

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel o front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel o side

Description: Open your mouth yet slightly smaller than how you would open it naturally; retract your tongue from the front; form a small “o” with your lips protruding.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɔ]:  Open-mid vowel height; Back vowel backness; protruding rounded vowel roundness

u

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel u front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel u side

Description: Close your mouth; retract your tongue from the front; form a small “o” with your lips protruding and lift it slightly upward.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: u]:  Close vowel height; Back vowel backness; protruding rounded vowel roundness

oe

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oe front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oe side

Description: Open your mouth naturally yet slightly smaller than how you would open it naturally; extend your tongue to the front; bring the two ends of your lips together but do not expose the inner surface of your lips (i.e. sucking your lips)

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: œ]:  Open-mid vowel height; Front vowel backness; compressing rounded vowel roundness

yu

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yu front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yu side

Description: Close your mouth; extend your tongue to the front; form a small “o” with your lips protruding and lift it slightly upward.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: y]:  Close vowel height; Front vowel backness; protruding rounded vowel roundness

Cantonese pronunciation: syllabic consonants

m

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping syllabic consonants m front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping syllabic consonants m side

Description: Close your lips when you are making the sound.  You should feel air coming out from your nose.  No air should be released from your mouth.  The tongue does not affect the pronunciation of m̩.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: m̩]: occlusive manner of articulation; voiced phonation; nasal consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

ng

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping syllabic consonants ng front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping syllabic consonants ng side

Description: Open your mouth wide in order to avoid pronouncing the m sound and facilitating the drawing back of your tongue; airstream should be coming out from your nose instead of your mouth.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ŋ̩]: occlusive manner of articulation; velar place of articulation; voiced phonation; nasal consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

Cantonese pronunciation: complex vowels(複元音)

Complex vowels(複元音)are the result of pronouncing two vowels rapidly.  The complex vowels in Jyutping are generally are created by adding i or u into a single vowel.

For the exceptions, ai, au, ou, ei and eoi are created with single vowels not presented in Jyutping but IPA.  Pay extra attention to their explanation below.

Complex vowels

 iu
aaaaiaau
aaiau
eeieu
ooiou
i/iu
uui/
oe//

 

Complex vowels

eoi

​​

aai

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aai front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aai side

Description: Pronounce aa and i in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ai]: From open to close vowel height; Remain front vowel backness; remain unrounded vowel roundness

ai

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ai front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ai side

Description: Pronounce a and i in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɐi]: From nearly open to close vowel height; from center to front vowel backness; remain unrounded vowel roundness.

aau

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aau front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aau side

Description: Pronounce aa and u in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: au]: From open to close vowel height; From front to back vowel backness; From unrounded to rounded vowel roundness.

au

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel au front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel au side

Description: Pronounce a and u in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɐu]: From nearly open to close vowel height; From center to back vowel backness; from unrounded to rounded vowel roundness.

 

ei

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ei front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ei side

Description: Pronounce e(IPA symbol) and i in quick succession.  To pronounce e(IPA symbol), open your mouth slightly more than closing it; extend your tongue to the front; relax your lips.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ei]: From close-mid to close vowel height; Front vowel backness; unrounded vowel roundness.

 

eoi

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eoi front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eoi side

Description: Pronounce ø and y in quick succession.  To pronounce ø, open your mouth slightly more than closing it; extend your tongue to the front; bring the two ends of your lips together but do not expose the inner surface of your lips (i.e. sucking your lips).

To pronounce y, close your mouth; extend your tongue to the front; bring the two ends of your lips together but do not expose the inner surface of your lips.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: øy]: From close-mid to close vowel height; remain front vowel backness; remain to compress rounded vowel roundness.

eu

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eu front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eu side

Description: Pronounce e and u in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɛu]: From open-mid to close vowel height; from front to back vowel backness; from unrounded to rounded vowel roundness.

iu

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel iu front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel iu side

Description: Pronounce i and u in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: iu]: Close vowel height; from front to back vowel backness; from unrounded to rounded vowel roundness.

oi

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oi front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oi side

Description: Pronounce o and i in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ɔi]: From open-mid to close vowel height; from back to front vowel backness; from rounded to unrounded vowel roundness.

