Vietnamese Alphabet // A Complete Guide (+ FREE Quiz)

The Vietnamese Alphabet 🆎 A Super Simple Guide to Master Your Pronunciation

The Vietnamese Alphabet

So you’re starting out on your Vietnamese adventure! We’re delighted to hear it. One of your first challenges is going to be mastering the Vietnamese Alphabet – that’s where we are here to help.

Today we are going to provide you with a definitive guide to the Vietnamese Alphabet plus a bunch of illustrative examples, flashcards and even a FREE quiz at the end to review your skills.

Unlike other neighbouring languages such as Thai, Khmer, and Chinese, the Vietnamese language uses the Latin alphabet.

Vietnamese Alphabet – The History

Vietnamese Alphabet – Letters

Vietnamese Alphabet – Pronunciation

Vietnamese Alphabet – The Consonants

Vietnamese Alphabet – The Vowels

Vietnamese Alphabet – Tones

BONUS – FREE Quiz

Vietnamese Alphabet – FAQ’s

Learn Vietnamese Online

It will take a little work at the beginning but once you are familiar with the Vietnamese Alphabet it will be so much easier for you to continue working on your Vietnamese skills.

Before we start, a bit of inspiration for you! In Vietnamese we have a proverb which is…

Vạn sự khởi đầu nan // All things are difficult before they are easy

Let’s get going!

Vietnamese Alphabet // History

First things first…

During the period when Vietnam was ruled by China (939-1919) the main written language used was Classical Chinese – chữ nho, while Vietnamese was an oral language.

Chinese texts were read with Vietnamese pronunciation, and many Chinese words were borrowed into Vietnamese, to create a number of Sino-Vietnamese words.

If you’re curious about Sino-Vietnamese, why don’t you have a look at our blog about the 10 commonly used Sino-Vietnamese words

Several Vietnamese words started to be written in chữ Nôm, using variant Chinese characters since the 12th century.

In the 17th century Francisco de Pina, a Portuguese Jesuit interpreter, created the first Latinized script of the Vietnamese language as assistance for learning the language. The Latin-based alphabet was used as the national language – chữ quốc ngữ

Until the 19th century, chữ quốc ngữ was officially recognized as the official language of Vietnam, was used in official government documents and taught massively to the population.

31 Examples of Vietlish // A Simple Equation Thumbnail

31 Examples of Vietlish // A Simple Equation

Vietlish = Vietnamese + English. You might be intimidated by learning Vietnamese but there’s no need with these 33 loanwords in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese Alphabet // Letters

The Vietnamese alphabet includes 29 letters but does not include the letters F, J, W, Z as in the English alphabet.

Vietnamese has an extensive number of letters with diacritical marks to make tonal distinctions.  

Letters with diacritical marks look like this…

a ă â

d đ

After the basic letters, you will find a set of complex consonants (10 double consonants and 1 triple consonant) and two sets of complex vowels.

The Vietnamese Alphabet

In essence…

  • The Vietnamese alphabet includes 29 basic letters
    • 17 consonant letters
    • 12 vowel letters
  • Additionally there are complex letters formed by combining the basic letters from the above
    • 10 double consonant letters
    • 1 triple consonant letter
    • 28 diphthong vowel letters
    • 11 triphthong vowel letters

You’ll see Vietnamese includes many more vowels than in English. It makes them a little more complex than English vowels, as tonal marks are included.

We’ll get to that shortly.

Vietnamese Alphabet // Pronunciation

Vietnamese is a left-to-right language, meaning it is read from the left, just like English!

A Vietnamese word usually consists of four elements:

  • First consonant
  • Vowel
  • Final consonant
  • A tonal mark

The tone mark always accompanies the vowel. However, not all words possess all four elements.

Check out our guide to the Vietnamese tones with our friend Tammy here.

