Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (2023)

learn Chinese• By maxihobbs •

Chinese Alphabet - Our Ultimate Guide to the Chinese Alphabet

Chapter 1 - The History of Chinese Characters / The Chinese Alphabet

Chapter 2 - How to start learning Chinese when there is no Chinese alphabet?

Chapter 3 – How logical are the Chinese characters?

Chapter 4 - How many Chinese letters are there?

Chapter 5 - Radicals: What are Chinese radicals?

Chapter 6 – What is closest to a Chinese alphabet – Pinyin

Chapter 7 – The Chinese alphabet: more examples

Chapter 8 - The 10 most common Chinese characters

What I want to make clear right at the beginning: there is no Chinese alphabet. In German there are 26 letters (without the umlauts and ß) with which we form words and sentences, in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used in Russian, for example, there are even 33 letters.

The Chinese language, on the other hand, does not have an alphabet as we know it. As you probably know, Chinese only has characters. eachChinese charactersdoes not stand for a letter, but a syllable. A character can form a word, but most Chinese words consist of at least two syllables and thus at least two Chinese characters.

There is no Chinese alphabet –only thousands of different characters

Perhaps we should first take a look at the history of Chinese characters, which dates back to ancient China. Chinese writing is still an important part of Chinese culture today.

Chapter 1 - The History of Chinese Characters / The Chinese Alphabet

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (1)

Chinese is one of the oldest languages ​​in the world. As I said, Chinese does not have an alphabet, but rather characters that resemble pictures rather than letters. There is historical evidence that Chinese characters have been in use for over 3000 years. The characters, which are similar to today's, were only introduced about 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty.

Of course, a lot has changed in these 2000 years. The characters are used today not only in modern Mandarin, but also in theChinese dialectsand other languages ​​such as Cantonese (the native language of Hong Kong and Guangdong, China) and Kanji (the Japanese writing system). In mainland China, characters kept changing and evolving until the 1950s. In 1950, Mao Zedong introduced simplified Chinese characters to increase literacy in China. Today, only these characters are used in mainland China, with Hong Kong andTaiwanthe traditional characters are still used.

Chapter 2 - How to start learning Chinese when there is no Chinese alphabet?

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (2)

That's a good question... you just have to start with the easiest characters. As you learn your first 10-20 characters, you'll find that many of them are found in other more difficult characters. It's best if we look at the whole thing with a few examples.

This is the simplest character in Chinese:一 (Yī – meaning "one")

Now, unfortunately, there is only one other problem: two different characters are often joined together to form a new word with a different meaning. After all, most of these connections follow a certain logic.

For example, this character means “general”:Total Gòng

If you put these two characters together, you get a new word...

Total (YīGòng)

And together this word means: "together"

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (3)

Makes sense right? This is how it works for most Chinese words. Two words you already know are put together to form a new word with a new meaning.

As your Chinese advances, you will find it easier to guess the meaning of these compound words, since the new meaning is often related to the original meaning of each syllable.

Two more characters for you:时 (Shí means "time") and 区 (Qū means "area")

Can you already guess what these two words mean together?

(Video) Learn the Chinese Alphabet in Less Than 20 min! Pinyin & Zhuyin (Bopomofo)

Time Zone: Shí Qū =time zone

So we find that although there is no Chinese alphabet, syllables in Chinese are mostly logically combined to form new words. You willLearn Chinesemaybe simplify a bit.

Chapter 3 – How logical are the Chinese characters?

If you don't speak Chinese and look at a Chinese text, Mandarin looks incredibly complex at first glance.

Of course it isLearning Mandarina challenge. Nevertheless, the language sometimes follows an amazing logic.

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (4)

Let's take the word for "electric" -electric diàn

We now combine this with three other Chinese words:

  • eyesight –see shì
  • Brain -Brain nǎo
  • Shadow -Shadow yǐng

And this is our result (maybe you could already guess the meanings):

  • Electrical + Vision= Fernseh television (diànshì)
  • Electrical + Brain= Computer (diànnǎo)
  • Electric + Shade= Kino movie (diànyǐng)

In this way you can put Chinese words together. Most Chinese words consist of two syllables, i.e. two characters, but sometimes three, four, five or more characters are combined.

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (5)

Chapter 4 – “How many Chinese letters are there?”

This is a question many people ask themselves before they start learning Chinese. If you have already read the first part of our blog, you already know that there is no Chinese alphabet. Therefore, of course, there are no Chinese letters. Nevertheless, to give you an idea of ​​how many Chinese characters there are, we have selected a few numbers related to the Chinese language.

Chinese Numbers: Count like a Chinese!

In order to be able to communicate in everyday life without major difficulties, you should know about 500-750 characters.

