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Despite the changes of written forms thorough the history of the Vietnamese language from the very early stage to the modern age, its rules for spelling and pronunciation are still intact. Learners will familiarize themselves with these Vietnamese phonological features:

The modern Vietnamese alphabet The six tones Dyads and three groups Triads Regional dialects phonologically and lexically. Intonation includes sound, tone, and rhythm. Derivatives: duplicate derivatives, annuative duplicatives, tonal rhymic duplicatives, emotional duplicatives.

Lexical alternation


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

I. H Thng Ng m Ting Vit The Vietnamese

Sound System
A. Bng Mu T The Alphabet
The modern Vietnamese alphabet, bng mu t, of the Vietnamese sound system, h thng ng m ting Vit, has 29 letters: aA oO uU gG hH vV bB iI pP xX cC kK qQ yY dD lL rR mM sS eE nN tT

The need to deal with loanwords, mainly from European languages, adds these four letters fF [Ef], jJ [dZi] , wW[vedub], and zZ [zE@t] to transliterate words like fi-l for fillet jun for jouille, wt or ot for watt, z-r for zero, etc. Since each regional dialect has a certain defect in pronouncing the words and such a standardized format would be helpful for foreign beginners, this publication is devoted to the so-called simple standard Vietnamese, which is intelligible all over Vietnam. 1. Chnh T v Ph T Vowels and Consonants The 29 letters of the alphabet are made up of two groups: chnh t vowel letters and ph t consonant letters. The vowel letters and consonant letters represent chnh m vowel sounds and ph m consonant sounds. The names of the vowel letters are identical to the sounds they present, except for the last letter y, which has two names: y-kret or i di: a e i o u y. The 17 consonant letters b c d g h k l m n p q r s t v x together with 11 compounds ch gh gi kh ng ngh nh ph qu th tr produce 23 sounds altogether. Vietnamese has eight finals producing eight single sounds and 2 compounds: -c -ch -ng -nh -m -n -p -t. Of all the 23 sounds, two are unfamiliar to beginners: nh [] and tr []. The rest are very familiar to most speakers of syllabic languages. However, the ng- [N] is familiar but its initial position turns out to be a reall problem to a number of speakers. In order to master this sound, say doing, then prolong the last sound [N] for a while. Add an easy vowel [A] by lowering the jaw to release the nasalized vibration to end with nga [NA]. Continue with other vowels.

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Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


Bng Mu T The alphabet

T Names of the written symbols.

n t

chnh t
vowel letters

ph t
consonant letters

monad/single letters


hp t

n t
single letters


hp t

Sounds of these symbols

m -

chnh m
vowel sounds

consonant sounds

ph m


n m


nh hp m

tam hp m


n m

nh hp m

T names of the written symbols (transcribed in IPA International Phonetic Alphabet): The 29 letters in the alphabet have their own names: a [A]

[] [F] b [be] c [se] d [je,ze] [de] e [E] g [Ze] h [hAt] i [i] k [kA] l [El] m [Em] n [En] o [] [o] [] p [pe] q [ku] r [Er] s [Et] t [te] u [u] [] v [ve] x [it] y [igrEt] or [ijai].
Transcription in Vietnamese: [a b x d/z e g ht i ca el- em- en- o, p cu er- t t u v t i-di or i-c-rt.] m sounds of these symbols: a [A] [] [F] b [b] c [k] d [j,z] [d] e [E] [e] g [g] h [h] i [i] k [k] l [l] m [m] n [n] o [] [o] [] p [p] q [kw] r [z, r, Z, g] s [S,s] t [t] u [u] [] v [v,j] x [s] y [i]. a. Chnh t - Wowel letters Vietnamese has a large number of single and compound vowel sounds, chnh m, derived from the twelve vowel letters, chnh t: a e i o u and y.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Place Manner High Higher mid Lower mid Low

i,y [i] [e] e [E] a [A]


u [u] [o]



o []


Table 1: Bng chnh t/chnh m Vit the vowel sound chart

These 12 vowel letters comprise a total of 51 -thongs including 11 chnh t monads, 29 nh hp t dyads, and 12 tam hp t triads. The y is a pseudo-semivowel; it becomes [i] in initial position and [i:y] at final when preceded by low front a [A], and [i:] by back vowel u [u]. See more details in the Dyads/Diphthongs Section. b. n t & n m Monads and their sounds The monothong, n t/n m, are perfectly phonemic: their names and their sounds are basically identical: [i] i, y [e] [E] e [A] a [] [F] [] [] [u] u [o] [] o Vietnamese has three unfamiliar vowels: [] , [F] , and [] . The [] sounds somehow like the u in but. The [F] assimilates with an accented schwa a as in ago. And the [] is a grinning oo [u] in zoo. Say [u] then unround your lips as if you are making a mirthless grin. c. Nh hp t v nh hp m Dyads/diphthongs A dyad, nh hp t, is comprised of two vowel letters, one of which is primary, representing a primary vowel sound, nguyn m, and the other a secondary or semi-sound, bn m. In certain cases a bn m may become a consonant sound. When a tonal mark is needed, it is placed either above or under the primary vowel of the dyads. Vietnamese has 29 dyads: ai ao au ay u y eo u ia i iu oa o oe oi oo i i ua u ui u uy a u i u

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


Nh Hp T Dyads -a aeiouua a u u ia oa o oe i oi i i ui i u u u uy oo eo u iu u y - - -e - -i ai -o ao - - -u au - -y ay

Table 2: Tm tt v nh hp t A summary of the dyads

For the purpose of pronunciation, these dyads are made into three groups. Group 1 This group comprises most of the dyads (18 of 29), which never take a final consonant. ai ao au ay u y eo u iu ia oi i i ua ui a i u These dyads consist of a primary, which is the one that comes first, and the secondary that follows. If a tonal mark is needed, it is always above or under the primary. See Table 3 for offglide vowels. It is recommded that users set their Vietnamese keyboarding in linguisitic mode o u instead of a u (aesthetic mode). These dyads consist of a primary vowel that is preceded by a semivowel offglide to either a high front position [i], a central [] or a high back [U]. Although i and y are phonologically identical in most cases, the two dyads ai and ay are distinctly different. In the ai, the primary a is lengthened: [a:i] and in the ay, the y causes the a to be shortened [ai:]. Here are some examples showing the placing of tonal marks. Diacritics will be introduced in the latter section. i o u y u y o u u a i i i a i a i u u
28 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

Li Nucleus
i,y [i] [e] e [E] a [A] [F] [] [] u [u] [o] o []

M-khp trc Front offglide

ia [i:A]

M-khp gia Central offglide

M-khp sau Back offglide

iu, yu [i:u] u [e:u] eo [E:]

ai [A:i] ay [Ai:y] y [Fi:y] i [i] i [i] ui [u:i] ua [u:A] i [o:i] oi [:i] a [:A]

au [A:u] ao [A:w] u [Fw]

u [:w]

Table 3: Bng chnh m nhm 1 Vowel nucleus offglide distribution.

In this chart learners also find the new dyad yu, which is added because it is phonologically identical to the dyad iu, and will be in the triads combination (Table 5). Group 2 This group is of dyads that optionally need a final consonant: oa oe u uy For example: o o u u The vowels o and u in group 2 and 3 dyads become [w] when pronounced. Therefore the second vowels in these groups are primary. Li Nucleus i [i] [] u [u] o [] uy [wi:] u [we:] oe [wE] oa [wA:] Khp-m trc Front onglide i, y [ie] [:] u [wF] u [w:] o [w:] u [wo] oo [:] Khp-m gia Central onglide Khp-m sau Back onglide

Table 4: Bng m chnh nhm 2&3 Vowel nucleus in onglide distribution.

The y in the dyad uy prolongs itself and becomes a primary vowel.

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


Group 3 This group comprises dyads that always need a final consonant. Therefore, tonal marks will be placed above or under the second vowel of a dyad, which the primary. The dyads i becomes y when proceeds by a [w] as in qu- i- n > quyn. _i_ (_)o_ _oo_ (_)u_ (_)u_ (_)_

bic chit

ong gong ut hong khut



d. Tam hp t v tam hp m Triads and triphthongs A triad, tam hp t, has three vowel letters; two of which are secondary (s) and one primary (p). Except for the one in frame ssp, the formula for the rest of other triphthongs are in the form of sps. The ssp triphthong is the sole one that takes a final consonant: uyn, tuyt, etc. Vietnamese has 12 triphthongs: iu oai oao oay oeo uy ui uya uy_ uyu i u

Oai is a free triphthong; the rest are bound .

Tam Hp T/m Triad/Triphthongs
Finals -a - -i -o -u -y iu [iw] oay[wa:j] uy[wj] oai [wa:i] oao [waw] oeo[wE:u] uyu[wi:u] u[u] ui [wo:i] ioaoeuuuy uya[ i: ] uy [wie] i [:i]
w a

Table 5: Bng tam hp m Vietnamese triphthongs distribution

Note: The uao, uau, uu in quu, quu are not triphthongs but only dyads: qu [kw]+ao, qu+au, qu+u. There used to be another triad uu in the sole word nguu. Now it is u: nghu decrepitly (tall) 2. Ph T V Ph m Consonant Letters and Sounds There are 17 single consonant letters, ph t, and 11 compounds that represent 23 consonant sounds and two allophones. These vowel sounds and consonant sounds possibly cover all regional dialects.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

V Tr Place V th Manner

m mi Labial

Mirng Labiodental

m m nu m m ca m ca m hu nu -ca ca cng mm Glottal Alve- Alveolar- Retro Palatal Velar olar palatal -flex

Bt hi

[p] [b] [m] [t] [d] [n] [r] [] [w] [l] [f] [v] [s] [z]

[th] [] [c] []

[kh] [k] [N]

Khng bt hi

m mi

Rung li

Thot hi

[S] [Z] [j]



n li

Bt li

Table 6: Bng ph m The consonant sound chart.