Vietnamese Alphabet // The Consonants

OK, let’s learn the Vietnamese Alphabet together starting with basic consonants:

Single Consonants

AlphabetSimilar sound in EnglishExample wordEnglish
B b/b/ as in bigbafather
C c */k/ as in catcơmrice
D d/z/ as in zoo (northern dialect)

/j/ as yes (southern dialect)
daskin
Đ đ/d/ as in dormđigo
G g/g/ as in girlchicken
H h /h/ as in househátsing
K k/k/ as in coldkhôngno
L l /l/ as leafleaf
M m */m/ as in mommẹmother
N n */n/ as in nonofull
P p */p/ as in penpinbattery
R r/r/ as in ratrùaturtle
S s/s/ as in shoesốnumber
X x/s/ as in seaxescooter
T t */t/ as in tentênname
V v/v/ as in vanvẽdraw

In Southern pronunciation, s and x would be the same that’s why s is called sờ nặng (heavy s), and x as xờ nhẹ (light x).

Dialect is very important in Vietnamese. A tip for you is to stick to one dialect – North or South.

Vietnamese Dialects // North or South? Thumbnail

Vietnamese Dialects // North or South?

North vs South? Vietnamese dialects can vary quite significantly. This is one of the very early questions a Vietnamese learner asks themselves.

Complex Consonants

Now, let’s discover some of the complex consonants in the Vietnamese alphabet.

We will break down each letter with the phonetics and also give examples of words in English containing that sound. 

Complex consonantSimilar sound in EnglishExample wordEnglish
Ch ch */t∫/ as in chairchafather
Tr tr/tr/ as in treetrebamboo
Ph ph/f/ as in fanphởbeef noodles
Qu qu/w/ as in wowquàgift
Th th/θ/ as in thinkthuautumn
Gi gi/z/ as in zoo (northern dialect)

/j/ as in yes (southern dialect)
giàold
Gh gh/g/ as in goodghếchair
Ng ng */ŋ/ as in singngủsleep
Ngh ngh/ŋ/ as in singnghĩthink
Nh nh *nhàhouse
Kh khkhỏefine, in good condition
Among the Vietnamese consonants, only some can be used as final consonants which are marked by asterisk *

We also have the double consonants that cannot really be replicated in English – Nh, Kh.

To get an idea of the pronunciation of the Nh and Kh sounds, watch these really useful video guides below with native Vietnamese speakers.

The NH sound in Vietnamese
The KH sound in Vietnamese

The Vietnamese alphabet can even be tricky for native speakers! Here are some reasons why:

  • Tr and ch sometimes sound the same in the South of Vietnam.
  • Though written in different form, ng and ngh are pronounced the same.
    • The only distinguishing point is that ngh can be combined with vowels starting with i, e, ê, while ng will be placed with the remainder of the vowels.
  • G and gh are also spoken the same way, but gh only combines with i, e, ê and complex vowels starting with those i, e, ê.

Don’t stress too much about these – as you listen and practice, you’ll become more and more familiar with them.

Vietnamese Alphabet // The Vowels

There are only 6 basic vowels: a, e, o, i, y, u.

However, there are 12 vowels in total, as you are about to find out!

Basic Vowels – A Ă Â

VowelSimilar sound in EnglishExampleEnglish
A a/α:/ as in carbafather
Ă ă/ɜ:/ as in workăneat
 â/ʌ/ as in butmâycloud

Basic Vowels – O Ô Ơ

VowelSimilar sound in EnglishExampleEnglish
O o/ɔː/ as in storehocough
Ô ô/əʊ/ as in roada bowl
Ơ ơ/ɜː/ as in birdavocado

Basic Vowels – E Ê

VowelSimilar sound in EnglishExampleEnglish
E e/e/ as in penem personal pronoun
Ê ê/eɪ/ as in facetênname

Basic Vowels – Y I

VowelSimilar sound in EnglishExampleEnglish
Y y/i/ as in biglya glass, a cup
I i/i/ as in bigkhiwhen
i and y are actually pronounced the same

“Y” and “I” have the same pronunciation despite the fact that they are different letters.

How do you distinguish them?

They are interchangeable.

Y is called a long y – y dài

I is known as the short i – i ngắn.

