Two observations:

  1. It should be fine for the pinyin of a character to contain no initials such as 阿(ā),哦(ò) and 噩(è).
  2. The bopomofo equivalent is ㄩˊ, which is ǘ in pinyin.

Then why the pinyin of 鱼 is yú instead of ǘ?

  • 2
    The null initial for -u is always "w", for -ü and -i, it's "y". If you want, I'm sure someone would be happy to just list all of the spelling rules in pinyin, but I don't think it's possible to give a really satisfying explanation for why the rules are the way they are. It's a convention, and the creator of pinyin could have chosen different conventions, but he didn't. Feb 24, 2020 at 21:33
  • Related: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/42990/…
    – 月--
    Apr 13, 2021 at 8:06
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Why one -> many mapping between IPA and Pinyin?
    – 月--
    Apr 13, 2021 at 8:10

1 Answer 1


Under the section Pronunciation of initials for the pinyin page on Wikipedia there is the following:

  • Note on y and w

Y and w are equivalent to the semivowel medials i, u, and ü (see below). They are spelled differently when there is no initial consonant in order to mark a new syllable: fanguan is fan-guan, while fangwan is fang-wan (and equivalent to *fang-uan). With this convention, an apostrophe only needs to be used to mark an initial a, e, or o: Xi'an (two syllables: [ɕi.an]) vs. xian (one syllable: [ɕi̯ɛn]). In addition, y and w are added to fully vocalic i, u, and ü when these occur without an initial consonant, so that they are written yi, wu, and yu. Some Mandarin speakers do pronounce a [j] or [w] sound at the beginning of such words—that is, yi [i] or [ji], wu [u] or [wu], yu [y] or [ɥy],—so this is an intuitive convention. See below for a few finals which are abbreviated after a consonant plus w/u or y/i medial: wen → C+un, wei → C+ui, weng → C+ong, and you → C+iu.

Also under letters for the orthographic rules of pinyin it says:

  • Syllables starting with i are written as y in place of i (e.g., *ian is written as yan). Standalone i is written as yi.
  • Syllables starting with ü are written as yu in place of ü (e.g., *üe is written as yue).

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