Chinese Letter I (YI) – Comprehensive Guide

Chinese Letter i

Pee? Tea? Glee? Oh, Right, Chinese Letter YI!

Ah, some relief from the rather challenging Chinese alphabet letter E. Chinese alphabet letter YI (“i”) is a LOT easier to say, but first a note on the spelling. What’s up with that “Y”? How do you pronounce it? Trick question, you don’t. “Y” is the letter the creators of pinyin chose to put in front of “i” to make it appear clearer on paper. Imagine that you were reading Pinyin and there was just an “i” in isolation. Weird. All you need to know is this, “Y” is just a placeholder for “i”. They are one (一 ) in the same (?).

Chinese Letter I (YI) – Pronunciation

There is only “One” of “You” drinking Tea 😉 - The Letter i in Chinese

So how do you say YI? It is quite easy, just like the end of “tea” or “pee”. We’d recommend tightening your lips into a bit of a weird smile so that you continue to practice exaggerating, but it is seriously not difficult to say. Give it a shot. BTW, were you using the first tone? Good, because that’s how you say the number one “一 ” when it is a numeral. Sometimes it is pronounced or , as we talked about in our Chinese Tone Changes article.

Add an Initial in Front & the “Y” Disappears

The second word is the incredibly useful pronounce for “you”, 你 . As mentioned in our blog post on Initials, the letter “n” is just like English. The only point of note here regarding the pronunciation is that there may actually be a time when you say the fully articulated and isolated 3rd tone when saying 你 nǐ. The context would be that you are angry at someone, and maybe you are even making an accusation of wrongdoing. This may cause you to say in isolation “你!” while pointing your finger at the said offender. That said though, it will still be the “zombie” 3rd tone the vast majority of the time. Short & Low.


“一 ” is the second most common character in Mandarin Chinese apart from “的“. For now just know that while it does contain the meaning of “one”, it is often used in other contexts as well. This makes sense, because conceptually “one” isn’t just about numbers. “One” might imply unity, or that something happens all at “once”. As a result, it gets used in many different words. You’ll see it all the time, so no need to overthink it too much now.

, meaning “you”, will become useful to you immediately. Remember that we referred to “的” before to show simple possession, so “your” would be “你的 nǐde”. That 3rd Tone – 5th Tone tone pair is a great candidate to be your Tone Pair Anchor.

There’s Only “One” “You”

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