Basic Vowels – U Ư

VowelSimilar sound in EnglishExampleEnglish
U u/u:/ as in foodrulullaby
Ư ưsư tửlion
Learn how to pronounce the Vietnamese vowels here

Complex Vowels – The Diphthong Vowels

First and foremost, you might be asking what a Diphthong Vowel is…

In Vietnamese, diphthongs and triphthongs are sounds formed by a combination of two or more vowels in a single syllable. For example ao or ôi.

There are 28 Diphthong Vowels in Vietnamese.

Diphthong VowelSound
aii in hike
aoo in how
auoa in coach
âye in hey
âuoa in coach
oaImagine a baby crying ‘oa oa’
ua in quantity
oeImagine a baby crying ‘oe oe’
oioy in boy
ôio in know and now
ơio in know and now
iuu in cute
iaee in beer
iê / yêi in English then e in egg
eo/eə/ in hair
êuail in fail
uaua in usually
ue in fluent
uo in duo
oo in cool then e in egg
uiui in fruit
uyui in cuisine
u in sure
ưasimilar to ugh in English
ưioo like in cool
ươu in ugh or yuck
ưuAn extended u
See how Diphthong Vowels starting with are pronounced in Vietnamese

With Diphthong vowels in Vietnamese, it’s simply a case of getting familiar with them, using them and memorising them.

The more you use them, the more familiar it becomes. Don’t worry it gets easier with time!

Complex Vowels – The Triphthong Vowels

Now that you’ve discovered Diphthong Vowels, can you guess what a Triphthong Vowel might be?

Let’s see the definition:

In phonetics, a triphthong is a monosyllabic vowel combination that may contain three vowel sounds that quickly glide together.

In essence it’s 3 vowels together making one sound!

Once you learn a few words containing complex vowels, you will get used to triphthong vowels quicker than you might imagine!

Here are some examples of Triphthong vowels in Vietnamese:

  • oai makes the same sound as y in why
  • oay makes the same sound as ay in stray
  • oeo makes the same sound as e in well
    • This triphthong vowel is rarely used
  • iêu and yêu make the same sound as ee in feel
  • uyê makes the same sound as ee in queen
  • uya makes the same sound as ee in queer
  • uyu makes the same sound as ee in wheel.
    • This triphthong vowel is rarely used
  • ươu makes the same sound as oe in shoe. Simply pronounce it as double vowel ưu
  • uôi, ươi do not have any same sound in English. Simply pronounce them as ui and ưi respectively

Vietnamese Alphabet // Tones

We cannot finish an article about the Vietnamese alphabet without mentioning the tones.

The tone system is slightly different between these two Vietnamese dialects, with the Northern dialect having 6 tones and the Southern dialect having 5.

They are…

  • The Unmarked Tone | ngang
  • The Acute Tone | sắc
  • The Grave Tone | huyền
  • The Hook Above Tone | hỏi
  • The Tilde Tone | ngã
  • The Underdot Tone | nặng
Vietnamese Tones

We’ll briefly introduce each tone below and then you can follow a useful video guide we’ve found which will get you started with Vietnamese tones.

Vietnamese Tone #1 | Thanh Ngang

The high flat tone or the unmarked tone has no accent and no tone.

Its pitch ranges from mid to high-mid.

Vietnamese Tone #2 | Thanh Sắc

On the contrary, the rising tone or the acute denotes a high rising pitch.

It should rise slightly toward the right of the base character (á) without falling off.

Vietnamese Tone #3 | Thanh Huyền

The flat low tone aka the grave denotes a low pitch.

It should fall slightly towards the right of the base character without rising up.

Vietnamese Tone #4 | Thanh Hỏi

The hook above denotes a mid-low dropping pitch.

This tone is the combination of the flat low tone and rising tone.

Therefore, when using it, you should lower your voice then raise your voice

Vietnamese Tone #5 | Thanh Ngã

The tip to making this tone is to have a flat low tone first and then a rising tone.

