It just occurred to me that I've been pronouncing the ''a'' in ba, da, fa, ga, ha, ka, la, ma, na, pa, sa, the same. But I've been pronouncing the ''a'' in ta differently. Like the ''a'' in ''ang''.

I'm not talking about tone here.

Think of the difference between the pronunciation of ''a'' in man and mang, tan and tang, dan and dang.

I checked a few online dictionaries that provide pronunciation and to my surprise both pronunciations exist for ''ta''. But not for the other ba, da, fa, etc. syllables.

Can anyone confirm this or add some info ?

  • 1
    Open vowels ("a" sounds) are notorious for being super common and yet quite variable.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 13:26
  • 2
    I saw this in the "Hot Network Questions" (a bit of a stretch for 94 views in 14hrs...). Didn't notice the particular SE, and thought ta was as in thank you =P
    – user25563
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 15:05
  • 1
    You mean "tan" and "tang" in Chinese right? Because in English they're the same.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


Depending on the speaker, these spellings represent either two or three sounds. The short answer is that for standard pronunciation, you can treat the vowel sound in ta and tan the same way, but the a in tang is further back.

The a in tang is a back open vowel, written [ɑ] in IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet). That means that it's the same as the normal a in ta, except further back. The difference is not very big, but shouldn't be hard to hear. This sound is close to the a in Received Pronunciation, as in words like bath. This means that the word bang in English [bæŋ] is not very close to bang in Chinese [pɑŋ].

The -a in tan is trickier. There is some variation in how this is pronounced, varying from a normal [a] (i.e. the same as in ta) to [æ], which is less open, similar to the vowel sound in English bad [bæd]. The [a] pronunciation is more standard, but it's common to hear sounds approaching [æ] as well. You can find both transcriptions depending on where you look, so either [tʰan] or [tʰæn].

If you listen to the top row (-a, -an and -ang) on the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki, you can clearly hear the three different pronunciations (including something between [æ] and [a] for -an).

So, to answer your question, you can pronounce the -a in ta and tan more or less the same, but you should make sure that the -a in tang is further back.

The same is true for the other initials, of course, not just for t-. It's true that the initial (or any sound) influences the final (or any other sound), but I've never seen anyone claiming there's a significant difference between similar initials that learners need to worry about. These influences are often the result of transitioning from one sound to another and will happen naturally. You can certainly treat the -a in ta, da, ba, pa, ma, na, etc. the same.


Do you mean to say that you pronounce 他 like "taww" instead of with a flat sound like "tahh"?

From my understanding, ba pa ma fa are pronounced with a flat 'ahhh' sound like when you visit the dentist and open your mouth. Bang pang mang fang are similar except they have a shorter emphasis on ahhh + quicker transition to the nasal -ng (maybe something like "uhngg") with the back of your tongue rising toward the roof of your mouth (velar area).

Regarding the 'a' sound in 他 : I think the difference is so very subtle (and common from who/what I've heard) that it's not consequential.

Only thing I can think of is confusing 'taww' with tuo 托 since they sort of sound similar. Even so, the crux has to do with mouth position. As long as you stick to an ahh sound (whether the dentist sound or more of an aww similar to tang bang mang), your pronunciation of 他 likely won't be confused with tuo (which requires more of a rounded mouth shape).

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