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The Vietnamese alphabet, called Chữ Quốc Ngữ (script of the national language), usually shortened to Quốc Ngữ (national language), is the current writing system for the Vietnamese language. It is based on the Latin alphabet (more specifically the Portuguese version of it[1]) with some digraphs and the addition of nine accent marks or diacritics — four of them to create additional sounds, and the other five to indicate the tone of each word. The many diacritics, often two on the same letter, make written Vietnamese easily recognizable.


Letter names and pronunciation

This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Vietnamese alphabet
Letter Name IPA
A a a
Ă ă á a
 â ə, ɜ
B b bê, bờ ɓ, ʔb
C c xê, cờ k
D d dê, dờ northern pronunciation: z, southern pronunciation : j
Đ đ đê, đờ ɗ, ʔd
E e e ɛ
Ê ê ê e
(F) (f) ép
G g giê, gờ ɣ
ʒ(before i, ê, and e)
H h hát, hờ h
I i i ngắn i
(J) (j) gi
K k ca k
L l e-lờ l
M m em-mờ m
N n en-nờ n
O o o ɔ
Ô ô ô o
Ơ ơ ơ əː, ɜː
P p p
Q q cu, quy k
R r e-rờ northern pronunciation: z, southern pronunciation : ʐ, ɹ
S s ét-sì, sờ s, southern pronunciation : ʂ
T t tê, sờ t
U u u u
Ư ư ư ɯ
V v vê, vờ v, southern pronunciation : j
(W) (w) vê kép, vê-đúp
X x ích-xì s
Y y i dài, i-cờ-rét as a vowel: i, as a consonant: j
(Z) (z) giét


Most of the consonants are pronounced approximately as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, with the following clarifications:

  • Both D and GI are pronounced either [z] in the northern dialects (including Hanoi), or [j] (similar to English y) in the central and Saigon dialects.
  • Đ is similar to a [d] sound in many languages. Vietnamese đ, however, is additionally pronounced with a glottal stop immediately preceding or simultaneous with it.
  • S is pronounced like the English sh for the southern dialect and some central dialects; however, it is pronounced like English s among the northern dialects.
  • V is pronounced [v] in the northern dialects, or [j] and [bj] in the southern dialects.
  • X is pronounced like English s (at the beginning of a word, e.g. "sing").
  • CH is a voiceless palatal stop (IPA: [c], similar to English c in "cute") or affricate (IPA: [ʧ], similar to English ch in "chip"). Pronounced as in the final position.
  • KH is a voiceless velar fricative (IPA: [x]). It is similar to the German or Scottish ch, Russian x, Mandarin h, Spanish j, or Arabic and Persian "خ" (kh). It is never pronounced like English k or Hindi "ख" (kh).
  • NG is a velar nasal (IPA: [ŋ]). It is similar to both occurrences of ng in English "singing". It is never pronounced like English n, or n plus g.
  • NH is a palatal nasal (IPA: [ɲ]), similar to Polish ń, Russian нь, Spanish ñ, Portuguese nh, or French and Italian gn.
  • PH is pronounced [f], as in English "Philip". It is never pronounced like English p or Hindi "फ" (ph).
  • TH is an aspirated t (IPA: [tʰ]). It is similar to the "थ" (th) sound in Hindi or the t sound in English when pronounced at the beginning of a word. It is never pronounced like the English th in path or French/Spanish t.
  • TR is a retroflex t (in the southern regions) and pronounced like the Vietnamese ch in the northern dialects.

The digraph GH and the trigraph NGH are basically variants of g and ng used before i, in order to avoid confusion with the digraph GI. For historical reasons, gh and ngh are also used before e or ê.



The correspondence between the orthography and pronunciation is somewhat complicated. In some cases, the same letter may represent several different sounds, and different letters may represent the same sound. This may be due to the fact that the orthography was designed centuries ago and the spoken language has changed, or to an attempt by the inventors to spell the sounds of several dialects at once. (Similarly, standard English spelling includes for historical reasons both the letters h and r, and yet there are many dialects of English pronunciation which drop one or the other.)