As stated above, there are 17 single consonants and 11 compounds. They comprise 23 sounds occurring in intial position: b [b] c,k [k] d,gi [j/z] v [v/j] g,gh [d] [g] x [s] ch [c] h [h] kh [x] l [l] m [m] n p [n] [p] ph [f,] q,qu r [kw] [r/z] th [th] tr []

s t [S/s] [t]

ng,ngh nh [N] []

a. Ph t v ph m cui The final consonants Of the 17 single letters and 11 compounds, only eight letters are finals: -c ch -ng -nh -m -n p -t, which produce eight single sounds and two compounds: -c -ch -ng -nh -m -n -p -t [k| c| kp|] [c|] [N| Nm n] [] [m] [n] [b|] [t|] The sign [ | ] means that final sounds in Vietnamese are unaspirated. In fact, they are pronounced implosively. b. m mi ho Bilabialization Most Vietnamese words beginning with [u] (u) or dyads containing (u) are bilabialized, strongly or slightly: cau [kAw] areca nut u [dFw] where thiu
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


[thi:w] stale hu [hw] pension, retire The three back vowels o, and u strongly affect their surroundings progressively and regressively. Progressively, final c [k] and ng [N] preceeded by these back vowels are always bilabialized: hc [hkp] study lc lokp] tornado thc [thukp] urge; cong [k|Nm] curled, curly, cng [k|oNm] labor Dung [juNm] (name of a person) khng [khoNm] no, not, null. Regressively, unvoiced ph is bilabialized when followed by back vowels [u, o] or [] u, or o as in phc admire, phng background, phng room. Levels
strong Initial slight strong Final

[b, m, u] [] [kw] [Nm]

Transliteration b+most vowels m+most vowels uy ph+o, or u qu+some vowels o, or u+ng o, or u + c


to cling to eyelash prestige assistant to kneel down curved no, not, null together to cry slope mums

bu mi uy ph qu cong khng chung khc dc cc



Table 7: Tm tt v m mi ho A summary of bilabialization

B. Thanh Ging The Tones

Vietnamese vowels are implosive. It has six tones, five of which have marks, called diacritical marks or tonal marks. The tones differ in pitch, length, and melody. Beginners should listen to a native speaker. When needed, the mark is simply added above or under the vowel letter in the word, or the primary vowel of a diphthong or a triphthong. The standard dictionary alphabetical sequence is as follows: Unmarked tone, khng du, or level tone, has no mark, as in ba three High rising, du sc, or acute accent, [ ], as in b cling to, hundred Low falling, du huyn, or grave accent, [ $ ], as in b mrs., grandma Low rising, du hi, or dipping rising, [ ], as in b, she is High broken, du ng, or breaking rising, [ ) ], as in b, waste Low broken, du nng, or constricted, [ . ], as in b record.
32 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

These tones are classified into two groups: even and slant tone. Even tone includes khng du and du huyn; slant tone sc, hi, ng and nng. Orthographically, all twelve vowel letters can receive the tonal marks. All vowels except for the two bound vowels and can stand alone and form a word. The two bound vowels never stand as finals. du sc du hi du ng

khng du a

du nng i y

du huyn a e o u

1. Di Ca Chnh m Length of Vowels Depending on the consonant that follows it, a vowel can be shortened or prolonged. In general, if a vowel is followed by one of the four final consonants: -c -ch -p and -t, it is shortened; and if followed by one of the other four: -ng -nh -m and -n, it is prolonged. Those in the first group are stop sounds; therefore, they only take either high rising ( ) or low broken ( . ) marks. See Table 8. Very long: Any vowel or vowel cluster can be prolonged to express the great quality or degree of anything the speaker wants to emphasize. If someone wishes to express something very, very beautiful, he/she simply prolongs the adjective p beautiful in such a way that the word p would be like this: e ..e......p. This can be applied to most form of emphasis. For instance, if someone wants to say He has everything: car, house, money in the bank, and so on, he/she simple says: N c nh, xeee, tiin trong ngn hng ny. (Ny is a particle an emphatic marker attaching to whichever part of speech used to emphasize.) Phonologically, there are some strange points in the spelling and pronunciation, as the sound exactly like , and like .

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


Either with ( ) or ( . ) tone only

Possible with all six tones

Vowels -c -ch -p -t -m -n -ng -nh ac ach ap at am an ang anh a c p t m n ng c p t m n ng ec ep et em en eng e ch p t m n nh ich ip it im in inh i oc op ot om on ong o oc p t m n ng p t m n uc up ut um un ung u c t m n ng Table 8: Du trn vn c n t v ph t cui Tonal marks on single vowels and final consonants.

C. Quy Tc Chnh T Phonotactic Rules

Now that we have covered most parts of Vietnamese phonology. Its time to examine word formation in term of pronouncing practice. Vietnamese syllables are comprised in five basic patterns: vowel (V), vowel-consonant (VC) consonant-vowel (CV), and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC). 1. Vn Chnh T Syllabic Vowel Pattern Vietnamese has quite a few words comprised of vowel syllable. Such a word can be a single-vowel, a dyad or a triad. Except the bound vowels and , the rest can become a simple-syllable word: a. Vn n t Single vowel syllable y

! au qu! Ah! It hurt. c ra tr. Pay through the nose. khch. Business is low. Con u bc. The bald eagle. Ci o b mu. The coats color faded. Anh u? Where do you live? Con ch trc sn. The dog pooped in the front yard. t gia ng. A pile of dirt in the middle of the road. , ng ri. Uh, thats correct. Y l ngi M. Hes American.
34 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

b. Vn nh hp t Syllables with dyads Of the 29 dyads, excluding u, iu and i in group I and u in group II, the remaining dyads in both groups can form independent syllables or words themselves: ai ao au ay u y eo ia oi i i ua ui a u oa oe u uy

ai who, sad i love i a passage on border i decomposed ao pond o top garment o torrential o illusioned au bright in au bright red y rattle y ny reckless, disturbed. u churn u baby u careless y that, alike y push eo waist o faintly o weak a defecate oi muggy i vomit i noisy i stale i guava i i hullabaloo a withering a swarm (in) i iron i run into (a thing) a favorite a to secrete, shed u super o burst out (crying) o squeaking o nauseous u dirty u fatigue u ban committee
c. Vn tam hp t Syllables with triads Of the 12 triads, two can form a word themselves: oai noble-looking; yu
love, yu weak. The rest are bound.

2. Vn Chnh TPh T VowelConsonant Pattern This pattern is comprised of a single vowel or dyad and a single or compound consonant. As a rule, this formation occurs with some dyads of groups II oa oe u u uy and III i o oo oo u u , and one single triphthong uy_ . a. Chnh t n + ph t cui Single vowel+final consonant Table 8 reflects all possible combinations of single vowel + final consonant in Vietnamese, including the addition of tonal marks:

c cruel ch yoke p to apply t to deafen ch flop (fall) am small temple an safe ang bushel anh brother, husband; p overly full t perhaps m to carry in arms (baby) n to eat ng ng howling with pain (dog); p hamlet t lamp light (the second symbol of the celestial body m warm n press; c oink p to press (for juice), force em sister, wife n swallow eng c squeaking sound;
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 35

ch frog p hey m soft (of cushion), smooth nh awkward look; ch useful t few, little im silent in to print inh noisily nh (a variant of nh); c brain p soft, fleshless (of crab) t nape of the neck m awful n n childish behavior ng bulgy (belly); c snail p to inlay t t stomach rumbling m sick {N}, thin {S} n noisy ng mister ng he, him; t red pepper, chili t very (degree), fading (color) m coaxing half in jest half in earnest n be fed up c Australia p to turn upside down t youngest (child in a family, little finger um exhuberant ung cancer ng soaked in stagnant water ng
high boots

c chest ng to fall in love with someone ng hawk ng pay in advance part of the sum ng become rosy
b. Nh hp t + ph t cui Dyad + final consonant Combinations of this type are fairly limited. Only some in the group II and III diyads are possible:

oc crackle (of hen) oan falsely accused om op splashing oang oang resounding oanh oriole op tree frog; unh ong horned frog uch falling or punching sound unh uch sounds of heavy steps; on to give (under a heavy weight) ong ong howl of pain ot urchin; un mysterious ut choke with rage; um to roar un to bend ung to drink ut too weak; c to wish m to unwind silk n gamy ng half ripe p to season, embalm t wet;


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Chnh t-ph t phi hp

Vowel-Consonant Pattern Vowels oa
Group II dyads

-c oac

-ch oach uch uych

-m oam

-n oan

-ng oang

-nh oanh

-p oap

-t -

oe u u uy i o oo u u uy uynh om on un un n ng uyn ong ot ut ut p t

Group III dyads

um c m



Table 9: Chnh t + ph t phi hp Vowel-consonant combination

c. Tam hp t + ph t cui Triads + final consonant There is only one triphthong that needs final consonant: uy_

uyn profound, immense uyn bc scholastic uyn flexible.

3. Vn Ph T + Chnh T Consonant-Vowel Pattern This pattern is comprised of three categories: C-V; C-dyad; C-triad. a. Ph t + chnh t n Consonant + single vowel In the following pages, learners will familiarize themselves with this pattern. Those with and can be found at the end of the example marked by this symbol . The bilabial b- [b] sound the same as English b, and it goes with all vowels except y. Except for b and b, all others are meaningful words and can receive tonal marks to derive meanings. Examples: b b b b b b b b b -

b cling to b Mrs., grandma b raft b broken b cover b nursing woman b nutritious b bank, shore b compensate b big bn to shoot

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


bn busy
The velar c- and k- are pronounced [k] but their spelling combinations are different. Except for c, c, and ka, all others are meaningful words and can all receive tonal marks. For example: c c c c c c ka k k k k

c fish c crane c neck c size c root c to displease Ka- is used mainly for loanword transliteration: ka-ki khaki; k someone k near close to k kilogram k careful cn to bite cm to hold
The alveolar d- and palatal gi- are pronounced [j] by majority of the Vietnamese (in Central and in the South), and [z] by speakers in H Ni and regions around it. They go with most vowels. Currently some linguists are attempting to compromise these two consonants by suggesting [j] for d and [z] for gi or vice versa. D, d, gi, gi, gi are non-phonotactic if they stand alone with or without tonal marks. Gi has two pronounciations: a) if unmarked, gi itself is [Zi], denoting the name of a bird, and b) if marked, it sounds either [ji:] or [zi:] + low falling mark: g what, gi gn [j) jn] [z) zn] to conserve. In the early stage, this word used to be gi, which is lexically more logical. Now the second i was omitted. d d d d d d d d d gi gi gi g gi gi gi gi gi -

d yes (a polite marker) d cautious d easy d maternal aunt d scrtunize d catfish d tasteless, uninteresting d solicit, lure d cruel dn remind dn to guide, lead; gi fake gi rag gi removal g what gi wind gi to commemorate the dead gi hour gi shake s.t. off gi to keep git wash (clothes) gin

The alveolar - is pronounced like the English d [d] as in day, do,

dont, and it can go with most vowels:


to kick press down to place to rank s.o. passenger boat, ferry pull in support enough exhausted c dense, condense m dark (of colors)
The velar g- and gh- are pronounced [g] like English g- as in get, go, guy, but their combinations with vowels are strictly different.
38 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

They can take most tonal marks depending on their meanings: g g g g g g gh gh gh -

g chicken g mound g wood g edge g hump, kyphosis g gnarl gh stop by gh chair gh hold down gp to meet gp in a hurry
The glottal h- [h] is similar to English h- as in hi, home, how, .... And it goes with all vowels. h h h h h h h h h h h open (mouth) h summer, veranda h clown, funny h neigh
(horse) h they, family name h tiger h opening h urn h huh (an expression particle) h happy hn he, him hn resent

The alveolar consonants l- and n- are universally pronounced the same as in many European languages, and they go with all vowels. In some areas in the North these two sounds are interchangeable. They take most tonal marks: l l l l l l l l l l n n n n n n n n n n

l leaf l thrust (tongue) l holiday, festive l stubborn l stove l hole l to miss (something) l flood l thinking l reason lm very ln time(s) n slingshot n dodge n you n felt n crossbow n effort n debt n bud n female n felt nm to lie (down) nm mushroom
The bilabial m- [m] is another universal sound. Except for m, m, others can take most tonal marks. M itself does not exist: m m m m m m m m m

m but, hypnotise m sesame m chick gizzard m eyelid m to feel m operate on m wife of an uncle m hat m beatiful mn salted mt
to lose, miss

