Vietnamese Phonology

Structure of a Vietnamese syllable:

Note that Vietnamese syllable may also have the following structures:

- Initial Consonant + Vowel: Chê bai (Criticize)

- Vowel + Final Consonant: Ăn (Eat)

- Vowel: Anh ơi! (Hey)
 

I. Vowels 

Vowels consist of Single vowels, Double vowels and Triple Vowels

1. Single vowels: in Vietnamese there are 12 main single vowels, listed in the table below.

Especially, letter “I” and “Y” in Vietnamese have the same pronunciation and function in the words, but “Y” can be placed in the beginning of the words while “I” cannot.

For example: “Yêu” (/iɜw/) = to love but not Iêu

                          

  Vowel

Pronunciation

Like

Example

A

/ɐː/, /ɐ/, /ɜ/

A in “Bar”

 Cha: dad, father

Ă

/ɐ/

O in “brother”

Ăn: eat

Â

/ɜ/

E in “Garden”

Cây: tree

O

/ɔ/, /ɐw/, /w/

O in “corner”

Con vật: animals

Ô

/o/, /ɜw/, /ɜ/

O in “mobile”

Khôn: smart

Ơ

/əː/, /ɜ/

E in “player”

Cám ơn: thank you

E

/ɛ/

E in “embark”

Kem: cream

Ê

/e/, /ɜ/

A in “mate”

Chê bai: criticize

U

/u/, /w/

U in “glue”

 Cung điện: palace

Ư

/ɨ/

U in "huh"

 Hư: naughty

I

 /i/, /j/

I in “mini”

 Kỳ thi: exams

Y

 /i/, /j/

I in ”mini”

 K quặc: weird


2. Double and Triple vowels: Diphthongs in Vietnamese seem to be fewer in those than English, but the pronunciation of those double and triple vowels is a tough challenge to foreigners. Listed below are all popular diphthongs and triple vowels in Vietnamese:

 

Diphthongs

       Vowel

Pronunciation

Vowel

Pronunciation

ui

/uj/

iu

/iw/

ôi

/oj/

êu

/ew/

Oi

/ɔj/

eo

/ɛw/

ơi

/əːj/

ơu

/əːw/

ây

/ɜj/

âu

/ɜw/

ai

/ɐːj/

ao

/ɐːw/

ay

/ɐj/

au

/ɐw/

ưi

/ɨj/

ưu

/ɨw/

ia, ya, iê, yê

/iɜ/

ua, uơ

/uɜ/

ưa, ươ

/ɨɜ/

oa

/ɔɐː/

/ue/

 

 

 

Triple Vowels

 Vowel

Pronunciation

Vowel

Pronunciation

iêu, yêu

/iɜw/

ươu

/ɨɜw/

uôi

/uɜj/

ươi

/ɨɜj/

oai

/ɔɐj/

 

 

*** Long vowel: In Vietnamese, there are also some long wide-used vowels, often created from letter “O”. For example: “oong” (/ɔj/) in “xe goòng” (“wagon”)
 

II. Consonants

Consonants consist of Single Consonant, Double Consonants and Triple Consonants

Consonant in Vietnamese is more various than in English, but most of those letters in Vietnamese pronounce similar to the one in English.

1. Single consonants include

B C D Đ G H L K L M N P R S T V X 

There is only one letter which is “d” pronounce differently compared to its pronunciation in English as “z” in English alphabet. For example “dân” (civil) pronounce as /zɜn/.

Among those consonant, (b, d, đ, g, h, l, r, s,v, x) are letter that is NEVER put at the end of words, while the rest of single consonants, including (c, m, n, p, t) are allowed to be.

2. Double consonants: Popular double consonants in Vietnamese

Only “ng”, “ch” and “nh” are double consonants that can be placed at the end of the words while the others are not permitted.

    Double Consonant

Pronunciation like

Double Consonant

Pronunciation like

gh

G in “Google”

qu

Qu in”question”

gi

z in “zone”

th

th in “Thor”

kh

q in “”quite”

nh

n in “Kenya”

ch

ch in “chocolate”

tr

tr in “try”

ng

ng in “ring”

ph

F in “family”

3. Triple consonants

There is only one triple consonant in Vietnamese which is used commonly in making words and sentences. It is “ngh” which pronounce the same as “ng” This consonant is always put in the beginning of words and strictly used before (i, e, ê) vowels.

For example “nghe” (to listen) = /ngɛ/
 

III. TONES

Vietnamese has 6 tones, including:

Tones

Mark

Example

Thanh(mid –tone)

 

cai

Huyền (Low-falling tone)

ˋ

cài

Sắc (High-raising tone)

ˊ

cái

Hỏi (Low-rising tone)

ʔ

cải

Ngã (High-broken tone)

̴

cãi

Nặng (Low-broken tone)

.

Cại