  • 2,000 characters –you should know that many to be able to read a Chinese newspaper
  • 2,633 characters –so many you should know if youHSK 6 examwant to do
  • 8,000 characters –that's how many characters the average, educated Chinese knows
  • 20,000 characters –you will find that many characters in a Chinese dictionary

And how many Chinese characters are there in total? If the numbers above surprised you, then it gets even better:

Das Great Compendium of Chinese Characters, auf Chinesisch Hànyǔ dà zìdiǎn (Chinese Dictionary), gibt an, dass es54,648 Chinese charactersgives.

There will be even more!

The Dictionary of Chinese Variant Form, in Chinese Zhōnghuá zì hǎi (中华字海) even leads106,230 characters including definitionon!

But don't worry, if you're learning Chinese as a foreigner, you don't have to memorize this incredible number of characters.

If you want to take one of the HSK exams, there are special vocabulary lists where all the characters you need to know for the respective language level are listed. Here we have put together some information about the HSK exams for you. You can find everything else on our page for theHSK exam.

HSK LevelLTL LevelCharacters/words you will know when you reach this levelIf you pass the exam, you can...
HSK 1A1Characters:178You know the basics. You can introduce yourself and ask and answer simple questions. For example, you can say where you live and talk about your family.
HSK 2A2characters:349You understand the most commonly used vocabulary in Chinese. You can talk about your work, school, family, food etc. You can apply what you have learned in simple situations.
HSK 2 to 3B1characters:485You recognize important sentence structures and can compare things with each other.
HSK 3B1+Characters:623You find your way in simple situations, for example when you travel and meet local people. You can write simple texts on topics you are familiar with and talk about your hobbies, dreams, goals and experiences.
HSK 4B2 to B2++Characters:1071You can understand the core messages of complex texts, especially texts specific to your field of work. You can converse fairly fluently with locals without much difficulty.
HSK 5C1 to C1+++Sign:1709You understand long texts and their implied meaning. You can express yourself fluently without any problems. You can use your language skills in professional, school and social environments.
HSK 6C2 to C2+++++Characters:2633You have no trouble understanding written and spoken Chinese. You can summarize information from oral and written sources and argue and present fluently.

So once you know a few hundred Chinese characters, you can communicate in everyday life and in your professional environment without any problems. Also, when you're learning characters, it's important that you know how they're constructed, so you can learn more effectively that way. In this context, the radicals are important, which will be discussed in the following chapter...

Chapter 5 - Radicals: What are Chinese radicals?

If you see a new character you're unfamiliar with, knowing a few Chinese radicals can be very helpful. Don't know what radicals are in Chinese? Then here we have a definition that wefound on Wikipediahave, for you:

Aradical in Chinese(from Latinradix, deutsch,Root') or root sign or rather class sign (Chineseradical, PinyinBushǒu;), is the graphical or semantic mapping component of a Chinese character. This assignment is often obvious, sometimes purely traditional and only understandable from the historical development of the sign, sometimes quite arbitrary. In reference works, the characters are indexed by radicals and can be found in this way.

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (6)

The best way to explain this is with an example:

This Chinese radical made up of three dashes is the water radical. That is, if you see a character that contains this radical, the character's meaning has something to do with water. And if you don't know the sign, you can at least guess what it means.

For example, the water radical occurs in the following signs:

  • fluid:液 - yes
  • Flow:river - hé
  • Foam:bubble – pào

Now you're probably still wonderinghow many radicals there are in Chinesegives.

In the traditional Kangxi 康熙 radical system, there are 214Radicals.

Unfortunately, the radicals are not always on the left side of the character, as in our example, but can also be above the character, below it or on the right side.

Unfortunately, some radicals are not as easy to identify and relate to the meaning of the sign as the radical for water.

Other important and relatively light radicals are:

(Video) How to write Chinese Alphabet Translated in English A to Z | Neat and clean handwriting

  • The radical for humans is 亻(sneaky)
    • You can find this radical, for example, in the character 你 for "du" (nǐ)
  • The radical for ice cream is冫 (bīng)
    • An example of this radical is 冻, meaning "to freeze" (dòng)
  • The radical for door is 门(but)
    • This radical is contained in the character 间 for room(jiān).

A notice -The third radical 门 has a special position in the character, it surrounds the actual character 间 rather than being next to it. This even fits the meaning of the word "door".

Chapter 6 – What is closest to a Chinese alphabet – Pinyin

There is no Chinese alphabet, but there is the Pinyin script, which undoubtedly makes learning Chinese, especially pronunciation, much easier.

Hanyu Pinyin(ChineseHanyu Pinyin)is the official Chinese romanization of Standard Chinese in the People's Republic of China. This phonetic transcription based on the Latin alphabet was officially decided in 1956 and approved at the end of 1957.