The bilabial stop p- [p] occurs mostly in loan words scientific and mathematical terms and names of some locations in the mountain areas where the minor ethnic peoples dwell: Pleiku, Pc-b, Tchepone (x-pn). It frequently goes with -h to represent two allphones: a) [f] labio-dental with most vowels as English [f] in fan, father, fee: pha,

ph_, ph_, phe, ph, phi, phe, ph, ph, ph

b) [] bilabial fricative with back vowels o, and u: pho, ph, phu ( pan pi pin Pleiku Pc-b pha phe ph phi ph - pho ph phu -


pan engine failure pi pin battery Pleiku name of a city in the highland
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 39

of Central Vietnam) Pc-b name of a village in northernmost part of North Vietnam png png bang, bang

pha mix ph leisure ph criticize ph fee, to waste ph a Vietnamese dish ph serve ph town street, downtown phu laborer phng flat phn part phc complex
Q- always goes with -u to comprise the cluster [kw], and it goes with most vowels, except with u or . Qu_, qu_, and qu_ need finals: qu qu qu qu qu - qu qu

qu gift qu lame qu cinamon qu precious qu nervous qu fund qung throw qun pants quc nation
In the South and southernmost part of Vietnam, this [kw] is merged with [w]: qu [kwA$] > [wA$] gift qu > [kwE$] > [wE$] lame qu [kw] > [w]
cinamon qu [kw] > [w] precious quc [kwk] > [wk] nation qu [kw] > [w] nervous qu [kw] > [w] fund

The alveolar r has four pronunciations [r, Z, z, g] depending on regional dialect. Speakers in the North merge it with d- and gi- = [z]. Speakers in the Central say [Z], Saigonese and speakers in provinces around Saigon make it [r], whereas speakers in the southernmost parts of South Vietnam pronounce it [g]. R_, r_ and r_ need final consonant to produce valid syllables. r r r r r r r r r -

r straw (of rice) r cheap r root r rust r clear r basket r touch r to scoop down rn snake, hard rt very rt pluck off
The alveolar s- [S] is pronounced like sh- in English as in she, sheet, show, ... This letter is distinctly pronounced by speakers in the Central, but it is merged with the x- [s] by many speakers in the North and the South: s s s s s s s s s s

s lemon grass s will s baggy s wholesale s skull s notebook s fear, afraid s exuberant s china s/s scholar sn to hunt sn

The unaspirated alveolar t- [t|] in Vietnamese is like the English unarticulated t in the cluster st- as in stay, steal, stamp. t t t t t t t t t t

t dozen t fall t bad t tiny t apparent t nest t sheet t wardrobe t from t billion tt turn off tc decimeter
The fricative labio-dental v- [v] is very much like English v- [v] in van,
40 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

vice, vine, ... It is merged in [j] or [bj] by speakers in the Saigon area and its
vicinity. V_, v_ and v_ need final consonants: v v v v v v v v vy

v and v ticket v go home v because v bark (of tree) v clap v broken v incident v great vn literature vn still vng stable
The alveolar x- [s] is pronounced like the English s- [s] in sing, son,

soon, sung, ...

xa x x x x x x xu x xy

xa far x to tear x past noon x leak x pierce x to relieve constipation x fiber xu cent x country xy- (prefix) xy-lanh cylinder xt to slice xn push forward, cut down
The palatal ch- [c] is much softer than the English ch- since it is more gingival and implosive. ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch -

ch to rub ch to split ch produce ch older sister ch dog ch location, site ch to wait ch master, owner ch word chn even
(number) chn stop someone/something) Chy does not exist.

This sound [c] merges with [] tr- that can be found in Northerners speech: ch [cA$] to rub > tr tea ch to split > tr [cE] > young ch produce > tr [c] ch [c] older sister > tr punish, rule ch dog > tr [c] basket ch [c] location, site > tr ch [c$] to wait > tr pull forward ch master, owner ch word chn even (number) chn stop someone/

The velar kh- [x] is like English [kh] as in key, can, cut, keen, ... kh kh kh kh kho kh kh khu kh -

kh not bad kh softly kh starfruit kh air kho simmer kh miserable kh silly khu area kh to go khn towel khn silent prayer
The velar ng- and ngh- share the same pronunciation [N] and their phonotactic constraints are similar to those of g- and ghng - ng ng ng ngu ng nghe ngh ngh -

ng ivory ng cilantro ng (bp) corn ng bewildered ngu stupid ng to sleep ng fish ngn short ngn money, resound nghe hear ngh occupation ngh to think The palatal nh- [] is similar to English -ny- [] as in canyon, Kenya.
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 41

nh -

nh nh nh

nh nh nh nhu nh -

nh house, home nh light, soft nh excessive nh second nh small, little nh emerge nh miss, remember nh to bud nh well-stewed nhm to aim nhm mistake.
In the Central this sound [] turns into [j], especially in words with a [a] and e [E]: nh > [jA$], nh nh [jE$ jE`] sofly and tenderly The alveolar-palatal th- [th] is like the aspirated t- [th] in English time, two, tin, ... tha th th th th th th th th thy

th release th pass th bethroth, vow th then th rabbit th urn th worship th animal th try on thy a proper name tht tie thn close to thn kidney
The retroflex tr- [] is quite unfamiliar to non-Vietnamese speakers. Learners should spend time practicing this sound correctly. tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr -

tr tea tr young tr late tr hemorrhoid tr point tr stare (at) tr turn tr reside tr store trng white trn a game, battle
Y- can stand initially with the vowel -- in combination with final m, n, t or u. yu yu ym yn yn tay ty tuy yu ym yt ty ty tu thy thy thy thu

yu love yu weak ym halter dress yn saddle yn oriole tay hand, arm ty west tuy however yu premature ym support yt post ty meddle ty severely tu essence thy toss thy toss thy see thu aqua


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Consonant-Vowel Pattern
C V b c k d gi g gh h l n m p a ba ca ka da gia a ga ha la na ma pan b_ b c_ c_ d_ gi_ _ g_ d_ gi_ _ g_ e b k d gi gh h l n m b k d gi gh h l n m i b k d g ghi h l n m pi o b c d gi g h l n m b c d gi g h l n m b c d gi g h l n m i b c d gi g h l n m b c d gi g h l n h l n m y k

h_ h_ l_ n_ n_ m_ m_ pl_

ph phi pho ph ph phu ph pha ph_ ph_ phe qu qu qu qu qu qu qua qu_ qu_ qu r_ r_ r r r r r r r r r ra s_ s_ s s s s s s s s s s sa t t_ t t t t t t t t t t ta v v v v v v vy v va v_ v_ v x x x x x xu x xy x xa x_ x_ x ch ch ch ch ch ch ch ch cha ch_ ch_ ch kh kh kho kh kh khu kh kh kha kh_ kh_ kh ng ng ng ngu ng ng nga ng_ ng_ nghe ngh ngh ngh nh nh nh nh nh nhu nh nh nha nh_ nh_ nh th th th th th th th thy th tha th_ th_ th tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tr tra tr_ tr_ tr Table 10: Vn ph t + chnh t c du Consonant-single vowel and tonal marks combination

b. Ph t + nh hp t nhm I Consonants + group I dyads Vietnamese has 29 dyads, eleven of which need finals. But only five of the eleven are optionally final. These dyads always need finals: i, o, oo, u, u and . And these do not always need finals: oa, oe, u, u and uy. In this section there are 18 dyads that never need finals: ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a i u, and the five optional ones. In brief, most initial consonants alphabetically from b to x can be combined with most of these dyads. The same rules, however, applied in the section of Consonantvowel pattern work perfectly with dyads whose primary vowels meet the phonotactic constraints. Those marked with a dash ( - ) are
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 43

non-phonotactic. b+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

bi lesson bi lot bo storm bu precious by show bu vote by herd bo fat, fatty bu corpulent bia beer bu busy bi fortune telling bi waiter bi to swim ba hammer bi bush ba meal bu

c+ ai ao au ay u y -

oi i i ua ui a i u

ci talk back co scratch cu annoyed cay hot and spicy cu bridge cy tree coi see ci take off ci take off coi watch ci bend down cu

ch+ ai ao au ay u y eo - ia iu oi i i ua ui a i u chi comb cho greet, salute chu grandchild, nephew, niece chy
burn chu tub chy to flow cho to row chia o divide chu agree chi throw at chi deny chi to play chua sour chi clean cha contain chi to berate chu a proper name

d+ ai ao au ay u y eo -

ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

di long do spear du withering dy teach du oil dy string do elastic da disk du mild di weight di false di move da to pile up di to bore (a hole) da coconut
+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

i treat s.o. o to dig au hurt y bottom u where eo to wear u all, altogether a dish u leafless tree i hungry i hill i life ua to race ui blind a a child
g+ ai ao au ay u y oi i i ui -

gi to scratch go to moan gu bucket gy broken gu bear gy thin {N} gi to call gi pillow gi to send gi backbasket (backpack)
gi+ ai ao au ay u y oi i i ua ui a -

gii to resolve gio to teach giu rich giy shoe giu to hide gieo to sow giu to tease gii well gii to make a will gii class gia file (as in nail file) gii thrust into gia between, in the middle
gh+ eo u

gho to tease
h+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

hai two ho oyster hy lets hu servant hy reddish heo pig hu morning light hia boot hiu haughty hi bald hi stingy hi cheap ha take sides hi to cut ha to promise hu retire
k+ a eo u ia iu -


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

ka-li kalinite ko candy ku to call kia there, that ku creaking (onomatopoeia)

kh+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a - u

khai open khao to treat khu cute khay tray khu to sew khy mocking kho skillful khu pry up kha notch khiu slim khi smoke khi cube khi to gnaw khua rattle khui uncork kha guest khu

l+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

li drive lo old ly kowtow lu story (of building) ly to take lo leading line (of sail) lu tent la separate lu twittering li core li mistake li word la rice lui retreat la fire lu pomegranate
m+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

mi to grind mo hat my machine mu sample my how many mo unrounded mu about to cry ma sugar cane mu cat mi tired mi each mi to invite ma dance mi clove ma rain mu scheme
n+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

ni to plead to no brain ny this nu brown ny this no way nu if na fork nu to cleave ni to speak ni pot ni location nua very old ni mountain na more nu new (as in New York)
ng+ ai ao au ay u y oi i i ua ui a u

ngi sir ngo haughty ngu muddy ngy day ngy fed up ngi tile (roofing) ngi to sit ngi glossy nga to drown in ngi rather short nga horse ngu ox
ngh+ - - eo u ia iu -

ngho poor nghu lofty ngha gazing nghu blushing

nh+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a -

nhai to chew nho topple nhau each other, one another nhy sensitive nhu to booze nhy viscous nho to pinch nhu dripping nha gaze nhu frown nhi painful nhi stuff nhi lazy (of eating) nha dirty nhi clean nha plastic
ph+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ui a -

phi right, correct phao buoy phay cut phu dissect phy comma pho intestine phu funnel pha side phiu flat phi lung phi dry in the sun phui disclose pha overly ...
qu+ ai ao ay u y eo u iu - i -

quai strap quo scratch quy counter quu upset (variant: quu) quy disturb, wrong quo to turn quu to pull with a hook quu overwhelmed with fear qui precious (a variant of qu)
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 45

r+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a

- -

ri to sow ro to hasten rau vegetable ry jar off ru beard ro to yield ru moss ru adz ra edge roi rod ri already, then ri to leave ra turtle ri unfortunate ra to wash
s+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a - u

si sprain so flute su six say drunk su caterpillar sy air dry so scar su stork sa lose balance siu stale si bald, wolf si boiling si measles sa to bark sui in-law sa jelly fish su head tax
t+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a - u

ti talent to apple tu ship, train tay arm tu to purchase ty to bleach teo atrophy tu funny ta to trim tu high-legged table ti garlic ti I, me ti to come tua tassel ti pocket ta preface tu wine
th+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

thi to waste, discard tho disassemble thau basin thy to toss thu work on contract thy to see theo to follow thu to embroider tha spoon thiu stale thi stick thi to blow thi period thua to lose thi stingy tha extra thu a legendary bird
tr+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

tri left, wrong tro overflow tru tru bee eater try a kind of bamboo tru water buffalo try to stain with dirt, litter treo to hang tru to tease tra to sow (seeds) tru to give under weight tri to tie tri emerge tri sky, heaven, it (of weather) tra scratched, cut, worn tri leafless tra noon tru sheep
v+ ai ao ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

vi some vo to enter vy skirt vu knot vy to wave vo awry vu inflammatory va side vu to hold vi tusk vi limestone vi to reach vua king vui merry, joyous va to fit, enough, just vu pretty
x+ ai ao au ay u y eo u ia iu oi i i ua ui a u

xi to spend xo mess up xu to fade xay to grind xu bad xy to build xo slanting xu scoop xa to pick (teeth) xu flatten xi to poke (the ground) xi to pour water onto xi to turn over xua to drive away xui unlucky xa in the old days xu to seize


