I've seen the word "嗯" many times in conversations and songs. I know that it pronounces like "hm", expressing curiosity. But when I check the pinyin of it, according to Wiktionary, it is like such:

ńg, ń, en

which for me doesn't seem to sound like the way it pronounces. Why do they differ?

And what's more, I've never seen the pinyin like "ńg, ń", particularly for the tone mark, which should be placed on top of vowels instead of consonants. They seem to pronounce like "éng, én", which are valid nasal finals. Are those pinyin valid? If so, why it's not written as such: "éng, én"?

  • I count at least 15 different pronunciations for 嗯, including éng, with different meanings for different pronunciations.
    – Mou某
    Feb 1, 2018 at 10:56
  • I found only 8 pronounciation in Wiktionary. It would be great if you share what they are and how they are pronounced!
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 1, 2018 at 12:42
  • Check my answer.
    – Mou某
    Feb 1, 2018 at 13:08

3 Answers 3


Very interesting question!

嗯 is pronounced as ǹg,ńg,ňg,ǹ,ń,ň.

ńg, ń: means what?, or 什么?It expresses surprise or raise a question.

ǹg,ǹ: means I get it, I know it, or 好,我知道了

ňg,ň: means no, I don't want that, we say 嗯,不是,...

The way to pronounce ǹ,ń,ň is that you put your tongue in the place while you pronounce the phonetic notation /n/ in English and then apply the tones.

To pronounce ǹg,ńg,ňg , put your tongue in the place while you pronounce [ŋ] and then apply the tones.

Of course, ǹg,ńg,ňg,ǹ,ń,ň are unusual pronunciations in Chinese.

  • Thanks! So you mean the pronounciation is different between "ńg, ń" and "éng, én"? I thought they pronounce exactly the same. Wish I could hear an audio how to pronounce this word. I tried to listen in Google Translate, and it seems the pronounciation sounded like "eng". Anyway, do the Chinese really pronounce this word as it is (i.e. "n, ng") instead of the usual way "hm"?
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 1, 2018 at 12:35
  • Yes there is a difference between ng, n and eng, en.
    – dan
    Feb 1, 2018 at 12:54
  • @Reynaldi, we don't usually say hm in Chinese. 嗯 and 啊 are used frequently.
    – dan
    Feb 2, 2018 at 0:18
  • I see. That's interesting to know!
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 2, 2018 at 1:21

pronunciations with meanings and sources:


INTERJECTION [expressing agreement or assent] m-hm; uh-huh

你有空吧?——嗯。 Nǐ yǒukòng ba? —— ǹg. Are you free?—M-hm.

他嗯了一声, 就走了。 Tā ǹg le yī shēng, jiù zǒu le. He murmured assent and left. -(PLC)


INTERJECTION [in questions] eh

嗯, 你说什么? Ng, nǐ shuō shénme? Eh? What did you say? -(PLC)

ńg (similar to: ń)

INTJ. What?; Huh? -(ABC)


INTERJECTION [showing surprise or disapproval] hey; what!

嗯!怎么又不见了? ňg! Zěnme yòu bù jiàn le? Hey! It’s disappeared again.

嗯, 你怎么还没去? ňg, nǐ zěnme hái méi qù? What! Haven’t you left yet? -(PLC)

ň (similar to: ňg)

{interjection} Why,...! Hey,...! (used to express surprise) -(KEY)

ǹ (similar to: ǹg)

EXCLAM {interjection} hm, then... (indicates thinking, often prefacing a question) -(KEY)


interjection indicating approval, appreciation or agreement -(CC-CEDCIT)


EXCLAMATION [expressing agreement] -(oxford)


(a groaning sound) -(CC-CEDCIT)


see: ňg -(PLC)


1 (nonverbal grunt as interjection)

2 OK, yeah

3 what? -(CC-CEDCICT)


叹 <口> 表示疑问

嗯?你怎么不说话了? | 你说什么, 嗯? -(规范)


叹 <口> 表示不以为然或出乎意料

嗯, 没有那么严重吧! | 嗯, 怎么会呢! -(规范)


叹 <口> 表示应诺

嗯, 就照你说的办吧 | (在电话中)嗯, 嗯, 你说吧。 -(规范)


INTERJ (used after a question to reinforce questioning)

你把自行车借给谁了, 嗯? Nǐ bǎ zìxíngchē jiègei shuí le, ng? Who did you lend your bicycle to, eh? -(Tuttle)

  • In 新华字典, there are no en, eng listed. Only n, ng there.
    – dan
    Feb 1, 2018 at 13:20
  • The meaning of each tone (2,3,4) of "n, ng" and "en, eng" is pretty much the same. But still, they're pronounced differently, right? Also, when it is used in daily conversation, do we have to pronounce this word as the pinyin? Or is it acceptable to pronounce usual "hm"?
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 1, 2018 at 15:07
  • 1
    You mean pronounced “hm” like the English “hm”? I don’t believe this pronunciation exists in Chinese. The closest would be 哼 pronounced hng, similar to hm but still quite different. N, ng, en, eng are all pronounced differently - hence the different pinyin. The meanings are similar but there are still slight nuances to each.
    – Mou某
    Feb 1, 2018 at 21:10

If you are asking for Pinyin, it should be "en".

  • So, you're saying that "n, ng" is not correct? Why is it written like such in most dictionaries, even in Google Translate?
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 8, 2018 at 1:18
  • In Chinese Pinyin, it is incorrect to have "n" or "ng". You may have "n" but "n" cannot be stand alone. Please look under the section of Pinyin in wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bopomofo "Ng" is not a word. It should not be written in any dictionary. If you see one, please show reference. If you ever see someone who has ng in their name, that is either because their language (likely Cantonese) does not have proper roomaji-like spellings, or immigration office randomly provided them a last name. Feb 9, 2018 at 2:27
  • Please see @user3306356♦'s answer. Also I have provided one of the references from Wiktionary in my question. It is said that "n" and "ng" are pinyin, as well as "en". I also found in some dictionaries, e.g. dict.cn, chinese-tools.com, Pinpn Dictionary.
    – Reynaldi
    Feb 9, 2018 at 2:51
  • Quote:- "Ng" is not a word". As you know it is a Fujian dialect surname. (in Mandarin it would be "Wu", 吴) "Ng" is unpronounceable in English and so many of my friends while studying in the UK got called Mr. / Miss N-G, sounding out the two alphabets. Jul 18, 2020 at 2:59

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