The letters y and i are mostly equivalent, and there is no rule that says when to use one or the other, except in diphthongs like ay and uy (i.e. tay (hand) is read /tɐi/ while tai (ear) is read /tɐːi/). There have been attempts since the early 20th century to standardize the orthography by replacing all the vowel uses of y with i, the latest being a decision from the Vietnamese Ministry of Education in 1984. These efforts seem to have had limited effect, in part because some people bristled at the thought of names such as Nguyễn becoming Nguiễn and Thúy (a common female name) becoming Thúi (stinky), even though the standardization does not apply to diphthongs and triphthongs and allowed exceptions to proper names. Currently, the spelling that uses i exclusively is found only in scientific publications and textbooks. Most people and the popular media continue to use the spelling that they are most accustomed to.

Spelling Sound Spelling Sound
a  /ɐː/, /ɐ/, /ɜ/ o  /ɔ/, /ɐw/, /w/
ă  /ɐ/ ô  /o/, /ɜw/, /ɜ/
â  /ɜ/ ơ  /əː/, /ɜ/
e  /ɛ/ u  /u/, /w/
ê  /e/, /ɜ/ ư  /ɨ/
i  /i/, /j/ y  /i/, /j/



The table below matches Vietnamese vowels (written in the IPA) and their respective orthographic symbols used in the writing system.

Sound Spelling Sound Spelling
/i/ i, y /e/ ê
/ɛ/ e /ɨ/ ư
/əː/ ơ /ɜ/ â
/ɐː/ a /ɐ/ ă
/u/ u /o/ ô
/ɔ/ o


The vowel /i/ is:

  • usually written i: /si/ = (A suffix indicating profession, similar to the English suffix -er).
  • sometimes written y: /mi/ = Mỹ 'America'.
    • It is always written y when:
  1. preceded by an orthographic vowel: /xwiɜn/ = khuyên 'to advise';
  2. at the beginning of a word derived from Chinese (written as i otherwise): /iɜw/ = yêu 'to love'.

Note that i and y are also used to write the approximant consonant /j/.

Diphthongs and triphthongs

Sound Spelling Sound Spelling
/uj/ ui /iw/ iu
/oj/ ôi /ew/ êu
/ɔj/ oi /ɛw/ eo
/əːj/ ơi /əːw/ ơu
/ɜj/ ây, ê /ɜw/ âu, ô
/ɐːj/ ai /ɐːw/ ao
/ɐj/ ay, a /ɐw/ au, o
/ɨj/ ưi /ɨw/ ưu
/iɜ/ ia, ya, iê, yê /uɜ/ ua, uô
/ɨɜ/ ưa, ươ /uw/ uy
/iɜw/ iêu, yêu /uɜj/ uôi
/ɨɜj/ ươi /ɨɜw/ ươu


The diphthong /iɜ/ is written:

  1. ia in open syllables: /miɜ/ = mía 'sugar cane' (note: open syllables end with a vowel; closed syllables end with a consonant);
  2. before a consonant: /miɜŋ/ = miếng 'piece';

The i changes to y at the beginning of words or after an orthographic vowel:

  • ya: /xwiɜ/ = khuya 'late at night'
  • : /xwiɜn/ = khuyên 'to advise'; /iɜn/ = yên 'calm'.

The diphthong /uɜ/ is written:

  1. ua in open syllables: /muɜ/ = mua 'to buy';
  2. before a consonant: /muɜn/ = muôn 'ten thousand'.

The diphthong /ɨɜ/ is written:

  1. ưa in open syllables: /mɨɜ/ = mưa 'to rain';
  2. ươ before consonants: /mɨɜŋ/ = mương 'irrigation canal'.

Tone marks

Vietnamese is a tonal language, i.e. the meaning of each word depends on the "tone" (basically a specific tone and glottalization pattern) in which it is pronounced. There are six distinct tones in the standard, Northern, dialect (Southern dialects have only five). The first one ("level tone") is not marked, and the other five are indicated by diacritics applied to the vowel part of the syllable.

