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Pronounciation: yi and wu

Hi ChinesePod team, my question is this:
Is the statement below correct?

Mandarin words, written in pinyin as ‘wu’ and ‘yi’ may be considered as simple vowels /u/ and /i/, with no initial consonant w and y, respectively.

If it’s correct, and if I understood correctly, a phrase like ‘yī nián’ would be pronounced as ‘ī nián’ and a phrase like ‘shí wù zhòng dú’ would be pronounced as ‘shí ù zhōng dú’. And furthermore, if the statement is correct, when speaking English and saying English words such as yo-yo, Chinese speakers would have to use the ‘y’ consonant sound, but are there any occasions when speaking Chinese where the pinyin-written words yi and wu have both the consonant y/w and the vowel i pronounced?

Hello Matija,

Good question! To put it simply, [y] sounds exactly the same as [i] and [w] is identical to [u]. [y] and [w] were only created to represent [i] and [w] when there’s no initial (consonant) present because finals (vowels) can not be stand-alone pinyin. In other words, there is absolutely no difference in their pronunciation! Regarding your question, since they sound exactly the same, there is no occasion where both consonant and the vowel are pronounced. Do you think [y] is pronounced in a different way than [i]? If that’s the case, what do you think [y] and [w] sound like?


Hi Rebecca,

Thank you for those bits of information.

When it comes to the pronunciation of ‘y’, I can see how it could sound exactly the same as ‘i’ and I can see how it could sound differently from ‘i’.

If the letter ‘y’ does sound differently to someone, then more energy is expanded each time that person says the words ‘yi’ and ‘wu’ in Chinese.

And since ‘y’ and ‘i’ sound differently to me, I wanted to know if ‘y’ and ‘w’ are to be omitted when pronouncing the words ‘yi’ and ‘wu’ in Chinese.

And if I understood correctly, if someone feels that ‘y’ and ‘i’ have the same sound then nothing changes, and if someone feels that ‘y’ and ‘i’ have a different sound then the ‘y’ sound is to be omitted when saying the word ‘yi’ in Chinese.

Here is an example of when the letter ‘y’ has its own sound which is equivalent to the letter ‘j’ in both Serbo-Croatian and German:
If I say ‘yo-yo’ (yoyo toy), there are four sounds: y o y o.
If I say ‘o-o’ (two o’s), there are two sounds: o o
More energy is expended saying ‘yo-yo’ than ‘o-o’.

Hi Matija,

Yes you can omit the “y” and “w” when you say [yi] and [wu] because they are pronounced exactly the same.

I understand [y] has its own sound in different languages. But in the Chinese pinyin system, [y] and [i] are considered the same. In fact, it’s not even a formal initial. Officially, we categorize [y] as a “half vowel” because it only serves the purpose of pairing up with the vowels. It may sound a bit confusing, but just think of it as a pinyin spelling rule: You have to add [y] to [i] in order to type 一, otherwise the character won’t show up. Keep in mind that pinyin is a unique system and it assigns the roman alphabets with new sounds and rules. For example, [q] and [c] sounds nothing like in English or in other languages.

Feel free to go to our pinyin page and listen closely to the sounds with [y], I think that would be really helpful:

Regarding your example, as I understand it, if I pronounce “yo” as [io], that would sound the same as [yo], so you see, [y] and [i] are also exchangeable in this case.

Let me know if you have any more questions.


[quote=“BeccaChu, post:4, topic:7132”]
Yes you can omit the “y” and “w” when you say [yi] and [wu] because they are pronounced exactly the same.
[/quote]This is very useful to me because I can now expand less energy whenever pronouncing words ‘yi’ and ‘wu’ in Chinese.

And regarding the yo-yo example, if letter ‘y’ in the English word ‘yo-yo’ is viewed as having the same sound as letter ‘i’ in Chinese pinyin, then it is exchangeable and if it is not viewed as having the same sound then it isn’t.

Thank you for your above-and-beyond support Rebecca.

Hi Matija,

No problem! I’m glad it was helpful :grinning:
You can also reach me at for any academic question!