You've probably noticed that when we present a character here, we always add the pinyin.

  • Doorbut
  • Shadow yǐng
  • see shì

Pinyin writing is incredibly useful when trying to figure out how to pronounce a character. In addition, the pinyin indicates how the character must be stressed (i.e. which of the five tones it is).

Words in Chinese are divided into two pinyin parts: initials and finals.

As the name suggests, the initials are the first part of a Chinese word, and the finals are the end.

  • fēn pointscan in theinitial(f)and theFinal sound(s)be divided
  • shuō sayscan in theinitial (sh)and theFinal (uō)be divided
  • shàng shàngcan in theinitial (sh)and theAuslaut (store)be divided

Every Chinese word consists of an initial and final sound. You always find the tone on the final sound.

Altogether there are 21 initials and 37 finals.

As a Chinese beginner, you usually learn the pinyin script first, because you can already speak Mandarin that way. The next step is to combine the phonetics with the characters.

If you speak English, learning Chinese pronunciation won't be that difficult. Many sounds are very similar, while others are not.

Some examples:

  • store(like in Shanghai) - Pronounced the way you would in English
  • fēn- Pronounced the same way you would in English
  • C- Now it's getting complicated. The C is pronounced more like a "ts", as in the English word "bits".
  • Q –Also difficult to learn for Europeans. The Q is pronounced like the "chee" in "cheese".
  • Zh– This sound is similar to German “Dsch”, for example in “jungle”

What only helps here: practice, practice, practice. It's usually difficult to tell apart sounds like x, j, and q at first, but over time it's not a problem.

Chapter 7 – The Chinese alphabet: more examples


Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (7)

Before the pinyin system was introduced in mainland China, there were several different systems for representing Chinese phonetically. One was the Wade-Giles system, developed by British diplomat Thomas Francis Wade. This Mr. Wades was also the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University and published his first textbook in Chinese in 1867. The system was later developed further by diplomats Herbert Allen Giles and Lion Giles, hence the name.

This system shares some similarities with the pinyin system, but there are some differences in the stress on some vowels and consonants. In the meantime, the Wade-Giles system has been almost completely replaced by the pinyin system. In Taiwan alone, some names, such as geographic locations, continue to use the old system. For example, Taipei's pinyin name is Táiběi (台北) and Kaohsuiung is Gāoxióng (高雄).

Zhuyin Fuhao/Bopofomo

Zhuyin fuhao (注音符號), also known as Bopofomo, is another phonetic transcription used in Taiwan. The Bopofomo system uses 37 symbols and four tones.

The first four characters of the system are "bo", "po", "fo" and "mo" (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ), hence the name of the system.

Unlike the Pinyin and Wade-Giles systems, the Zhuyin Fuhao does not use Latin letters. The advantage of this is that these alternative symbols and their pronunciation cannot easily be confused with our pronunciation of the letters.

This system was developed around 1900, in the early days of the Republic of China. Today the Zhuyin Fuhao system is still widespread in Taiwan. It is mainly used in elementary school to teach students Chinese pronunciation. Therefore, it can also be found there in school books and some dictionaries.

That's it for the history of Chinese writing systems, let's move on to the most common Chinese characters...

Chapter 8 - The 10 most common Chinese characters

While Chinese is all about how well you can remember characters, some of these characters are repeated over and over again and can be found everywhere.

We want to give you an overview of the ten most common Chinese characters:




(A grammatical particle) – Frequency = 95.6



one; a little – Frequency = 94.3




be – Frequency = 93.0




not - Frequency = 91.8




(a particle that indicates a change or completed action) - Frequency = 90.7




Human, Person – Frequency= 89.7



me, me, me – Frequency = 88.7




in, on, at – Frequency = 87.8




have; there are – frequency = 87.8




he, him, him – Frequency = 86.9

的 (de – a grammatical particle)

So this is the most common Chinese character. The funny thing is that the word has no real translation. It is one of the three "de-particles" in Chinese and indicates possessions. Here are a few examples:

My cell phone
wǒ de shǒujī
My mobile phone

our teacher
wǒmen de lǎoshi
Our teacher

Your cat
nǐ de mao
Your cat

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (8)

“的” is also used to indicate possessions, for which we use the genitive in German.

my dad's car
Wǒ bàba de chē
My father's car

(Video) Learn ALL Chinese Alphabet in 45 Seconds - How to Read and Write Chinese

一 (yī – one; a little)

This is not only the second most common Chinese character, but also the simplest: 一. This character has many different meanings, such as "first", "best", "only", etc. Here are a few examples:

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (9)

bottle of milk
It's a good idea
A bottle of milk

first place
Auntie yī minh
First place

we look the same
Wǒmen just qǐlái yīyàng
We look the same

to be

If you want to connect two nouns in Chinese, you do this with the verb 是. When listening to Chinese, just be careful not to confuse this character with other Chinese words, as many different characters in Chinese use the "shi" sound. So the pinyin for "ten" is also "shí", ​​only with the second note instead of the fourth.