 

ou

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ou front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ou side

Description: Pronounce o and u in quick succession.  To pronounce o(IPA symbol), open your mouth slightly more than closing it; draw back your tongue; form a small o with your lips protruding.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ou]: From close-mid to close vowel height; back vowel backness; rounded vowel roundness.

ui

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ui front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ui side

Description: Pronounce u and i in quick succession.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ui]: Remain close vowel height; from back to front vowel backness; from rounded to unrounded vowel roundness.

Cantonese pronunciation: consonants(輔音)

Consonants(輔音)in Cantonese can be used before the vowel as an initial consonants(聲母)or after the vowel as an ending consonants(韻尾)(In linguistic terminology, syllable coda).  There are 4 groups of initial consonants.  For the purpose of demonstration, vowel aa with be added to the consonants in the following.

Initial Consonants (Stop)

Initial Consonants (Stop)
bp
dt
gk
gwkw
zc

B

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant b front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant b side

Description: Close your lips in order to block airflow from the mouth; build up the pressure and release it to pronounce; relax your tongue during the whole process; no air should be coming out from your nose.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: p]: occlusive manner of articulation; bilabial place of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

P

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant p front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant p side

Description: This pronunciation is identical with b except you need to exhale stronger; a puff should be felt when pronouncing p but not b.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: pʰ]: occlusive manner of articulation; bilabial place of articulation; voiceless aspirated phonation; oral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

D

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant d front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant d side

Description: A stop consonant is pronounced by bursting out the air pressure you build in your mouth.  Push the tip of your tongue against your upper jaw(alveolar) to block air outflowing from your mouth; build up pressure by exhaling air flow and block them with your tongue; produce even more pressure and release it to pronounce the sound.  Make sure air is only coming out from your mouth.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: t]: occlusive manner of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; stop consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

T

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant t front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant t side

Description: The pronunciation of t is very similar to d, you just need to exhale stronger.  Put your hand in front of your mouth, you should feel a puff of air when pronouncing t but not d

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: tʰ]: occlusive manner of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; stop consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

G

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant g front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant g side

Description: A stop consonant is pronounced by bursting out the air pressure you build in your mouth.  Lift the back or middle of your tongue to the back of your upper jaw(velar) to block air outflowing from your mouth; build up pressure by exhaling air flow and block them with your tongue; produce even more pressure and release it to pronounce the sound; Make sure air is only coming out from your mouth; relax your lips during the whole process.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: k]: occlusive manner of articulation; velar place of articulation; stop consonant; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

K

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant k front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant k side

Description: This consonant is identical with g except you should you should feel a puff of air coming out from your mouth when pronouncing k; relax your lips during the whole process

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: kʰ]: occlusive manner of articulation; velar place of articulation; stop consonant; voiceless aspirated phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

Gw

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant gw front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant gw side

Description: This consonant is identical with g except you should protrude and round a very small “o” with your lips in the beginning of your pronunciation; draw back your lips and transit from the very small “o” to a bigger “o” during your pronunciation.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: kʷ]: occlusive manner of articulation; velar place of articulation; stop consonant; voiceless labialized phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

Kw

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant kw front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant kw side

Description: This consonant is identical with g except you should protrude and round a very small “o” with your lips in the beginning of your pronunciation; draw back your lips and transit from the very small “o” to a bigger “o” during your pronunciation; you should also feel a puff of air coming out from your mouth when pronouncing kw

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: kʷʰ]: occlusive manner of articulation; velar place of articulation; stop consonant; voiceless labialized aspirated phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

Z

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant z front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant z side

Description: Touch your lower teeth with the tip of your tongue and touch your upper jaw(alveolar) with the middle part of your tongue; completely block the airflow with the middle part of your tongue; build up pressure and then release to pronounce; relax your lips during the whole process

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ts]: sibilant affricate manner of articulation; dentalized laminal alveolar place of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

C

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant c front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant c side

Description: This pronunciation is identical with z except you need to exhale stronger; a puff should be felt when pronouncing c but not z.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: tsʰ]: sibilant affricate manner of articulation; dentalized laminal alveolar place of articulation; voiceless aspirated phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism.

