Rules for Writing in Hanyu Pinyin

Q It’s not always clear to me if something should be written as one word or two (or three, etc.). How should I determine this?

A The basic rules of Hanyu Pinyin offer good guidelines. Yin Binyong’s two books on Pinyin — Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography and Xīnhuá Pīnxiě Cídiǎn 《新华拼写词典》 — provide excellent and detailed information about the specifics of Pinyin. For specific words, this contest will use the forms in the ABC Comprehensive Chinese–English Dictionary as standard. (Li-ching Chang was one of its editors.)


Q That seems like a lot of rules. Can you give me a quick version?

A Don’t worry, you don’t have to read both of those books, though we recommend that you do. You should, however, familiarize yourself thoroughly with at least the official version of the rules for Hanyu Pinyin. Basically, the rules for writing Hanyu Pinyin are quite simple and very similar to those of English. For example:

  • Begin every sentence with a capital letter.
  • Capitalize proper nouns (e.g., the names of people, cities, books, etc.).
  • Write words as complete words, not as bro ken syl la bles.


Q What are the main differences between English orthography and Pinyin orthography?

A There are just a few.

  • Personal titles are not capitalized in Hanyu Pinyin (e.g., “Mr. Wang” in English but “Wáng xiānsheng” in Pinyin).
  • The first-person singular pronoun is not capitalized (i.e., in English “I” is capitalized, but in Pinyin “wǒ” is not (unless, of course, it comes at the beginning of a sentence).
  • Apostrophes are very different in English and Pinyin. In Pinyin, always put an apostrophe before a syllable that begins with the letter a, e, or o — unless that syllable comes at the beginning of a word or after a hyphen (e.g., you must write “qǐ’é” rather than “qǐé”).

Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, by Yin Binyong and Mary Felley


See also