Name Contour Diacritic Accented Vowels
Ngang mid level, ˧ unmarked A/a, Ă/ă, Â/â, E/e, Ê/ê, I/i, O/o, Ô/ô, Ơ/ơ, U/u, Ư/ư, Y/y
Huyền low falling, ˨˩ grave accent À/à, Ằ/ằ, Ầ/ầ, È/è, Ề/ề, Ì/ì, Ò/ò, Ồ/ồ, Ờ/ờ, Ù/ù, Ừ/ừ, Ỳ/ỳ
Sắc high rising, ˧˥ acute accent Á/á, Ắ/ắ, Ấ/ấ, É/é, Ế/ế, Í/í, Ó/ó, Ố/ố, Ớ/ớ, Ú/ú, Ứ/ứ, Ý/ý
Hỏi dipping, ˧˩˧ hook Ả/ả, Ẳ/ẳ, Ẩ/ẩ, Ẻ/ẻ, Ể/ể, Ỉ/ỉ, Ỏ/ỏ, Ổ/ổ, Ở/ở, Ủ/ủ, Ử/ử, Ỷ/ỷ
Ngã glottalized rising, ˧ˀ˥ tilde Ã/ã, Ẵ/ẵ, Ẫ/ẫ, Ẽ/ẽ, Ễ/ễ, Ĩ/ĩ, Õ/õ, Ỗ/ỗ, Ỡ/ỡ, Ũ/ũ, Ữ/ữ, Ỹ/ỹ
Nặng glottalized falling, ˧ˀ˨ dot below Ạ/ạ, Ặ/ặ, Ậ/ậ, Ẹ/ẹ, Ệ/ệ, Ị/ị, Ọ/ọ, Ộ/ộ, Ợ/ợ, Ụ/ụ, Ự/ự, Ỵ/ỵ
  • Unmarked vowels are pronounced with a level voice, in the middle of the speaking range.
  • The grave accent indicates that the speaker should start somewhat low and drop slightly in tone.
  • The acute accent indicates that the speaker should start high and rise sharply in tone.
  • The hook indicates that the speaker should start somewhat low, and fall, then rise, as in a question.
  • A tilde indicates that the speaker should start high, then dip and rise like a question in tone.
  • The dot signifies that the speaker should start low and fall lower in tone.

In syllables where the vowel part consists of more than one vowel (such as diphthongs and triphthongs), the placement of the tone is still a matter of debate. Generally, there are two methodologies, an "old style" and a "new style". While the "old style" emphasizes aesthetics by placing the tone mark as close as possible to the center of the word (by placing the tone mark on the last vowel if an ending consonant part exists and on the next-to-last vowel if the ending consonant doesn't exist, as in hóa), the "new style" emphasizes linguistic principles and tries to apply the tone mark on the main vowel (as in hoá). In both styles, when one vowel already has a quality diacritic on it, the tone mark must be applied to it as well, regardless of where it appears in the syllable (thus thuế is acceptable while thúê is not). In the case of the ươ diphthong, the mark is placed on the ơ. The u in qu is considered part of the consonant. Currently, the new style is usually used in new documents, while some people still prefer the old style.

The lowercase letter i should retain its dot even when accented. (However, this detail is often lost in computers and on the Internet, due to the obscurity of Vietnamese specialty fonts and limitations of encoding systems.)

In lexical ordering, differences in letters are treated as primary, differences in tone markings as secondary, and differences in case as tertiary differences. Ordering according to primary and secondary differences proceeds syllable by syllable. According to this principle, a dictionary lists tuân thủ before tuần chay because the secondary difference in the first syllable takes precedence over the primary difference in the second.


As a result of influence from the Chinese writing system, each syllable in Vietnamese is written separately as if it were a word. In the past, syllables in multisyllabic words were concatenated with hyphens, but this practice had died out, and hyphenation is now reserved for foreign borrowings. A written syllable consists of at most three parts, in the following order from left to right:

  1. An optional beginning consonant part
  2. A required vowel syllable nucleus and the tone mark, if needed, applied above or below it
  3. An optional ending consonant part, can only be one of the following: c, ch, m, n, ng, nh, p, t, or nothing.


A page from Alexandre de Rhodes' 1651 dictionary

The Vietnamese language was first written down, from the 13th century onwards, using variant Chinese characters (chữ nôm 字喃), each of them representing one word. The system was based on the script used for writing classical Chinese (chữ nho), but it was supplemented with characters developed in Vietnam (chữ thuần nôm, proper Nom characters) to represent native Vietnamese words.