For instance:

à á = ã

One interesting fact is that this tone sounds similar to the falling rising tone (thanh hỏi) in Southern dialect.

mả = mã

Vietnamese Tone #6 | Thanh Nặng

The short low tone or the underdot denotes a dropping pitch.

When using this tone, you should lower your pitch as much as a possible.

Note that the tone mark must be placed at the bottom of vowels.

mạ

There we have it, a proper introduction to the Vietnamese alphabet!

We hope you found it helpful in your Vietnamese learning journey. Although it seems intimidating and different, remember one thing…

Once you know it, you know it – like with the English alphabet.

BONUS FREEBIE // Quiz

Right then, the learning is done, you’ve taken it all in (we hope)… now it’s time to put you to the test!

Don’t worry though, it’s only 15 friendly questions!

See how much you remember and take our free Vietnamese Alphabet quiz. Results are instant and if you want… share your score below in the comments section!

Good luck!

Welcome along to our Vietnamese Alphabet Quiz.

First Name
Email
What is the sound for the diphthong vowel au?

How many vowels in the Vietnamese Alphabet?

How many letters in the Vietnamese Alphabet?

How many tones in the Vietnamese Alphabet?

What does phở mean?

What does ghế mean?

What does nhà mean?

What does ngủ mean?

What letter sounds the same as i in Vietnamese?

What is the sound for the triphthong vowel oeo?

What is the sound for the triphthong vowel oai?

How many consonants in the Vietnamese Alphabet?

What is the sound for the triphthong vowel ươu?

What is the sound for the diphthong vowel oi?

What is the sound for the diphthong vowel oă?


Love learning languages? Why not check out our guides on the Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Korean alphabets as well!

Vietnamese Alphabet // FAQ’s

How many letters in the Vietnamese alphabet?

The Vietnamese alphabet includes 29 basic letters:

– 17 consonant letters

– 12 vowel letters

How many vowels in the Vietnamese alphabet?

There are 12 vowels in the Vietnamese alphabet.

These are (note the tonal marks on each letter):

a

ă

â

e

ê

i

y

o

ô

ơ

u

ư

Are there complex letters in Vietnamese?

Yes there are:

10 double consonant letters

1 triple consonant letter

28 diphthong vowel letters

11 triphthong vowel letters

How many tones in Vietnamese?

The tone system is slightly different between these two Vietnamese dialects, with the Northern dialect having 6 tones and the Southern dialect having 5.

They are…

The Unmarked Tone | ngang

The Acute Tone | sắc

The Grave Tone | huyền

The Hook Above Tone | hỏi

The Tilde Tone | ngã

The Underdot Tone | nặng

What is a diphthong vowel in Vietnamese?

In Vietnamese, diphthongs and triphthongs are sounds formed by a combination of two or more vowels in a single syllable. For example ao or ôi.

What is an example of a diphthong vowel in Vietnamese?

An example of a diphthong vowel is ao or ôi.

What is an example of a triphthong vowel in Vietnamese?

In phonetics, a triphthong is a monosyllabic vowel combination that may contain three vowel sounds that quickly glide together. For example oai or ươu.

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14 comments

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  1. Sonny
    Reply

    Head ACHE!

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      We feel you, but stick with it!

  2. Thanks for including a quiz too, that’s super cool

    1. LTL Team HQ
      Reply

      Really glad to hear it was useful Si!

  3. Darren
    Reply

    Hmm 4 wrong, making good progress though. A month ago I’d have known zero!

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Baby steps Darren, that is what it’s all about

  4. Alana
    Reply

    Argh just 1 wrong! Least I nailed the rest

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      A highly respectable score!

  5. Nice quiz too, 100%!

    1. Max Hobbs
      Reply

      Too good! Well done Nick

  6. eng to viet – Relevant Archive
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    […] The Vietnamese alphabet includes 29 basic letters. 17 consonant letters. 12 vowel letters. Additiona… […]

  7. Top 21 How Many Letters In Vietnamese Alphabet - Học Điện Tử Cơ Bản
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    […] ソースからの抜粋: … […]

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    […] Quote from the source: … […]

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