So it seems that there is no way to map the Pinyin version of the pronunciation of Chinese words into Chinese characters directly:

If Pinyin (or Other Romanization) can be Translated Back into Chinese Characters

What must be done is, in addition to spelling out the sound of the word in Pinyin, you must select the appropriate character out of a list of characters that match that sound/spelling.

What I'm wondering is, the max number of items that would appear in that list (roughly). For example, say that there are 10 words/characters that are all called . Then there are just 10 characters in the list you'd have to select from when typing that in. Maybe there is only 1 matching character, I'm not sure.

Wondering what the rough estimate or scale is of how many character sets map to a single pronunciation. If it's like 5 or 10 max, or 100 or 1000 in some cases. That would be interesting to know.


2 Answers 2


The Phonology of Standard Chinese by San Duanmu (端木三) has a list of the 15 most common syllables, followed by the number of different characters pronounced that way, not including tones.

yi (106),ji (93), yu (90), fu (73), zhi (72), li (71), qi (66), yuan (64), xi (64), jian (61), shi (58), wu (55), wei (53), ju (51), pi (51)

Tones distribution should be roughly even for the most part although the book does say that yi4 represents 63 different words.

  • 1
    "Tones distribution should be roughly even for the most part": actually, I expect it not to be even, for the most part. I haven't checked but I could do that at some point. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 7:41
  • Yeah, I'm making too many assumptions about the tones. I'll edit that part.
    – user20347
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 7:52
  • Just if anyone was wondering or was too lazy to look it up, these are the 60 I managed to find: 义, 弋, 呓, 奕, 埸, 异, 役, 佾, 乂, 亦, 劓, 弈, 嗌, 屹, 佚, 峄, 刈, 亿, 忆, 仡, 熠, 殪, 缢, 绎, 溢, 瘗, 怿, 抑, 浥, 易, 羿, 癔, 疫, 益, 毅, 意, 悒, 翊, 挹, 懿, 肄, 镒, 轶, 诣, 臆, 裔, 邑, 艺, 薏, 艾, 镱, 逸, 谊, 蜴, 翌, 翳, 译, 议, 翼, 驿. It seems that there are still 3 (three) missing.
    – shycha
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 16:24

There's no set limit. Some pinyin can be used for dozens of character; some only map to a few.

For example:

/yu4/ map to the following characters:

雨, 育, 玉, 譽, 遇, 羽, 預, 寓, 熨, 獄, 鬱, 諭, 與, 裕, 喻, 域, 愈, 慾, 欲, 浴, 澳. 禦, 籲, 芋, 蔚, 豫, 郁, 鬻, 御, 喐, 峪, 鈺, 逳, 癒, 聿, 鷸

while /ben3 / only map to : 本, 苯 and 捹

  • Wondering if you know of any example with more than 100. Also wondering what you mean exactly by "no limit set". This is because new words can be invented I'm guessing, with the same pronunciation as old words.
    – Lance
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 8:28
  • 1
    @Lance Pollard It is highly unlikely that any pinyin can map to more than couple dozens of characters. Also, Mandarin has 4 tones, change /ben3/ to /ben1/ and it map to two other different characters 錛 and 奔, and 錛 is such a rare character, the only useful character that map to /ben1/ is 奔. tone change reduce the number of pinyin and character match. (many characters also have more than one pinyin)
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 8:33
  • Can 羽 and 澳 be pronounced yu4? (They don't appear in CC-EDICT, but it might be incomplete.)
    – Becky 李蓓
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 23:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.