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (10)

I am a student.
Wǒ shì xuésheng
I am a student.

Are you the boss?
Nǐ shì lǎobǎn ma?
are you the boss

Are you British
Nǐ shì yīngguó ren ma?
are you british

Many beginners in Chinese make the mistake of using 是 to match a subject with an adjective. However, in Chinese, if you want to combine a subject and an adjective, you have to use an adverb. If you want to say "I'm British" you would use 是 since "Brit" is a noun. For “I am happy”, on the other hand, an adverb is used, i.e. 我很开心, and not 我是开心.

不 (bù – not)

"Bù" is used to form Chinese negative. This character is often found together with 是, which then means "not to be". These are a few examples:

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (11)

I am a student.
Wǒ shì xuésheng
I am a student

I'm not a student.
Wǒ compensate shì xuésheng
I am not a student

I am Australian
Wǒ shì dàlìyǎ rén
I am Australian

i'm not australian
Wǒ compensate shì dàlìyǎ rén
I'm not Australian

up(le – a particle for the verb)

When you start learning Chinese, you'll quickly come across 了, and you'll probably despair. The problem is that there is no translation or equivalent in English for this word, making it difficult to use "le" correctly in Chinese.

In short, 了 is used to indicate a completed action or a changed situation. While there are other uses, these two will suffice for starters.

Here you can find our English-language Le infographic

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (12)

it is too late now .
Xiànzái Tai wǎn le.
It's too late now

He is so handsome.
Talent shuai le.
he looks very good

He bought a new mobile phone.
Tā mǎi le yī gè xīn shǒujī.
He bought a new cell phone

We've seen it.
Wǒmen kàn guo le.
We've seen it before

人 (rén – person, human)

Luckily, this common Chinese character is easy to remember: 人 resembles a walking person, fitting for the meaning of "person."

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (13)

three people
Sān gè rain
Three people

other people

Other people

Gōng rên

(Video) How To Master Any Chinese Character In Seconds

If you like learning with pictures, you can check out our English language learn Chinese app reviewChineasylook at. The image shown here is from this app.

我 (wǒ – I, me, me)

While in German we have different forms of "I" depending on the grammatical case, it's much simpler in Chinese. For all forms you simply use 我. As 我们 (Wǒmen), this character also appears in the form for "we".

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (14)

I am fine
Wǒ hěn hǎo
I'm doing well

we are italian
Wǒmen shì yìdàlì rén
We are Italian

I am 34 years old
Wǒ 34 su .
I am 34 years old

i like to eat pizza
Wǒ xǐhuān ch bǐsà
I like to eat pizza

在 (zài – in, on, at)

Although 在 is a verb, it is used very similarly to a preposition in German. Since “zài” is already a verb, it is never used with 是, another common mistake Chinese beginners make. So 我是在上海 is grammatically incorrect. Here are a few more examples:

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (15)

I am in Shanghai.
Wǒ zái Sánghǎi.
I'm in Shanghai.

They are in the UK.
Tamen zai Yīngguó.
You are in England

Who's upstairs?
Shei zai loushang?
who is on top

Where do you live?
nǐ zhù zài nǎ lǐ
Where do you live?

有(yǒu – have, there is)

有 is one of the most common Chinese characters. Most often it is used to indicate ownership of something. If you want to form the negative form, you use 没 (méi). So 没有 means "not to have".

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (16)

Do you have class today?
Jīntiān nǐ yǒu kè ma?
do you have class today

We have three daughters.
Wǒmen yǒu sān gè nǚ'ér.
We have three daughters.

I do not have money.
wǒ more yǒu qián
I have no money.

There are many Chinese in Japan.
Rìběn yǒu hěn duō Zhōngguó rén.
There are many Chinese in Japan.

he(tā – he, him, him)

Similar to "I" in Chinese, tā is used for many grammatical forms. As is well known, German has many forms for he, she and it... in Chinese there are also different forms for masculine (他), feminine (她) and neuter (它), but these forms no longer change.

All forms are spoken the same in Chinese, which is also the reason why the Chinese so often confuse the English "he" and "she".

Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (17)


how old is he
tā jĭ suì the
How old is he?

his book
That's it
His book

He went to Shanghai last week
That's a good thing
He went to Shanghai last week

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Chinese alphabet - Are there Chinese letters? (18)

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