As early as 1527, Portuguese Christian missionaries in Vietnam began using the Latin alphabet to transcribe the Vietnamese language for teaching and evangelization purposes. These informal efforts led eventually to the development of the present Vietnamese alphabet, largely by the work of French Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes, who worked in the country between 1624 and 1644. Building on previous Portuguese-Vietnamese dictionaries by Gaspar d'Amaral and Duarte da Costa, Rhodes wrote Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, a Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, which was printed in Rome in 1651, using his spelling system.[1]

In spite of this development, chữ nôm and chữ nho remained in use until the early 20th century, when the French colonial administration made Rhodes's alphabet official. Nationalists embraced the script as a weapon to fight the French administration and heavily promoted its use, setting up schools such as the Tonkin Free School and publishing periodicals utilizing this script. By the late 20th century, quốc ngữ was universally used to write Vietnamese, such that literacy in the previous Chinese character-based writing systems for Vietnamese is now limited to a small number of scholars and specialists.

Because the period of education necessary to gain initial literacy is considerably less for the largely phonetic Latin-based script compared to the several years necessary to master the full range of Chinese characters, the adoption of the Vietnamese alphabet also facilitated widespread literacy among Vietnamese speakers—whereas a majority of Vietnamese in Vietnam could not read or write prior to the 20th century, the population is now almost universally literate.

Sino-Vietnamese and quốc ngữ

Writing Sino-Vietnamese words with quốc ngữ caused some confusion about the origins of some terms, due to the large number of homophones in Chinese and Sino-Vietnamese. For example, both (bright) and (dark) are read as minh, which therefore has two opposite meanings (although the meaning of "dark" is now esoteric and is used in only a few compound words). Perhaps for this reason, the Vietnamese name for Pluto is not Minh Vương Tinh (冥王星 - lit. underworld king star) as in other East Asian languages, but is Diêm Vương Tinh (閻王星), named after the Buddhist deity Yama. During the Ho Dynasty, Vietnam was officially known as Đại Ngu (大虞 - Great Yu). Unfortunately, most modern Vietnamese know ngu as "stupid" (); consequently, some misinterpret it as "Big Idiot". However, the homograph/homophone problem is not as serious as it may seem, because although many Sino-Vietnamese words have multiple meanings when written with quốc ngữ, usually only one has widespread usage, while the others are relegated to obscurity. Furthermore, Sino-Vietnamese words are usually not used alone, but in compound words; thus, the meaning of the compound word is preserved even if individually each has multiple meanings. Most importantly, since quốc ngữ is an exact phonemic transcription of the spoken language, its understandability is as high or higher than a normal conversation.

Computer support

The universal character set Unicode has full support for the Vietnamese writing system, although it does not have a separate segment for it; the required characters are scattered throughout the Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, Latin Extended-A, Latin Extended-B, and Latin Extended Additional segments. An ASCII-based writing convention, Vietnamese Quoted Readable, and several byte-based encodings including TCVN3, VNI, and VISCII were widely used before Unicode became popular. Most new documents now exclusively use the Unicode format UTF-8.

Unicode allows the user to choose between precomposed characters and combining characters in inputting Vietnamese. Because various operating systems implement combining characters in a nonstandard way (see Verdana font), most people use precomposed characters when composing Vietnamese-language documents.

Most keyboards used by Vietnamese-language users do not support direct input of diacritics by default. Various free utilities that act as keyboard drivers exist. They support the most popular input methods, including Telex, VIQR and its variants, and VNI.

