(&3) Heteronyms / 多音多义字

As you study more chinese, you will experience more chinese characters. Even if you are not trying to remember all of them, or memorise them, but instead you just want to know enough to understand and speak mandarin, you still will see too many of the chinese characters in your learning journey.

One difficult aspect of recognising chinese characters is the mere quantities of them. Reportedly, there are more than 80,000 chinese characters, but only 3,500 are frequently used.  Of which, some characters have more than one pronunciation. Sometimes they are similar, sometimes not.

Don’t worry too much about it, just remember that one character having more than one pronunciation in chinese is normal. If in doubt, leave a comment to discuss with me.


The simplest example is 一.

It can be pronounced as yi1, or yi2, or yi4.

二三 yi1 er4 san1 one two three
星期 xing1 qi2 yi1 Monday

yi2 ding4 definite (but sometimes it is pronounced as yi4 ding4 too. Sigh)
半 yi2 ban4 one-half (but sometimes it is pronounced as yi4 ban4 too. Double sigh)


chang2 duan3 length
zhang3 xiang4 look


ceng2 jing1 previously
zeng1 sun1 grandchildren


bu4 xing2 cannot
yin2 hang2 bank


There are more examples, but no point worrying you with all these. I’ll explain as and when we come across them in the lessons. All in all, it may be complicated at times, just have to keep speaking mandarin to be more familiar with it.

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