Initial Consonants (Nasal)

Initial Consonants (Nasal)
m
n
ng

M

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant m front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant m side

Description: Close your lips when you are making the sound.  You should feel air coming out from your nose.  No air should be released from your mouth.  The tongue does not affect the pronunciation of m.  Make a sound with your vocal tract during the pronunciation as this consonant is voiced

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: m]: bilabial place of articulation; occlusive manner of articulation; voiced phonation; nasal consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

N

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant n front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant n side

Description: Put your tongue right at your upper jaw(alveolar) to block air outflowing from your mouth.  You should feel air coming out from your nose.  No air should be released from your mouth.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: n]: alveolar place of articulation; occlusive manner of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; glottalic egreesive airstream mechanism

Ng

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant ng front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant ng side

Description:  Pull back your tongue to reduce the gap between your velar and your tongue.  You should feel air coming out from your nose.  No air should be released from your mouth.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: ŋ]: velar place of articulation; occlusive manner of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; glottalic egreesive airstream mechanism

Initial Consonants (Fricative)

Initial Consonants (Fricative)
f
h
s

F

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant f front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant f side

Description: Roll back your lower lip and gently touch the exterior of your lower lip with your upper teeth; a fuzzing sound should be created, and the airflow should not be completely blocked; relax your tongue during the whole process.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: f]: fricative manner of articulation; labiodental place of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

H

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant h front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant h side

Description: Relax your tongue and your lips and exhale from your mouth; you may feel tension near your throat

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: h]: fricative manner of articulation; glottal place of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

S

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant s front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant s side

Description: Touch your lower teeth with the tip of your tongue and touch your upper jaw(alveolar) with the middle part of your tongue; do not completely block the airflow; relax your lips during the whole process

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: s]: sibilant fricative manner of articulation; dentalized laminal alveolar place of articulation; voiceless phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

Initial Consonants (Glide and liquid)

Initial Consonants (Glide)
l
w
j

L

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant l front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant l side

Description: Open your mouth wild when you try this for the first time.  Block the airflow escaping from your mouth centrally by touch your upper jaw(alveolar) with the tip of your tongue; the airflow should be coming out from the side of your tongue; relax your lips during the process; make a sound with your vocal tract during the pronunciation as this consonant is voiced

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: l]: Denti-alveolar place of articulation; Approximant manner of articulation; voiced phonation; oral consonant; lateral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

 

W

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant w front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant w side

Description: To pronounce w, form the mouth structure of pronouncing u: Close your mouth; retract your tongue from the front; form a small “o” with your lips protruding and lift it slightly upward.  Make a sound with your vocal tract and transit to the vowel, then you can easily get the w sound.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: w]: labialized velar place of articulation; approximant manner of articulation; voiced phonation; oral consonant; central consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

J

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant j front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping consonant j side

Description: To pronounce j, form the mouth structure of pronouncing i: Close your mouth; extend your tongue to the front; draw back your lips.  Make a sound with your vocal tract and transit to the vowel, then you can easily get the j sound.

Linguistic description [IPA symbol: j]: palatal place of articulation; approximant manner of articulation; voiced phonation; oral consonant; pulmonic airstream mechanism

Cantonese pronunciation: plosive ending consonants(塞尾韻)

Plosive ending consonants are pronounced by stopping air flowing out from your mouth instantly after you have pronounced the vowel(In linguistic terminology, the unreleased stop).  If you do this correctly, you will feel pressure building up in your mouth.

Plosive ending consonants(塞尾韻)
p
t
k

 

Pay extra attention to the exceptions, uk and eot.  These combinations are created by combing distinctive vowels not denoted in Jyutping separately, which may easily confuse a learner.  For example, ut is translated as [ut̚] yet uk is translated as [ʊk̚] in IPA.  [u] and [ʊ] are completely different!