See also


  • Gregerson, Kenneth J. (1969). A study of Middle Vietnamese phonology. Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Indochinoises, 44, 135-193. (Published version of the author's MA thesis, University of Washington). (Reprinted 1981, Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics).
  • Haudricourt, André-Georges. (1949). Origine des particularités de l'alphabet vietnamien. Dân Việt-Nam, 3, 61-68.
  • Healy, Dana.(2003). Teach Yourself Vietnamese, Hodder Education, London.
  • Nguyen, Đang Liêm. (1970). Vietnamese pronunciation. PALI language texts: Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-87022-462-X
  • Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1955). Quốc-ngữ: The modern writing system in Vietnam. Washington, D. C.: Author.
  • Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1992). Vietnamese phonology and graphemic borrowings from Chinese: The Book of 3,000 Characters revisited. Mon-Khmer Studies, 20, 163-182.
  • Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1996). Vietnamese. In P. T. Daniels, & W. Bright (Eds.), The world's writing systems, (pp. 691-699). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  • Nguyễn, Đình-Hoà. (1997). Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt không son phấn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 1-55619-733-0.
  • Pham, Andrea Hoa. (2003). Vietnamese tone: A new analysis. Outstanding dissertations in linguistics. New York: Routledge. (Published version of author's 2001 PhD dissertation, University of Florida: Hoa, Pham. Vietnamese tone: Tone is not pitch). ISBN 0-415-96762-7.
  • Thompson, Laurence E. (1991). A Vietnamese reference grammar. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1117-8. (Original work published 1965).

Further reading

  • Nguyen, A. M. (2006). Let's learn the Vietnamese alphabet. Las Vegas: Viet Baby. ISBN 0977648206
  • Shih, Virginia Jing-yi. Quoc Ngu Revolution: A Weapon of Nationalism in Vietnam. 1991.


  1. ^ a b Roland Jacques (2002). Portuguese pioneers of Vietnamese linguistics prior to 1650. Orchid Press. 

External links

Basic Latin alphabet

I is the ninth letter of the basic modern Latin alphabet. Its English name (pronounced /aɪ/) is spelled i.



Egyptian hieroglyph ˁ Proto-Semitic Y Phoenician Y Etruscan I Greek Iota Old Turkic ı/i

In Semitic, the letter Yôdh was probably originally a pictogram for an arm with hand, derived from a similar hieroglyph that had the value of a voiced pharyngeal fricative (/ʕ/) in Egyptian, but was reassigned to /j/ (as in English "yes") by Semites, because their word for "arm" began with that sound. This letter could also be used for the vowel sound /i/, mainly in foreign words.

The Greeks adopted a form of this Phoenician yodh as their letter iota (Ι, ι). It stood for the vowel /i/, the same as in the Old Italic alphabet. In Latin (as in Modern Greek), it was also used for the consonant sound of /j/. The modern letter J was originally a variation of this letter, and both were interchangeably used for both the vowel and the consonant, only coming to be differentiated in the 16th century.

In modern English, I represents different sounds, mainly a "long" diphthong /aɪ/, that developed from Middle English /iː/ after the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century, as well as the "short", open /ɪ/ as in "bill". The dot over the lowercase 'i' is sometimes called a tittle. In the Turkish alphabet, dotted and dotless I are considered separate letters and both have uppercase (I, İ) and lowercase (ı, i) forms.

Codes for computing

Alternative representations of I
NATO phonetic Morse code
India ··
Signal flag Flag semaphore Braille

In Unicode, the capital I is codepoint U+0049 and the lower case i is U+0069.

The ASCII code for capital I is 73 and for lowercase i is 105; or in binary 01001001 and 01101001, respectively.

The EBCDIC code for capital I is 201 and for lowercase i is 137.

The numeric character references in HTML and XML are "I" and "i" for upper and lower case, respectively.

See also


The Basic modern Latin alphabet
Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Letter I with diacritics
Two-letter combinations
Letter-digit & Digit-letter combinations
   I0I1I2I3I4I5I6I7I8I9    0I1I2I3I4I5I6I7I8I9I   

history palaeography derivations diacritics punctuation numerals Unicode list of letters ISO/IEC 646


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


The Latin script
Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Variations of letter I

Íí Ìì Ĭĭ Îî Ǐǐ Ïï Ḯḯ Ĩĩ Įį Īī Ỉỉ Ȉȉ Ȋȋ Ḭḭ Ɨɨ İi Iı ɪ IJij IJij

Letters using dot sign


upper case (lower case )

  1. The letter I with a dot below.

Simple English

The Latin alphabet
Aa Bb Cc Dd
Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj
Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp
Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv
Ww Xx Yy Zz

I is the ninth (number 9) letter in the English alphabet.

In English, I is a pronoun which means "me".

Meanings for I

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