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How Many Letters in the Chinese Alphabet?

The answer is that there is no Chinese letters A to Z , so that the Chinese alphabet does not exist. The Chinese language utilizes characters and tones for writing. Each character represents a whole word or morpheme, and the language is written through a logographic system. To understand the intricacies of the Chinese writing system without an alphabet, this guide will provide illumination.

What’s the phonetic system in Chinese?

Although Chinese language doesn’t have an alphabet of letters like English does, Chinese language has it’s own phonetic alphabet. Such an official phonetic alphabet for Standard Mandarin Chinese in Romanized form is known as Hanyu Pinyin(汉语拼音). Hanyu Pinyin is an alphabet made up of latin letters. In the alphabet of Hanyu Pinyin, some letters exist together with a diacritic which is used to indicate the tones of different characters. The only way to master the accurate pronunciation of Chinese character is to grasp the Chinese phonetic system, namely, Hanyu Pinyin.

The Chinese phonetic system is as follows. As you see, the alphabet consists of two parts:23 Initials(声母) and 24 Finals(韵母). Initials are consonants and finals are vowels. 

How Many Letters in the Chinese Alphabet? - WuKong Blog

How to pronounce Chinese characters with the phonetic system?

Each character has its own phonetic symbol.  Generally speaking, a whole phonetic symbol is composed of initials, finals and tones. Take the word “爸” as an example, it’s phonetic symbol is “bà”,which is a connection of an initial letter “b” and a final letter “a”. It’s worth noting that there’s a tone symbol on the final letter “a”. The spelling of “爸”(bà) is pronouncing from “b” to “a” of the fourth tone(à).

Four Tones in Chinese:

The tone symbol is used to mark the tone of the Chinese word.

There are four tones in total:

TonesExampleEnglish meaning
First tone (level)(mā) 妈mother
Second tone (rising)(chuán) 船boat
Third tone (fall/rise)(wǒ) 我me
Fourth tone (falling)(kàn) 看look
Four Tones

Different tones on the same phonetic symbol lead to different meanings:

TonesExampleEnglish meaning
First tone (level)(mā) 妈mother
Second tone (rising)(má) 麻flax
Third tone (fall/rise)(mǎ)马horse
Fourth tone (falling)(mà)骂abuse


If you finished this article, you will be clear about how many letters there are in Chinese alphabet. The answer to that is none: zero Chinese letters. And the latin letters that looks like English letters are just phonetic symbol of Chinese characters, instead of the components of Chinese characters.

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