Possible combinations between single vowels and plosive ending consonants
 ptk
aaaapaataak
aapatak
eepetek
o/otok
iipitik
u/utuk
oe//oek
yu/yut/

 

Possible combination between single vowel that cannot standalone in Jyutping and plosive ending consonants
eot

P

aap

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aap front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aap side

Description: Pronounce aa and p in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with your lips in the middle of pronouncing p.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ap̚]

 

ap

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ap front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ap side

Description: Pronounce a and p in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with your lips in the middle of pronouncing p.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐp̚]

 

ep

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ep front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ep side

Description: Pronounce e and p in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with your lips in the middle of pronouncing p.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɛp̚]

ip

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ip front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ip side

Description: Pronounce i and p in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with your lips in the middle of pronouncing p.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ip̚]

T

aat

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aat front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aat side

Description: Pronounce aa and t in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: at̚]

 

at

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel at front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel at side

Description: Pronounce a and t in quick succession. To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐt̚]

 

eot

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eot front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eot side

Description: Pronounce ø(IPA symbol) and t in quick succession.  To pronounce ø, open your mouth slightly more than closing it; extend your tongue to the front; bring the two-ends of your lips together but do not expose the inner surface of your lips (i.e. sucking your lips); hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: øt̚]

 

it

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel it front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel it side

Description: Pronounce i and t in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: it̚]

 

ot

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ot front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ot side

Description: Pronounce o and t in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɔt̚]

 

ut

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ut front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ut side

Description: Pronounce u and t in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ut̚]

 

yut

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yut front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yut side

Description: Pronounce yu and t in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part and the tip of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing t.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: yt̚]

K

aak

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aak front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aak side

Description: Pronounce aa and k in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ak̚]

 

ak

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ak front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ak side

Description: Pronounce a and k in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐk̚]

 

ek

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ek front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ek side

Description: Pronounce e and k in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɛk̚]

 

ik

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ik front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ik side

Description: Pronounce i and k in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ik̚]

 

ok

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ok front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ok side

Description: Pronounce o and k in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɔk̚]

 

oek

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oek front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oek side

Description: Pronounce oe and k in quick succession; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: œk̚]

 

uk

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel uk front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel uk side

Description: Pronounce ʊ(IPA symbol) and k in quick succession.  To pronounce ʊ, open your mouth very slightly as if closed; draw back your tongue but slightly less than the greatest backness you can achieve; form a small “o” with your lips protruding; hold the airflow and pressure in your mouth with the middle part of your tongue in the middle of pronouncing k.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ʊk̚]

Cantonese pronunciation: nasal ending consonants(鼻尾韻)

Nasal ending consonants are pronounced by redirecting air outflowing from your mouth to your nose.  If you do this correctly, you should feel your nose vibrates significantly.

Although nasal ending consonants m, n and ng are all pronounced through our nose, their fundamental difference lies in the traveling distance for airflow in our mouth before redirecting to our nose.

Nasal ending consonants(鼻尾韻)
m
n
ng

 

The exception combinations created with nasal ending consonant include eon, ing and ung.

Possible combinations between single vowels and nasal ending consonants
 mnng
aaaamaanaang
aamanang
eemeneng
o/onong
iimining
u/unung
oe//oeng
yu/yun/

 

Possible combination between single vowel that cannot standalone in Jyutping and nasal ending consonants
eon

M

aam

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aam front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aam side

Description: Pronounce aa and m in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: am]

 

am

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel am front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel am side

Description: Pronounce a and m in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐm]

 

em

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel em front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel em side

Description: Pronounce e and m in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɛm]

 im

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel im front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel im side

Description: Pronounce i and m in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: im]

 

N

aan

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aan front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aan side

Description: Pronounce aa and n in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: an]

 

 

an

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel an front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel an side

Description: Pronounce a and n in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐn]

en

Description: Pronounce e and n in quick succession.

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel en front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel en side

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɛn]

eon

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eon front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eon side

Description: Pronounce ø(IPA symbol) and n in quick succession.  To pronounce ø, open your mouth slightly more than closing it; extend your tongue to the front; bring the two ends of your lips together but do not expose the inner surface of your lips (i.e. sucking your lips).

