Rules of Bopomofo


The Rules of Bopomofo


Hopefully you are getting good at remembering the 37 Bopomofo.  This lesson will cover all the rules you need to read them correctly. By the end of today you should have the entire system down!


The Basic Rules

















combination initials – Can appear only at the beginning of a syllable.

independent initials – Can appear alone, or at the beginning of a syllable.

medials – Can appear alone, or at the beginning, middle, or end of a syllable.

independent finals – Can appear alone, or at the end of a syllable.

combination final – Can appear only at the end of a syllable.

lone character – Can only appear alone.


Just as in English, the names of the symbols are not exactly the same as the sound they make in combination.  The name of ㄅ is “buh”, but in a syllable it just makes the “b” sound, and so on.  Combination characters never appear alone, so their “Bopomofo Song” name is only used in spelling, never in pronunciation.


The Tones


Chinese is a tonal language.  That means that the pitch you use to say a word can change what that word means.

In Bopomofo, tone markers appear after the characters to indicate 1st (level), 2nd (rising), 3rd (low), 4th (falling), or neutral tones.  Lack of a tone marker indicates 1st tone.


mother1st tone (level)
hemp2nd tone (rising)
horse3rd tone (low)
scold4th tone (falling)
question particleneutral tone



The Five Special Rules


Usually, words made of two or three Zhuyin characters are just the sum of their parts.  However, there a few exceptions to this:


Special Rule 1:ㄓ, ㄔ, ㄕ and ㄖ Change in Combination
Special Rule 2:ㄗ, ㄘ and ㄙ Also Change in Combination
Special Rule 3:ㄢ Sounds Different After ㄧ and ㄩ
Special Rule 4:ㄣ and ㄥ Sound Different After ㄧ
Special Rule 5:ㄨㄥ Sounds Different in Threes



Rule 1:  ㄓ, ㄔ, ㄕ and ㄖ Change in Combination


The ㄓ symbol makes a “jrr” sound when it is by itself, but a simple “j” sound when it is followed by another symbol.  It’s like in English, where the letter “A” is pronounced “eh-yi” in the Alphabet Song, “uh” when it stands alone, and “aah” when it leads off a word like “apple”.  You probably won’t get confused with ㄓ and accidentally say “jrooh” instead of “jooh” (though I do sometimes hear Taiwanese pronounce “apple” as “eh-yi-ple”).  This characteristic is also found in the letters “ㄔ”, “ㄕ”, and “ㄖ”.


+=(Bopomofo)
jrr+ooh=jooh(English)
jr+wu=ju(Yale)
zhi+wu=zhu(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
chrr+ooh=chooh(English)
chr+wu=chu(Yale)
chi+wu=chu(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
shrr+ooh=shooh(English)
shr+wu=shu(Yale)
zhi+wu=shu(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
rirr+ooh=rooh(English)
r+wu=ru(Yale)
ri+wu=ru(Pinyin)



Rule 2:  ㄗ, ㄘ and ㄙ Also Change in Combination


The ㄗ symbol makes a “dzeuh” sound when it is by itself, but drops it’s vowel sound to make “dz-” when it is followed by another symbol.  ㄘ (tseuh) and ㄙ (seuh) follow the same pattern.


+=(Bopomofo)
dzeuh+ai=dzai(English)
dz+ai=dzai(Yale)
zi+ai=zai(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
tseuh+ai=tsai(English)
tsz+ai=tsai(Yale)
ci+ai=cai(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
seuh+ai=sai(Bopomofo)
sz+ai=sai(Bopomofo)
si+ai=sai(Bopomofo)


The sole exception to this is when they are followed by the character ㄜ.  Then you keep the full pronunciation of ㄗ/ㄘ/ㄙ, and just tack ㄜ onto the end.


+=(Bopomofo)
dzeuh+uh=dzeuh-uh(English)
dz+e=dze(Yale)
zi+e=ze(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
tseuh+uh=tseuh-uh(English)
tsz+e=tse(Yale)
ci+e=ce(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
seuh+uh=seuh-uh(English)
sz+e=se(Yale)
si+e=se(Pinyin)


The differences between the soundsㄗ/ㄘ/ㄙ, and ㄗㄜ/ㄘㄜ/ㄙㄜ, are easily the most subtle differences of any pairs of syllables in the entire Chinese language!  For more clarification, you might try asking a few native speakers to pronounce both sets of sounds, so you can practice hearing the difference for yourself.


Rule 3:  ㄢ Sounds Different After ㄧ and ㄩ


Usually, the character ㄢ is pronounced “on”, but if it appears in the same word as ㄧ or ㄩ, it is pronounced “-en”.


BopomofoEnglishYalePinyin
onanan
wanwanwan
bahnbanban
dahndandan
yenyanyan
jee-enjyanjian
chee-enchyanqian
see-ensyanxian
ü-enywanyuan
jü-enjywanjuan
chü-enchywanquan
sü-ensywanxuan



Rule 4:  ㄣ and ㄥ Sound Different After ㄧ


Usually, the characters ㄣ and ㄥ are pronounced “un” and “ung”, respectively.  But if they appear in the same word as ㄧ, they drop their vowel sounds, becoming “-n” and “-ng”.


BopomofoEnglishYalePinyin
unenen
wunwenwen
bunbenben
dundenden
eenyinyin
jeenjinjin
cheenchinqin
seensyinxin


BopomofoEnglishYalePinyin
ungengeng
wungwengweng
bungbengbeng
dungdengdeng
eengyingying
jeengjingjing
cheengchingqing
seengsyingxing



Rule 5:  ㄨㄥ Sounds Different in Threes


In characters with (-)ㄨㄥ, like ㄉㄨㄥ, ㄊㄨㄥ, and ㄓㄨㄥ, the ㄨㄥ changes from wung (ooh + eng) to “-ong”.  So the above characters become “dong”, “tong”, and “jong”.


+=(Bopomofo)
duh+wung=dong(English)
d+weng=dong(Yale)
d+weng=dong(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
tuh+wung=tong(English)
t+weng=tong(Yale)
t+weng=tong(Pinyin)


+=(Bopomofo)
jrr+wung=jong(English)
jr+weng=jong(Yale)
zhi+weng=zhong(Pinyin)




Congratulations!

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And that’s it!  You now know the phonetic alphabet of Chinese.  You can impress all the Chinese-speaking people you meet with your excellent pronunciation!  You can also impress any Taiwanese you meet with your knowledge of Bopomofo!



Today’s Quest


This time, you’re going to try to complete all of the Phase I Flashcards.  Start by reviewing Categories 1-5 from yesterday.  Once you’ve got the hang of those, read Special Rule #1, add the “Special Rule #1” Category to your “Categories to Study” list, and train them until they are all “Active”.  Continue this process until you’ve mastered all 5 Special Rules, and no more New or Due cards remain.



Every. Day.

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To cement them into your memory, be sure to review your Phase I flashcards every day for at least the next two weeks.  If you commit to clearing out all the “Due” cards every single day, you should have both the characters and sounds mastered in no time!

Tomorrow, we’ll use our new knowledge of ㄅㄆㄇㄈ to read (and correctly pronounce) a whole mess of useful Chinese phrases!


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Next: Speaking Chinese