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Consonant-Vowel Pattern (contd)

gh+ k+ ngh+ qu+ g+ gi+ ng+ c+ ph+ d+ + nh+ r+ v+ ch+ b+ h+ kh+ l+ m+ n+ s+ t+ th+ tr+ x+ eo eo eo eo u u u ia ia iu iu iu oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi oi i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i i

ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai ai

ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao ao

au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au au

ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay

u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u

y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y

eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo eo

u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u

ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia ia

iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu iu

i ua ua ua ua ua ua ua a ua ua ua ua ua ua ua ua ua ua ua ua

ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui ui

a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a

i i u i u

u u u u u u u u u u u u u

Table 11: Ph t +nh hp t nhm I phi hp Consonant-dyads of group I combinations

c. Ph t + nh hp t nhm II Consonant + group II dyads Group II can take finals optionally. They are: oa oe u u uy, and in combination with limited intials. b+ oa -

boa gratuity, tip (from French pourboire)

ch+ oa d+ + g+ oa oa oa oe u u uy uy -

cho dazzled choe cho to shriek chu excrescence chu bludgeon do to menace, threaten du offspring duy but, except o classifier for flower o to fall down go widowed

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit






hoa flower hoe colorful, bright hu lily hu sweep off (variant of qu) hu alias
In the South, this h- disappears as if the syllable were made of one single dyad. For example: hoa [hwa] > [wa]. kh+ oa oe u uy

kho nude khoe show off khu noble woman khu flop down
l+ m+ oa oa oe oe oe oe u u u u uy uy uy uy uy uy

loa speaker lo blind lo to bluff s.o. lu hedge, wall, lui moa from French moi mo (a variant of moa)
ng+ oa nh+ oa ph+ s+ t+ oa

ngoa peevish ngo to sit down ngo green frog nguy hazardous nho blurred nho to mackle nhu strong nhu stamen phuy container su luxuriant a variant of s suy to decline, recess to court to flatten out (of pen) tu root of intellect tu become loose tu depending
th+ tr+ x+ oa oa oe u u u uy uy uy

thoa to rub thu tax thu period -hood thu aqua truy go after, smoke s.o/s.t. out xo to erase xo to open out xu fine xu xo to do away with


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Consonant-Vowel Pattern (contd)

oe uy b+ oa ng+ oa oe u uy oe u uy ch+ oa nh+ oa u uy uy d+ oa ph+ u uy + oa s+ oe u u uy g+ oa t+ oa oe u u uy u u uy h+ oa th+ oa oe u uy uy kh+ oa tr+ oe uy oe u uy l+ oa x+ oa m+ oa Table 12: Ph t + nh hp t nhm 2 phi hp Consonant-dyads of group II combinations

d. Ph t + nh hp t nhm 3 Consonants + group III dyads Group III dyads always need finals: i o oo u u , and they never stand initially. See details in section 4-a (Table 14). . Ph t + tam hp t Consonants + triads This pattern is part of the C-V pattern. Of 12 triphthongs in Vietnamese, there is only one that needs a final: uy_. The rest comply perfectly with this pattern: iu oai oao oay oeo uy ui uya uyu i u. However, their combinations with initial consonants are limited. b+ iu ui -

biu to give (gift) bui part of a day

ch+ iu d+ iu + iu h+ iu oai oai oai oay uy ui ui ui i i u u

chiu afternoon choai preadolescent chui pommel diu kite dui extend (arm/leg) di under iu article (law) oi west ui tail i i ape hiu to understand hoi all the time hoy busy doing hu deer
kh+ iu oai uya uyu i

khiu to excite khoi enjoyable khuy stir khuya midnight khuu to collapse khi bring up, stir up khu jay (bird)
l+ iu oai oay ui i i u

liu take risk loi kind, species loay hoay busy doing s.t. li lazy
m+ iu

miu temple mui mosquito mi ten mu a Viet verse intro

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 49

n+ iu ng+ -




niu clay pot nui nurture

oao oay oeo

ngoi outside ngoo bugaboo ngoy look over the shoulder ngoo winding nguy to wag (tail) ngui cool down ngi people
ngh+ iu oai oai oay ui ui -

nghiu Yao
nh+ iu ph+ iu th+ iu tr+ iu x+ iu

nhiu many nhoi to dive for phiu adventurous thiu to incinerate triu dynasty, tide trui locative name (in Hu-Central Vietnam) xiu to incline xoi mango xoay to turn xui downward
Consonant-Vowel Pattern (contd)
IC iu oai oao oay oeo uy uu ui uya uyu i ui b+ iu oai ui ch+ iu ui i d+ iu oai ui i + iu oai oay h+ iu oai oay oeo uy uya uyu i kh+ iu oai ui i l+ iu ui i m+ iu ui n+ iu oai oao oay oeo uy uu ui i ng+ ngh+ iu oai nh+ iu ph+ iu oai th+ iu ui tr+ iu oai oay ui x+ iu Table 13: Ph t u + tam hp t Initial Consonants (IC)-Triphthongs u

u u u u

4. Vn Ph + Chnh + Ph T Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Pattern The third syllabic composition is C-V-C. This pattern includes most of the
50 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

initials in addition to the eleven dyads in groups II and III covering a great part of the Vietnamese vocabulary. Review tables 5, 6 and 8. a. Ph t + m chnh n + ph t Consonant-single vowel-consonant

bc paternal uncle, fathers older brotherct sand chnh principal dnh to save ginh fight over s.t. t earth, dirt gt knot hc to study, learn khng no, not, null lng back mong look forward to nn stop crying ng to look nghch playful nhch to inch phng background (picture) qunh over-whelmed rung to ring sng dew tng be broke thch to like trnh avoid vng stable xong finish, complete
b. Ph + nh hp t nhm II v III + ph t cui Consonant + dyad
of group 2 and 3 + final

C-V (group II)-C: The onglide dyads are oa eo u u uy. These can take finals optionally. Initial consonants compatible with dyads (See Table 8) will be expanded and modified with addition of the eight final consonants: -c -ch -ng -nh -m -n -p and -t. Combinations with initial consonants, finals and tonal marks are fairly limited:

but bus (from French autobus); choc play drug (slang) chon occupied chot too young chuch choc
out of order;

don to consent donh current of water dong astride (variant of ging) doanh quarters (lodging) dunh cliff; oc palm tree on group, team ong unskilled onh bang (gunshot) ot seize upon ung ong insipid; hoc widely hoch stroke, bar, line hon pill, round thing hong terrified honh crosswide hot active, lively hoen stained hot glaringly huych too large hunh hoang showy (person) hun free (time) huch thug (falling) hunh huch clumpsily (of walking) hut whistle; khoc put on (overcoat) khon part of something khong mineral khonh plot (of land) khot scoop up (water) khuynh to subvert khup close in; loc choc incoherent lon chaos long dilute, watery (soup) loanh quanh move around lot series loen lot to gape open (of wound) luch luxury; luxe (French) lunh qunh to show perturbation; ngoc (open) widely ngoch to scribble off ngom to snap up ngoan ngon obedient (of child) ngonh look away ngop to bubble, gape (variant of ngp) ngom to wolf down ngon ngon shameless ngot awfully nguch ngoc carelessly (of handwriting) ngun origin, beginning, primary

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


(variant of nguyn) ngut to look askance at s.o.;

nhom piglike manner (of eating) nhong like lightning nhon about to grin nhot not in shape; son prepare sot to check, inspect sut at a close shave (a variant of xut); toc to crack, split ton all, entire toang widely (mi) toanh brand (new) tot to secrete tuch completely tut rock-n-roll; thoan to lay hold of thoang thong wafted s.t. thot escape; xoc astride xom disheveled xonh xoch continuously, endlessly xon diamond xot xot tearing sound (onomatopoeia) xoen xot to jabber xot flash xuch xoc shabby xunh xong plain dress xut to hush s.o. to silence
Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Pattern
IC oa FC b+ oa c,n ch+ oa n,ng,nh d+ oa c,n,ng,nh,t + oa c, ch, ng, nh,t h+ oa c,ch,n,ng,nh,t kh+ oa c,n,ng,nh,t l+ oa c,ch,m,n,nh,p ng+ oa m,ng nh+ oa n,t s+ oa c,n,ng,nh,t t+ oa n,ng,t th+ oa x+ oa c,ch,m,n,ng,nh,t oe oe oe oe oe oe oe oe oe FC t n,t n,t n,t m,n,t n,t n,t n,t u u u u u u u u u u u u FC ch,nh nh nh ch,nh ch ch ch ch,nh u FC uy FC uy t uy uy uy uy uy uy uy uy uy uy uy ch,nh,t nh,p ch,nh t t t t

u u u u u

n n

Table 14: Dng ph-chnh-ph + nh hp t nhm II C-V-C pattern with group ii dyads. ic initial consonant; fc final consonant

C-V (Group III)-C: Group III dyads are i o oo u u . Like those in group II, they can combine with most intials and a limited number of finals, phonologically and semantically. bic pure (of blue color) bim sarcasm bin sea li bing lazy boong tu ship deck buc to tie bum sail bun sad bung room but impulsively bc to step bm butterfly bn in a hurry bng stubborn coc a kind of fruit coong jing-a-ling (onomatopoeia) cuc course of cum to steal (slang) cun to roll cung mad cc fee cm glass bead cng energenic, strong cp to rob