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: øn]

in

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel in front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel in side

Description: Pronounce i and n in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: in]

 

on

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel on front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel on side

Description: Pronounce o and n in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɔn]

 

un

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel un front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel un side

Description: Pronounce u and n in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: un]

 

yun

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yun front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel yun side

Description: Pronounce yu and n in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: yn]

Ng

aang

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aang front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel aang side

Description: Pronounce aa and ng in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: aŋ]

ang

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ang front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ang side

Description: Pronounce a and ng in quick succession.  To pronounce a, open your mouth slightly less then how will you naturally open it; keep your tongue in the central position of your mouth; relax your lips

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɐŋ]

 

eng

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eng front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel eng side

Description: Pronounce e and ng in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɛŋ]

ing

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ing front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ing side

Description: Pronounce ɪ (IPA symbol) and ng in quick succession.  To pronounce ɪ, open your mouth very slightly as if closed; extend your tongue to the front but slightly less than the greatest frontness you can achieve; slightly draw back your lips during pronunciation.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɪŋ]

ong

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ong front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ong side

Description: Pronounce o and ng in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ɔŋ]

oeng

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oeng front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel oeng side

Description: Pronounce oe and ng in quick succession.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: œŋ]

 

ung

Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ung front Cantonese pronunciation graphic, Jyutping vowel ung side

Description: Pronounce ʊ(IPA symbol) and ng in quick succession.  To pronounce ʊ, open your mouth very slightly as if closed; draw back your tongue but slightly less than the greatest backness you can achieve; form a small “o” with your lips protruding.

Linguistic description: [IPA symbol: ʊŋ]

Cantonese pronunciation: tones(聲調)

Tones is the most important element for mastering Cantonese pronunciation.  There are 6 tones in Cantonese.  Whenever plosive ending consonants(塞尾韻)p, t and k are used, the tone of the word must be in tone 1, 3 or 6.

Cantonese tones chart
Cantonese tones chart

The best way to learn the tone system is to memorize the sound of the tone.  The chart of pitches of tones have been provided here for your reference.  Tone with the highest pitch is 1; tone with the lowest pitch is 4.

Just imaging you are singing is a good way to understand tones.  When you sing, you do not just pronounce the word but also add a pitch to it; the pitch would change the word into a “new word” comparing with how you would normally pronounce it.  The same would happen by adding a tone to a pronunciation; a new word would be created, and it would be represented by another Chinese character.  Although you can add any tone to a pronunciation, not all pronunciations created by adding tone can be represented by a Chinese character.  For example, by adding different basic tones to “si”, we can make a lot of new word.

詩[si1] poem

史[si2] history

試[si3] to try

時[si4] time

試[si5] exam

是[si6] to be; yes

Now you should know that a single character may represent pronunciations with different tone and different meaning.  Remember, words ending with plosive ending consonant p, t and k can only be followed by checked tones 1, 3 or 6.

的[dik1]

No word[dik3]

敵[dik6]

Cantonese tones jingle(番茄醬牛腩麵一百碟)

Cantonese tones jingle

Are you struggling with tones(聲調)in Cantonese?  This short, visualized and food-related jingle can help you memorize all the tones in Cantonese easily.

faan1 ke2 zoeng3 ngau4 naam5 min6 jat1 baak3 dip6

番茄醬牛腩麵一百碟。

One hundred dishes of beef brisket noodles with ketchup.

Notice how tones change in an ascending manner from the beginning to the end of this jingle.

Meaning of words in this jingle

faan1 ke2

番茄

Tomato

faan1 ke2 zoeng3

番茄醬

Ketchup

ngau4 naam5

牛腩

Beef brisket

ngau4 naam5 min6

牛腩麵

beef brisket noodles

jat1 baak3

一百

A hundred

jat1 baak3 dip6

一百碟

Hundred dishes

That’s it for this Cantonese pronunciation guide!  If you appreciate our work, sign up now and give us a LikeCoin by clicking the LikeCoin button below 5 times.  It will empower us to create more useful contents for you in the future!

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