Overview of Cantonese Sounds

In this lesson

  • Listening to all the Cantonese sounds (tones, initials and finals)

From the last lesson, we know that Cantonese syllables have three components: initials, finals and tones. Each of the components has its own set of sounds. In this lesson, you are going to listen to each set of the sounds so that you can get a general picture of the Cantonese sound system and have some expectation of what you will learn. You don’t have to rush to learn the individual sounds. Just listen and have a taste of Cantonese!

Take a look at the three tables below and listen to the recordings. Note that each sound or word is read twice before the next one is read. You can also click a sound or word in the tables to play its recording individually.


There are 6 tones in total.

Tone 1High level 
Tone 2High rising 
Tone 3Mid level si
Tone 4Low falling sìh
Tone 5Low rising síh
Tone 6Low level sih


There are 19 initials in total.


Note: The initial n is not included here. We will discuss this later in the course.


There are 56 finals in total.


Note: The finals e-u, em and ep are not originally included in the Yale Romanization of Cantonese. These three finals are only used in colloquial pronunciation. We add them here so that we can represent colloquial pronunciation. The treatment for e-u is kind of special. The letter combination eu has already been used to represent another final originally. We add a hyphen between e and u so that we can represent the two finals differently as e-u and eu. Also, e-u represents that the final is produced by first pronouncing e and then changing to u, unlike eu which is a final without such pronunciation change.

Don’t worry if you find some of the sounds hard to produce or recognize. We are going to look at each of the sounds and master them together in the course. See you in the next lesson!

Audio Tracks

Each sound or word is read twice before the next one is read.