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

chic an item chim to ocuppy chin to fry ching gong chit extract chun standard chuc buy back, redeem chum small pond chun chun dragon fly chung favor chut rat, mouse chc trick chm apply (treatment) chng hard-to-please chp fish resource (to make fish source) dic heron dim beautiful din dandy dip leaf dun bamboo shoot dut cloud of three colors dum be infected (variant of nhum) dng handle with care dt practice ic deaf im point in electricity ing stunningly ip halibut uc torch um um to roar un un without ramification ung palmworm ng road, sugar ut straight c favorably m well burning n at full length ng sugar, road ging first month of the lunar year ging well (water) gong car (of train, coach) guc wooden shoes gun to roll up (a variant of cun) gung system gut a tree gm sword gng glass, mirror gm ghic distastefully ghin be addicted (a variant of nghin) him rare hin meek hing squint hip to combine hit straight neck hoc or, untrue hom very (of depth) hong large, great hot sharp hun teaching hung situational hut in one breath hc humorous hm rosy ripe hun pill, roundish shape (a variant of hon) hng fragrance kim to check kin persistent king glass kip karmic life kit stingy lic to glance lim to lick lin continuous ling to throw lip bamboo wattle lit paralysed lot to gape open lon xon to fuss around long ngong zigzags lot chot tiny loong toong pager (from French planton) lun composition, essay lut law luc to boil lum thum neglectful lun lun always lung bed (of vegetables) lut slip off lc briefly, comb lm pick up ln flank lng salary lt time(s) min region ming mouth mit to rub gently moc-ch mortar mum sour mango mun late, retard mung morning glory (veggie) mut nicely mc leave s.o. alone, variant of mc mn to borrow mng ditch mp gourd nin year ning water-zizania nit papyrus nuc turn (rope, chain) num knob, handle nung to coddle nut to swallow nc water nm np a great number nng to lean on ngoc to wave to s.o. ngon nghoo winding (road) ngong lengthy ngun source ngc look up ngng admire nghim serious nghin ink stand nghing inclined nghip karma; nhic reprimand nhim infected nhin to kindle nhip to collect nhit
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 53

heat nhun saturated nhuc shame nhum to dye nhc weak nhn to crane (neck) also nhng), raise nhng to cede

phim idle (talking) phin plate, sheet phit peppery phuc from French fourche phc be blessed phn pennant phng ward rim border rin perfectly (fit) ring own, private rit firmly ruc shrimp sauce rum to dye (variant of nhum) run rut hastily rung rice paddy rut intestine rc to greet rm bleeding rn stretch out rng trunk rt to chase sic to make a complaint sim to flatter sing assiduous sit to clasp soc shorts soong casserole sut part, portion sun shrimp soup sung empty (of words) sut during, whole sn rib sng pleasant st to graze (ones skin) tic to regret tim store tin convenient ting word, language tip to continue tit time, period (ba) toong baton tun week tut allowance tuc octopus: bch tuc tun flow, dash off tung overrun tut slip, take off tc rank tm to ooze (of blood) tn to advance (variant of tin) tng wall tt diarrhea (pedia) thic tin thim to add thin chapter thing miraculous thip card thit close, intimate thon (thot) quick and clever thong a blue streak thot in a flash thun to agree thut way, method thuc drug, tobacco (lum) thum clumsy thun tapering thung digging shovel thc ruler thn tht trailing long thng reward tht tha graceful trin seal tring brim, edge trit philosophy trun toilsome trut to dismiss trung dense woods trc before trn to creep trng school trt slip vic job vim inflammatory vin institute ving to visit vit super vung square vut jaws vc sea perch vn to rise vng to be caught vt overcome xic circus xin slant xing shackle xit swiftly xon twisted xot promptly xoong casserole (variant of soong) xun spring xut exit xuc to sweep (variant of qut) xc to graze ones skin xng announce.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Consonant-Vowel-Consonant Pattern
b c ch d g gh h k l m n ng ngh nh ph r s t i FC o i c,m,n,ng i c,m,n,ng,t i c,m,n,p c,m,n,ng,p i i c,n i m,n,ng,nh,p,t o i m,n,ng,p,t i c,m,n,ng,p,t o i n,ng,t i n,ng,t o i mn,ng,p,t i c,m,n,p,t i m,n,t i m,n,ng,t i c,m,ng,t c,m,n,ng,p,t i FC c,m,ng,t n,ng,t c,n,ng oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo FC ng c,ng ng ng c c,ng ng u u u u u u u u FC n n,t n n,t n t n,t u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u FC c,m,ng,t c,m,n,ng c,m,n,ng,t m,ng c,m,n,ng,t c,n,ng,t ng,t c,m,n,ng,t m,n,ng,t c,m,ng,t n c,m c c,m,n,ng,t n,ng,t c,n,ng,t FC c,m,ng c,m,ng,p c,m,n,ng,p c,n,ng,t c,m,n,ng m,ng c,m,n,ng c,m,n,ng,t c,n,ng,p,t c,m,ng,p c,ng c,n,ng c,n,ng c,m,n,ng,t n,ng,t c,m,n,ng, p,t c,n,ng,t c,n,ng,t c,n,ng,t ng,t

n,ng,t - - u n,t u c,m,n,ng th i c,m,n,ng,p,t o n,ng,t - - u n,t u ng tr i - - - u ng,t v i c,m,n,ng,t n,t oo ng u n,t u m,ng x i c,m,n,ng,t o Table 15: Ph-chnh-ph + nh hp t nhm III C-V-C and group III consonant

c. Ph t + tam hp t + ph t cui Consonant-triad-final Vietnamese has one triphthong that needs finals. That is uy. Here are some examples:

chuyn transfer chuyn told story duyn chance to meet huyn black huyn unreal huyt grave khuyn to advise luyn train Nguyn most common family name nguyn to will nguyt moon nhuyn fine thuyn boat tuyn select truyn printed story xuyn pierce through

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


chdhlngnhsthttr__u y __ -n chuyn duyn huyn luyn nguyn nhuyn suyn thuyn -t duyt huyt nguyt thuyt tuyn truyn tuyt -

Table 16: Ph-chnh-ph + tam hp t C-V-C Pattern with triphthong uy_.

D. -Y hay -I? Phonotactic Constraints -Y or -I?

Presently, a new constraint tends to merge all terms ending with the y making it an i. For instance: m > m; k > k, etc. This is not a wise idea. Vietnamese has nearly 70 percent of Sino-originals co-existing with Nm. Retaining y in certain terms at least shows some distinction among words containing y or i. In addition, y can stand alone and be a word: y khoa medicine y phc
clothes li subservience kin idea m boisterous, ...

The most important, however, is its semantic feature, which is as important as those with words of du hi low rising or du ng high broken, or those with ending c or t, n or ng. Lets compare:

H mi vo ci khn giy ny. Blow your nose in this tissue. Con ngi sng phi bit h x. One should lead a forgivable life. Ch ny l ba k. This thing weighs three kilograms. Xin ch k vo ch ny. Sign your name here. N ni l nh trong ming. He murmured something inaudible. N ni c l lm. He spoke very logically. Vua L Thi T King L Thi T. Ch Hai l ngi t m. Ms Hai is a meticulous person. M thut th khng o lng c. Art is unmeasurable. Mai qu xung trc bn th. Mai knelt down in front of the altar. Ngi y tht tm ci t quy chnh. That person honestly wants to be a
good man.

Mn qu qu gi ca ti. My precious gift. Tha qu v v cc bn. Ladies, gentlemen and friends. Con vt nh li ti cng l mt mng sng. Even tiny, a small living
being is a life.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Hi trc ty thuc cp tnh. Formerly, ty is an office at provincial level. Mt t na l xong. Just a little more and the job will be done. Nm y l nm T. That was the Year of the Mouse. N t tay trn bn. He leaned his hands against the table. Ci n t b ny rt c. This four-string lute is very old. o tng vi va chm n. The dog roses are just in bloom. Tn nng l Tng Vy. Her name is Tng Vy. La chy m sut m. The fire is smoldering all night. N l con ngi thng li. He is always depending on others.

Tim, tao my my ch ny Di k mi nghi si thi ti ty tr vi l chi?

To my xo hoi, ch g u m k dy? Tao thua my lun.

Gii: di di k c mi my nghi ng si say thi th ti t

ty ch qun tr chy vi vy (c)

Cn phn bit r cch vit t nht cng cho thy c s khc ngha.

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


II. a Phng Ng Regional Dialectal Constraints

A. Khc Bit V Ng m Phonological Mergence and Variation
Educated native speakers often make fun of one another about how correctly they speak. Speakers from the North complain that speakers in the South make no distinction between final c/t and n/ng and du huyn the low rising and du ng low broken. On the contrary, speakers from the South laugh at the way Northerners merge many initial sounds into one. They mean ch- tr- sound the same [c]; d, gi and r share the [z]. Of the four typical regional dialects, the North-Central is considered most standard in terms of intelligibility and consistency. As a matter of fact, Vietnamese has hundreds of different regional dialects. People speak differently from village to village, not to mention a larger region. Table 17 indicates mergences of sounds in the five different major regions: North, North-Central, Central, South, and Southernmost. As the simple and non-dialectal basis, the chart functions as a guide to help non-native Vietnamese beginners learn how to pronounce the sounds distinctively and correctly in order to cope with all possible dialects they may adopt afterwards. In brief, Northern dialect merges more initial sounds than the others. Similarly, the Southern dialect does more with the finals. The sign > means sounds like. Here are some examples of consonantal mergences:

Chin tranh chnh tr > chin chanh chnh ch political war; B k chuyn cho chu nghe > B k truyn c cho chu nghe.
Grandma tells her grandchildren folk tales.

It should be reminded that chuyn is told orally and truyn is printed in book form. Correctly, one should always say: k chuyn story telling, cu

chuyn a told story; c truyn read a story vit truyn write a story. D Dung dng ging gin d b i ra. > Z Zung zng zng zn z b i za. Aunt Dung angrily walked out, waving her body. (Auntie Dung walked
away with an upset manner.)

ng c lo, c chnh ph lo. > ng c no, c chnh ph no.

Dont worry, the governmnet will take care of it. (pun: lo worried > no to be full when eating)

xc accuracy sut ratio, scale > xc xut ratio of exit Xc sut trong sn xut > Xc xut trong xn xut. Probability in production. chia divide s share > chia x divide into pieces Nim vui s tng gp bi nu c chia s vi ngi khc. Joy will be doubled when being
shared with others.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Major Regional Dialects 1

Spelling Simple symbols Northern N-Central (H Ni) (Thanh Ho) Central (Hu) Southern Southernmost (Cn Th) (Sign)

ch tr Initial Consonants d gi r l n v nh s x c t ch nh n ng du hi

[c] [] [z] [j] [r] [l] [n] [v] [] [S] [s] [k|] [t|] [c] [] [n] [N]


[c] [] [j] [z] [r] [l] [n] [v] [] [S] [s] [k|] [t|] [c] [] [n] [N]

[c] [] [j] [j] [Z] [l] [n] [v] [j] [S] [s] [k|] [c]

[c, ] [j] [j] [rr] [l] [n] [ j] [] [s] [k|](1) [c](2) [n,](3) [N](4)

[c] [bj] [j] [r, g] [l] [n] [bj] [] [s]

[z] [n] [l] [v] [] [s] [k|] [t|] [c] [] [n] [N]

Final Consonants

[ ]

[ ]

[ ]

du ng [ )] [ )] [ )] Table 17: Tm tt v a phng ng A summary of regional dialect varieties. (1), (2), (3) v (4). see notes on next page.

