The Easy Vietnamese
Vietnamese alphabet, tones and letter combinations
In this article, you will learn a very introductory knowledge of Vietnamese. The article will cover alphabet, letter combinations, diphthongs and triphthongs, as well as tones which are symbols that you may notice on several Vietnamese words.
At the end of the article, there will be two knowledge check questions to help you memorise the details better.
We have a total of 29 letters in our alphabet, in which there are no "F", "J", "W" and "Z". However, as you get used to the language better, you will notice that many young people do use them in informal communication to either shorten their way of writing/texting or make the chats more relaxed.
Out of all vowels we have, "y" does not stand alone, but in combinations. For example, "yến" or "nguyên".
Learn with audio about the alphabet in the video below.
Out of 29 letters, we have 11 letter combinations that are either placed in the beginning or at the end of words. For instance, "ch" can be used in "chanh" (a lemon) or "khách" (a client).
1/ gh vs. g
The combination "gh" is used when there is "e", "ê", "i" after it.
Example: ghét, ghẻ, ghê, ghẹ, ghì, etc.
When there are other vowels, "g" is used.
Example: gớm, ganh, gôm, gom, etc.
2/ ngh vs. ng
Same rule is applied here. Can you guess how are they used?
The combination "ngh" is used when there is "e", "ê", "i" after it.
Example: ngốc nghếch, nghìn, nghe, Nghệ An (a province in Vietnam) etc.
When there are other vowels, "ng" is used.
Example: ngơ, ngốc, ngu, ngành etc.
Diphthongs and triphthongs
There is no one way for you to get familiar to all of these. The longer you spend time look through them and interact with them, the better you will learn.
Vietnamese notes - our signatures
As you may notice, Vietnamese language is recognised by the symbols that are placed on our words and also by our accents - the ups and downs like we are singing a song. Formally, Vietnamese have six tones as shown in the following table.
How to spot it
sắc (mid rising)
nắng, nóng, phút
huyền (low falling)
mồm, nồm, hầm
hỏi (mid falling or rising)
hỏi, mỏi, tỏi
ngã (mid rising)
gãy, hãy, vẫy
nặng (mid falling)
nhẹ, mẹ, lẹ
ngang (mid level, no up or down)
không, may, cơm
While we all study the standard Vietnamese in school, we from the south pronounce the nặng tone more lightly and replace the ngã tone with the hỏi tone. Additionally, the language is spoken beautifully and differently in the central of Vietnam, which I myself still need more time to get used to.
How many words are in the following list that have hỏi tone? Wordlist: nhảy, múa, xoay, ngã, nắng, mưa, rủi, tuổi, giường, ăn, gảy, vờn, buổi.
Answer: 5, including nhảy, rủi, tuổi, gảy and buổi.
When should ngh or gh be used?
Answer: When there are i, e, ê after it.