[ ]

[ ]

[ ]

In the Central as well as the South speakers merge the ending -n with -ng and -t with -c:

Ngi Vit lm vic rt sing nng. > Ngi Vic lm vic rc sing nng. The Vietnamese work assiduously. and du hi with du ng. My bnh sa gn ca ra vo. > My bnh sa gn ca ra vo. The milk bottles were placed near the entrance. Particularly in Hu, nh merges with d in words with low front a: nh > d as in v nh > v d coming home
Southern and Southernmost dialects merge: t > c as in example (2): ct > cc; vt > vc; bt da > bc da
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 59

bowls and plates; tho vt > tho vc handy-andy

t > ch [t] > [c] in words with front vowel i [i]: tht > thch meat chng

cht > chng chch labyrinthine; m mt > m mch ambiguous and

confusing (1)

Depending on the preceding vowel n > nh [] when preceded by i [i]: chn > chnh nine nhn > nhnh to fast nn > nnh to keep silent, to reserve, and nh > n when preceding [e]: lnh nh > ln n to be at sea (2) Words ending with -n > -ng: Con thn ln n con gin. > Con thng

lng ng con ging. The wall lizard ate a roach. (3)

In addition to consonantal mergences, vowels are no exception. Triads iu > iu; uy > i; u > u; u > u; uyu > uy; i > i in some finals: i > i when preceding u, m, p: k diu > k du miraculous; chiu > chu afternoon tim > tim inject; thip mi > thp mi invitation card u > u when preceding i: my tui > my ti how old bui ti > bi ti evening; cm ngui > cm ngi left-over rice uy > i when preceding n and t: duyn n > din n pre-destined; chuyn mn > chin mn professional; gi thuyt > gi thit suppose > when preceding u: con hu > con hu deer; ti ci > ti ci all smiles; ngi ta > ngi ta people khuu tay > khu tay the elbow khc khuu > khc khu sharp n winding Vowel Mergences
Di-/triphthong North North-Central Central South Southernmost i i i i i i o o o o w w u u u u w w uy uy uy uy wi wi iu,yu iu iu iu iu iu oai oai oai oai wai wai uy uy uy i i i ui ui ui ui ui ui u iu u u u u Table 18: Chnh m bin cch theo a phng Vowel varieties in regional dialects.

B. Khc Bit V T Vng Lexical Variation

People in different localities often use different terms for things, actions, stuations, feelings, and so on. This phenomenon exists in all languages in general, and in Vietnamese in particular. This publication introduces some
60 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

examples of typical lexical variations. It is suggested that learners find a good Vietnamese-English dictionary for more vocabulary of this type. See Appendix 1 for more examples. Lexical Differences
Term alley pineapple pig peanut sesame sick thin South Central North

hm khm heo u phng m au m

kit thm heo u phng m bnh m

ng da ln lc vng/m m gy

Table 19: T vng theo a phng Lexical regional variation

III. Ng iu Intonation
Vietnamese shares the same characteristics of all languages of the world. Orthographically, the Vietnamese language was romanized the earliest of all languages in the area. And the syllabic formation has proved very convenient and easy to learn. Intonation plays an important role in expressing an idea. Good pronunciation of Vietnamese must include four factors: sounds, tones, intonation and rhythm.

A. m Sounds
In order to master Vietnamese sounds, beginners should practice the eleven vowel sounds as much as possible. Once this is done, learners have accomplished one-third of the process. The consonants are somehow similar to most English ones, except for the two initial sounds [N] of ng-, and [] of nh-, which takes takes less efforts of learners than do the vowels.

B. Thanh ging The Tones

As we have learned in previous sections, Vietnamese sounds are mainly tonal. In other words, a change of the tone over a word means shifting from one meaning to another. Vietnamese basically has six tones: one unmarked tone and five marked ones: high rising, low falling, low rising, high broken and low broken. The unmarked tone is plain and neutral. Practice this sound in words to found a base for other tones. Lets compare:
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 61

Words with low rising Meaning

high broken

Words with Meaning waste already guy appearance, horse self, topple, fall elegant distance decay, rotten milk diaper, bad condition great, tail, parallel village, a spouse

b g m ng nh qung ra sa t v x

she, her to beat, to attack to marry s.o. to s.o. grave, buryial ground incline, way, unstable spit out of ones mouth broad wash, clean repair, fix, mend describe, tattered, left layer, gridiron drain, litter, forgive

b g m ng nh qung ra sa t v x

C. Th iu Pitch
This is the way you can add your attitude to what you say. There are several ways to express ones attitude, but here are two main ways, universally: 1. Bnh Thng Normal

Ti i hc.
2 1 3

I go to school.

Ti i hc mt tun hai ngy. I go to school to days a week.

2 3 1

Hm nay chng ti nh.

2 1

Today we stay home.

2. Nhn Mnh Emphatic When you want to emphasize on something, you change your intonation.
3 2 3 2 3 3 1

Ti i hc ch khng phi i lm. I go to school, not to work. Ngi chnh l ti.


That person was I.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

a. Cu hi phi/khng Yes/No questions Yes or No questions, in general, require a rise of the voice at the end of the question. This type of question ends with tiu t din cm expressive particles: khng, ch, h, phi khng, and so on See Chapter 15 Particles for more details.
3 2 3 2 3 3

B kho khng?
How are your maam?
3 2 3

Hm nay anh i lm khng?

Do you go to work today?
3 2 3

Anh i vi ti ch?
You go with me, dont you?

Ch bit ng y ch?
You know that man, dont you?

B cha thc dy h?

ng khng n sng h?

Grandma has not woken up yet?

2 1 3

Dont you eat breakfast?

2 1 3

Anh l Nam phi khng?

You are Nam, arent you?

Ch l ngi Vit phi khng?

You are Vietnamese, arent you?

b. Cu hi cht vn Wh-questions Most Wh- questions, in general, end with dropping of the voice.
3 3 1 2 3 1

Xin hi, ch tn g?
2 3

Xin li, anh lm ngh g?

Excuse me, what do you do?

May I ask what your name is Miss?

Hin nay anh ch u?


Anh ch lm vic ti u?

Where are you currently living?


Where are you two working now?


Tn b nh vn ra sao?
2 How do spell your name, maam? 1

Ci ny h lm ra sao?

How do they do this?

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


Khi no anh v?
2 1

Hm no bn i hc li?
2 1

When do you go home?


When do you go back to school?


Xin hi, b l ai?

2 3 1

Xin hi b mun hi ai?

2 3 1

May I ask who you are, maam?

May I ask who you want to see?

Ch mun chn ci no?

2 1

Anh rnh vo ngy no?

2 1

Which one do you select?

Which is your free day?

D. m iu Rhythm
Vietnamese rhythm sounds staccato to English speakers: the utterance seems shortened and detached.

Ai ? Ai ngoi ? Ai ang ngoi ? Ai ang ngoi vy? Ai ang ngoi ln ting i. Ai ang ngoi ln ting cho ti bit i.

Whos there? Whos out there? Whos (being) out there? Whos being out there anyway? Whos being out there speak up. Whos being out there speak up so I can know.

. Nhm Thought Group Division

Thought group division plays an important role in the meaning of an utterance. Pausing incorrectly within a sentence spoils the gist of the sentence and most of the time connotes an awkward idea. Here are some significant examples:

Rn l mt loi b st // khng chn. Snake is a limbless reptile. (More

accurate: Snake is a reptile // legless.)

Not: Rn l mt loi b // st khng chn. Snake is a cow that crawls without


Qun ta tin vo n // ch b tiu dit hon ton. Our troops

advanced into fort // enemies were destroyed completely. (Our force attacked the enemies stronghold, and the enemies were completely destroyed.)

Not: Qun ta tin vo n ch // b tiu dit hon ton. Our troops

advanced into fort enemies // were destroyed completely. (Our force attacked the enemies stronghold and was completely destroyed.)


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Ch ui k trm // sa om sm. The dog chased the burglar and barked noisily. (Lit.: Dog chased burglar // barked noisily.)
Not: Ch ui // k trm sa om sm. The dog chased (the burglar),
and the burglar barked noisily.

E. Trng Lengthening Feature

In order to express or describe something special or extraordinary, a Vietnamese speaker will lengthen the descriptive word usually an adjective of a statement.
Normal: Lengthening:

Ci o y p. That dress is pretty. Ci o y :::p. That dress is very pretty. Normal: ng y kh chu lm. Hes very mean. Lengthening: ng y kh::: chu lm. Hes very, very, very mean. Normal: Ti thy con chut to c ny n. I saw a mouse this big. Lengthening: Ti thy con chut to::: c ny n. I saw a mouse that is
very big like this.

IV. T ip m/Vn Derivatives

Derivatives, ting ip m, are a characteristic of the Vietnamese language. They signify the exact way of expressing the sentimentalism of the Vietnamese. The nuances found in these derivatives are usually subtle.

A. T ip m Duplicate Derivatives Duplicate derivatives (or duplicative, ip m i, for short) are used in
a statement to reduce the quality or quantiy of something. There are two primary methods of duplication: somple duplication and tone alternation. 1. ip m n Simple Duplicate Derivatives Simple duplication; simply double the word to make an identical pair:

red > reddish ngn short > ngn ngn rather short kh fairly good > kh kh barely adequate au hurt > au au slightly hurt thng normal thng thng usually
Tone alternation; simply convert the word with a tone to unmarked and make it a prefix: > o reddish ngn > ngn ngn fairly short kh >

kha kh barely mediocre cng hard > cng cng fairly hard tm purple tim tm purplish ng rosy ng ng a little rosy
If the word has a low broken tone, the prefix will carry a low falling tone: mn salted mn mn lightly salted nng heavy > nng nng rather heavy nh light > nh nh somewhat light
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 65

2. ip m Ba Tonal Emphatic Derivative Tonal emphatic derivative or ip vn ba: To describe something very unusual, this formula is applied: any tone + low falling + low broken, which generally denotes the degree of abnormality:

Tin t prefix is not closely related: cn tiny> cn cn con very tiny kht tight > kht khn kht excessively tight; sch clean > sch snh sanh perfectly clean st close > st sn st excessively close tut thorough > tut tun tut perfectly thorough trn topless > trn trng trc topless showing ones skin
Lets read this typical anonymous folk poem:

Tai nghe g gy t-t-te, Bng c va ln h-h-h. Non mt chng cao von-vt-vt, Hoa nm sc n lo-lo-loe. Chim tnh bu bn kia-ka ka, Ong ngha vua ti nh-nh-nh. Danh li mc ngi ti-t-t, Ng tra cha dy kho-kho-khoe.

Cockcrows resound cock-a-doodle-do; As the sun has just risen peeping out. The mountain is so gigantic-tall; Flowers of five colors are in full bloom. Shh, the birds are caressing each other; The bees share the birds privacy. Regardless people fight for bits of bite; I sleep till the sun rises to its height.

Tonal Emphatic Alternations

Root tones high rising ( ) low falling ( $) low rising ( ) low broken ( . ) unmarked low broken ( . ) umarked high rising ( ) Tonal deriv. 1 high rising ( ) low falling ( $) low rising ( ) low broken ( . ) unmarked low broken ( . ) unmarked high rising ( ) Tonal deriv. 2 low falling ( $) low falling ( $) low falling ( $) low falling ( $ ) high rising ( ) high rising ( ) high rising ( ) low falling ( $) Tonal deriv. 3 low broken ( . ) low broken ( . ) unmarked unmarked high rising ( ) low falling ( $) high rising ( ) unmarked

Table 20: Bin cch ca ip vn theo thanh ging Chameleon alternations in tonal emphatic derivatives.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Tin t the prefix or hu t suffix is somewhat unrelated to the terms

it compounds:

ba three, lng nhng confusing > ba lng nhng trifling My chuyn ba lng nhng y khng nn . Those trifling things shouldnt bother your attention. ln mistake, tng pho topsy-turvy > ln tng pho messy Ch lm ln tng pho ca em ri. You made all these things of mine messy. lung tung undefined beng entangled > lung tung beng very messy t silk, l m vague, hazy > t l m unreliable Anh ta t l m qu.
He is so unreliable.

4. ip Vn Tonal Rhythmic Derivatives

To describe someones habit of doing things repeatedly or something that occurs repeatedly, the duplicatives are doubled. 1. ip Vn Cp Paired Derivatives Most of these derivatives denote emotions. They multiply the actions by repeating them to denote some habit that is hard to break.

ci ni talk and laugh > ci ci ni ni talking and laughing manner; n ung eat and drink> n n ung ung be fond of snacking; nt n yell and shout > nt nt n n be always yelling and shouting; mu mo say crying and grimacing > mu mu mo mo say weeping bitterly C Ba th lc no cng ci ci ni ni lun ming. Ms Ba is
always talking and laughing incessantly.

This type of derivative deals with duplicatives rhyming the core with the same tones in the change of vowels. Basically there are four types of tonal rhymic derivatives: suffixal, infixal, prefixal-infixal, and prefixal. Most of these derivatives are pictorial or onomatopoeic: suffixal duplicatives, ip vn ui an addition of components to the target phrase as suffixes: linh tinh irrelevant linh tinh lang tang quite
irrelevant tm by ugly wrong > tm by tm b very ugly wrong; tri li completely bare > tri li tri l completely denuded; tm lum messy > tm lum t la very messy; xa lc far xa lc xa l extremely far.

ng y g ci ch xa lc xa l. What a very far place he is living in. infixal duplicatives, ip vn gia an addition of components that weave in the target phrase as an infix: chp chng toddling > chp ch chp chng unsteadily toddling; k cp > to collect bit by bit > k ca k cp to toil to collect; vt vng hopeless and aimless > vt va vt vng desperately hopeless and aimless; c tng junky> c rch c tng lame and junky; nh
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit


nhnh sprightly > nh nha nh nhnh cute and lively Con gi ln ri m lc no cng nh nha nh nhnh. That girl is an
adult but she still acts like a teenager who looks so lively and cute!

prefixal-infixal duplicatives, ip vn u v gia an addition of components that precede and weave in the target phrase as prefixes and infixes:

lo lu mischievous b lo b lu detestably mischievous; m mn to grope > t m tn mn to grope for a long time; qunh qung be disoriented > lnh qunh lng qung be extremely disoriented; try trt clumsily > trm try trm trt very clumsily. Tay vng v lm. Y lm g cng trm trt trm trt. That guy is not
handy. Whatever he does, he does it very clumsily.

prefixal duplicatives, ip vn u an addition of components to the target phrase as prefixes: bi hi agitated > bi hi bi hi plagued with
perplexity lch thch shabby > li thi lch thch untidy and shabby; t m meticulous > tn mn t m to grope meticulously (be painstaking);

2. ip Vn Cm Tnh Emotional Tonal Rhymic Derivative This is one the many ways to express ones feeling toward something or something being introduced. The derivatives themselves reflect the speakers attitude, which normally is to oppose the idea being introduced to the listener. Most of them mean the same not such and such said thing. Simply insert b and change the initial letter of the terms being introduced with l- and x- to be suffixes of the derivatives:

Danh t Adjective: anh brother > anh b lanh xanh ch sister > ch b l x lo worried > lo b lo xo ng gentleman > ng b lng xng thy teacher > thy b ly xy Tnh t Adjective: di credulous > di b li xi khn wise > khn b ln xn lanh clever > lanh b lanh xanh tt good > tt b lt xt ng t Verb: n eat > n b ln xn
68 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

not my brother at all not my sister at all not worried at all not a gentleman at all not a teacher at all

This format can be applied to other parts of speech as well:

not credulous at all not wise at all not clever at all not good at all not eating at all
Ch b l x!

Chapter Two Phonology

khng no lm work thng love

> khng b lng xng

not none at all

> lm b lm xm not working at all > thng ba lng xng not loving at all

V. S Bin Th ca T Lexical Alternation

Although Vietnamese is non-inflectional, lexical alternation is possible. However, in most cases this alternation does not affect grammatical function.

A. Bin Th ca Li Alternation of The Core

The most common type of alternation is that of the core. Similar to the umlaut and ablaut of European languages, alternation of the core in a Vietnamese word reflects a high degree of assimilation. 1. Chuyn Du Shifting of Tonal Marks In a number of cases, words with tonal marks may appear without the original marks or shift from one mark to another. This is alternation in the internal phonological structure of a word element in combination with other words, creating nuances in meaning. a. Du nng > du sc Low broken > high rising dng > dng glimpse in combination with nhn dng/dng human figure or hnh dng/dng form, shape: hnh dng p good-looking
appearacne Lm quan c dng, lm dng c hnh. It is not the cowl that makes the monk. m > m mother, cheek; regional dialect differences; m is widely used in Central and m in the South): Ch m m sng. While the grass grows the horses starve. mt > mt one; all number one coming with the ties (21, 31, 41, ... 91) display this alternation: hai mi mt twenty-one ba mi mt thirtyone, bn mi mt forty-one, ... chn mi mt 91 not hai mi mt, ...

chn mi mt mn > mn hire someone to do something: Nu khng t lm c th phi mn ngi. If you cant do it yourself, you have to hire someone to do it. Anh ta lc no cng mn tin ti. He always borrows my money. xc xch > xc xch shabby: bn gh xc xch rundown furniture o qun xc xch shabby clothes
b. Du huyn > khng du Low falling > unmarked mi > mi ten all number tens coming with the ties (20, 30, 40, ... 90) display this alternation: hai mi twenty ba mi mt thirty, bn mi mt forty, ... chn mi 90 not hai mi, ... or chn mi
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 69

ngi > ngi person, you: Cc ngi khng nn ni vy. You guys shouldnt say that. Cc ngi nn nh rng .... You people should remember that ..... nhiu > nhiu many, much Cn c nhiu t? Ch chng nhiu thi. How many left? This many.
c. Khng du > c du Unmarked > marked (with tones)

cha > cha no, without Mp cha ra hoa, c cha n. The guord has no sign of flowering; eggplants not budding. nm > nm South: ch Nm Southern script gi nm South wind
2. Thay i Chnh T Alternation of Vowel Letter

Most of this type see alternation of the vowel, and the tone remains.

bn > bn copy (noun) Cho ti xin ba bn/bn. Please give me three


chnh > chnh principal, main y l bn/bn chnh/chnh. This is

the original.

ci > ci take off (clothes, shoes) Ci/ci giy ra. Take off your shoes. Thng nhau ci o cho nhau. When in love one takes off each others outfit. du > d > du although, though, despite Du tri ln ma ti cng v. Although it rains hard, I go home. Du cho mun trng ti vn cn thng. Despite being far apart, I am always in love with you. ng > ng road, way Hi anh i ng ci quan. Hello to the young man traveling on the main road. [Note: ng ci quan the main road, national route in contrast with hng l country road. Also there is one combination of ng/ng that denotes two significant ideas: hoang ng illusionary, incredible vs. hoang ng indulging in sensual pleasure.] hn > hun to kiss M hn ln m em. Mother kissed me on the cheek. m > m mother M i, con nh m lm! Oh mom, I miss you so much! mnh > min I, me (friendly term) Min u c bit chuyn y. I never
know about that.

mng > mng first ten days of the month: mng mt Tt first day of Tt, mng hai thng ba second day of the third month (lunar year) mng mi thng ba gi t Hng Vng the tenth of the third month of the lunar year
Kings of Hng Vng Commemoration) thi > th poetry nn thi ca Vit Nam Vietnamese poetry th > th absorb hp th nn vn minh Ty phng absorb the Western civilization thc > tht real, true In most cases, these two have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably: S tht/thc, anh y l ngi tt. In fact,


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

he is a good man. However, they can be different when applied to cnh thc a real view not in a dream and cnh tht natural view not an artificial view and

trung thc, but never trung tht.

3. Thay i phn u Alternation of the First Part Alternation of the initial consonant or consonant cluster.

an > yn secured, safe Thng l bnh an. God speed to you. bu > vu to cling to a tay vu ly cnh cy extend ones hand to cling
to a branch of a tree

dt do > rt ro brimful Dt do nim vui overwhelmed with joy dn > ln gradual Dn dn anh y s hiu chng ta. Gradually he will
understand us.

giai > trai boy, son B y sanh con trai. She gave birth to a son. gii > tri heaven, sky, god ng tri c mt. God has eyes. sm > thm dark (of color), sometimes sm, m Bu tri i sang mu tm thm. The sky has turned into a dark purple. chuyn > truyn transfer, spread Chuyn nhau quyn sch c. Handing the book over to another to read. Bnh y truyn t ngi ny sang ngi khc. The disease spread from one person to another.
4. Thay i Li + Phn Cui Alternation of the Core + Final Part

Alternation of vowel and final consonant.

knh > king eyeglasses Ch y phi mang king mi c c. She has to wear glasses to read. khnh > khing to carry by hand Khnh ngi bnh vo phng cp cu. Carry the patient into the emergency room. mm > ming mouth; like ng vs. ng, mm is more contextually negative: to mm big mouth, ming (not mm) ci d thng the mouth with a sweet smile ngp > ngt > nght suffocated Nn nhn cht b b nght th. The victim died of suffocation. t > ta similar, like Hnh trng ta hnh ny. That picture looks similar to this one.
More lexical alternations can be found in a good dictionary.

5. S ng Ho Assimilation
Assimilation in Vietnamese contributes to the process of lexical alternation. The two most common categories of assimilation are progressive and regressive. 1. ng Ho Thun Progressive Assimilation
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 71

The initial consonant of the second word assimilates to the initial consonant of the first word. There are two types: with and without tonal alternation. a. ng ho thun khng i du Progressive assimilation without
tonal alternation.

d ging > d dng aunt and her husband D dng ti l ngi tt bng. My aunt and her husband are kind-hearted people. gi bc > gi bc north wind Ma ng gi bc thi. In winter, the
north wind blows in.

ngui hoai > ngui ngoai alleviate sau mt thi gian ni bun cng ngui ngoai after a while the sorrow is alleviated phanh khui > phanh phui expose (a secret, truth) phanh phui v tham nhng to expose a corruption scandal phong thanh > phong phanh hearsay, rumor nghe phong phanh v v tai ting y hearsay about that scandal yu nt > yu t feeble Mi lnh bnh nn ng i rt yu t. Just
recovered from his illness, he is too feeble to talk.

b. ng ho thun i du Progressive tonal alternation assimilation cm n > cm n to thank someone Actually, cm to feel > cm to be
touched the latter is more precise than the former in term of showing ones gratitude. di dt > di dt silly ng c di dt nghe li n. Dont be so silly as to listen to him. gii gin > gii giang skillful C y l ngi gii giang. She is a skillful person. nh nh > nh nh soft tongue C ta n ni nh nh. She has a soft tongue. nnh ht > nnh nt flatter Anh ta c nnh nt ng y ly lng. He keeps flattering him to win his favor.

2. ng Ho Nghch Regressive Assimilation The first word in a pair assimilates with the second. There are two types: with tonal alternation and without tonal alternation.

chc mo > cho mo robin Con chim cho mo u trn b ro. A robin is perching on the hedge. > already Khch ln nga, ngi cn trng theo. The visitor has mounted his horse, yet the hostess kept watching. lm chm > chm chm rambutan Trong vn ton l chm chm. In the garden rambutan trees are everywhere. lm nhm > nhm nhom eating like a pig N n ung nhm nhom. He eats like a pig.
72 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

nn np > n np discipline, rule of conduct con nh n np children

from a good family

6. S D Ho Dissimilation
A speech sound becomes different from its original neighboring sounds:

ch ch > anh ch bloaty thy anh ch trong bng bloated belly N n nhiu qu nn bng n anh ch. Overeating bloated his belly. dc dc > dng dc never-ending nhng nm ch i di dng dc
the never-ending years of waiting khe kh > nh nh gentle, softly Nng khe kh ht. She sang softly. kht kht > khen kht slight smell of burning C g chy khng m thy khen kht. Is there something burning, it smells like that. khinh khch > khc khch giggle Hai c ang ci khc khch vi nhau. The two girls are giggling with each other. l m > l mng rude ni nng l mng talking with a rude manner lng knh > lng king frame and glass (something) Anh ta lng king ci bng v treo ln tng. He framed and glassed his diploma and hung it on the wall. nhc nhc > nhng nhc slightly painful Ci rng hi nhng nhc. It is slightly painful in the tooth.

phiu phiu > phiu diu be tossed about by the wind Tm hn bay bng phiu diu nh cnh diu. His feeling floated up in the air and was tossed
about by the wind like a kite.

7. Ni Luyn Gemination
Gemination is fairly common in conversations with speakers of rapid speech. In most cases, the strong form of a word becomes weak and nasalized. 1. Li Kt T Blending A word made by blending two words words, as smog, made from smoke and fog, lox, from liquid and oxygen a. Li kt t v ngi Coinage for personal terms

anh y > nh that man b y > b that woman ch y > ch that lady d y > d that aunt, that woman cha y > ch that guy c y > c that aunt, that woman ng y > ng that man bn my > bay you guys B l ngi rt xu xo vui tnh. She is a happy-go-lucky woman. Tha ch, nh c nh khng ch? Maam, is he home? (her husband) Tao ght thng ch thm t. I hate that guy bitterly.
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 73

b. Li kt t v thi & khng gian Coinage for time & space

bng ny > by > by that, such by nhiu that many/much bng no > bao that many bng y lu > by lu that long bn y > bn that side, there cha c > cha not yet chng y > chng only that dai nh cho rch > dai nhch rubbery ng y > ng there ng no > u where ng n > there hi ny gi > hi gi very recently ngoi y > ngoi out there trong y > trng in there hm y n hm nay > hm ry all these days, of late, lately Vt y ln c no? How big is that thing? C by ln. About this big. Note: ng y can be used in two ways: a) referring to you: ng y c rnh khng? Ya have a minute? b) to place: Mun bit li ng y hi. Wanna know? Go there and ask. When using ng, the coined word applies to (b) only: Mun bit li ng hi. Wanna know? Gat tere n ask. (Go there and ask.) vy > vy thus, such Bit ng no m tm. > Bit u m tm. Where can it be found?
2. Ni Luyn Kt Gemination ba > bm/bm thirties applies to all numbers from 31 to 39

ba mi mt > bm/bm mt thirty-one... bm/bmlm 35... chn 39 hai mi > hm/hm twenties applies to all numbers from 21 to 29 hm mi mt > hm/hm mt 21 ... hm/hm lm 25 .... chn 29 Hm lm nm sau gp li hai a ng ngng. After 25 years the two
met each other in bewilderment.

bn mi mt > bn mt applieds to all numbers from 41 to 49 bn mi mt > bn mt 41 ... bn chn 49 nm mi mt > nm mt 51 .... nm lm 55 ... nm chn 59 Similarly, the mi in the -ties can be dropped and all the numbers can
be simplified as seen in item 1 about blending.

Nm nay ng by mt. He is 71 (this year). Nm by lm ti Sign. In 1975 I was in Saigon. cm n > cm mn thank you
In rapid speech, gemination is widely applied as in English: going to > gonna; dont want to > dawanna did you eat yet? > jer=et chet? give me > gimme let me go > lemme go what you may call them > watchamacallem
74 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Two Phonology

Cm mn anh nhiu. Thanks very much. cho mn mt ng > chum mn n ng lemme borrow one ng6 c mt ng > cn n ng thi (I) have only one ng. i u > i u ? where (ya) going? gia nh ti > gian n ti my family Gia nh ti c nm ngi. > Gian n ti cn nm ngi. My family
has five people.

ang lm g vy? > n lm g vy? what (are you) doing? khng bit > hum bit (I) dont know. N n lm g vy? Hum bit. Whats he doing? Dont know. Cc nh khoa hc > cc nh khwa c the scientists

ng: current monetary unit in Vietnam; a classifier for any monetary unit: ng M kim U.S. dollar, ng yen Nht Japanese yen ng Pht lng French franc
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Hai Ng m Ting Vit 75

Tm Tt Summary
This section gave you an insight into the Vietnamese sound system. By now, you may be able to recognize the following:
h thng ng m ting Vit bng mu t ABC chnh t chnh m n t/n m nh hp t/nh hp m tam hp t/tam hp m ph t/ph m ph t cui/ph m cui m mi ho thanh ging di ca chnh m quy tc chnh t vn chnh t vn n t vn nh hp t vn chnh t + ph t chnh t + ph t nh hp t + ph t tam hp t vn ph t + chnh t ph t + chnh t n ph t + nh hp t nhm 1 ph t + nh hp t nhm 2 ph t + nh hp t nhm 3 ph t + tam hp t vn ph t + chnh t + ph t ph t + chnh t n + ph t ph t + nh hp t 1&2+ ph t ph t + tam hp t + ph t a phng ng khc bit v ng m khc bit v t vng ng iu m thanh ging th iu bnh thng nhn mnh cu hi ct vn m iu nhm trng ting ip m ip m n ip m kp ip vn ip vn cm tnh


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Two Phonology

Lexical Structure
The Vietnamese language, as stated earlier, is disyllabic with compounds and derivatives. However, learners need to have a good grasp of how compounds and derivatives work in an utterance and a sentence. In this chapter learners are introduced to the lexical features of Vietnamese: Simple words: words describing actions, characteristics and colors; Limits of words and bound words; distinction between Nm and Hn words; Loan words from European languages; Compound words: binominals reversible and irreversible; Kinds of compounds: Nm-Nm, Hn-Hn, Nm-Hn, Hn-Nm; Content words vs function words. Briefly, the term Nm refers to the indigenous language of the Vietnamese known to have existed prior to the Han invasion, which lasted more than a millennium (207BC 937AD). Nm is a mix of Mon-Khmer (MK), TayThai (TT), and Viet. For instance, chim (MK) + chc (TT) > chim chc birds;

leo (MK) + tro (MK) > leo tro climbing, ...


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

I. Tng Qut General

Vietnamese is phonologically monosyllabic, but it is semantically polysyllabic, specifically disyllabic. In fact, in most cases, Vietnamese words go in pairs. Idiomatically, they are quartets. Learners will find plenty of duplicative derivatives, annuative derivatives as described earlier. Vietnamese lexical formation begins with three elements: m sound, ch or t form as in vn t written form, and t in ngn t spoken form or speech. A word in Vietnamese is one syllable disregarding its orthographical length. In general, t is the smallest element that contributes to the formation of the written or spoken language. It contains a minimum meaning that may be independent or dependent. An independent word is called th t content word, and a dependent word dng t function word7. Vietnamese vocabulary consists of two basic types: ch Nm indigenous Vietnamese and t mn loan words. Due to the fact that Vietnam was dominated by the Han for nearly one thousand two hundred years (207BC939AD), the Vietnamese language borrowed a large number of words from Chinese. For this reason, many scholars estimate that 70 per cent of the Vietnamese vocabulary is comprised of Sino-originals8. As a matter of fact, this is not quite true. Instead, Vietnamese vocabulary devises Sino-originals to compound with its ch Nm to fulfill the perfect disyllabic formation of the language. In other words, each Sino-original, more or less, has its equivalents in Vietnamese. Vietnam with her special position and historical situation has been in contact with many other countries in the neighborhood and around the world. As a result, loanwords from these countries have enriched the vocabulary with a great variety of terms in many fields, especially in technology, medicine, and the computerized worldAlthough no official inventory exists, the number of loan words contiunally increases to keep up with advances in science and the need for modernization in Vietnam.


Other authors have thc t and h t, or th t and h t. L Lc Ngh & Jim Walters, In Search of the Origins of Chinese Characters Relevant to Vietnamese, nxb Th Gii, 1998:ix Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Three Lexical Structure


Vietnamese Vocabulary ch Nm ting kinh lowlanders

language Mon-Khmer, Tay-Thai, Champa, ancient Nm

loan words
Sino-terms Sino-originals Sino-variations pre-Han domination, post-Han domination, colloquial, variations others Western lgs: French, English Italian, Portugese, Rumanian

Table 21: Cc ngun gc t vng ting Vit Vietnamese vocabulary resources

This publication aims at providing learners with a practical grammar of Vietnamese. The above chart simply gives learners a broad view of its lexical composition, which may be helpful for those interested in a broader and deeper study of the language.

II. Ranh Gii Cc T Boundary of Words

There have been many scholastic definitions of a word. Here, from the practical point of view, a word is simply (a) meaningful spoken sounds or

a written composition of symbols representing such sound and functions as a unit of language. What is a meaningful spoken sound? If someone says Ouch! the listener will surely get the idea that someone is hurt. Similarly a Vietnamese Ny! (1) would simply mean Hey! Hello! or Here!
What is next? The need to express an idea does not stop at a single word. In fact, in many cases, to complete an idea, one needs more than one word: Ny! Cm ly. Here. Take it. (2) The utterance has three words. Or Ny! Cm ly ci ny v i ti i vi! Here! Take it and wait for me to go with you. (3) Ten words. Considering all three examples, an idea can be expanded (1 3) or shortened it (3 1). In (1) and (2) the phrases consist of all content words, whereas phrase (3) consist of six content words Ny, cm, ly, ny, i, ti i, and three function words ci, v, vi. On the contrary, forms that looks like Vietnamese: ming, p, gnh ch, nh, ngh, ... are phonotactically not Vietnamese words. There are two types of words: single and compound.

A. T n Single Words A single word, t n, signifies a single thing, action, condition, mood,
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Ba T Php 79

state, and so on and can cooperate with other words to form an idea. In general, a Vietnamese word is structured in four parts: initial, core, final and tone:

thanh tone phn u initial part

t i ng

phn cui final part li core

The initial part may be null, a single consonant or a compound; The final part may be null, a single consonant or a compound; The tone can be either khng du unmarked (0) du sc high rising du huyn low falling du hi low rising du ng high broken or du nng
low broken.

The core can be a single vowel, a dyad or a triad. The final part can be one of the eight finals: -c, -ch, -m, -n, -ng, -nh, -p and t or none. Theoretically, a word can combine with five different tonal marks, to have as many as five other words with six completely different meanings. In practice, not all words can:

m sound m warm m torrential sound m humid, damp m


ba three, dad b to cling to b maam b she, her b waste b


bang state, level, club bng to charge (of bull) bng Indian almond bng board bng oyster; chn blanket chn to shield chn ogre chn to stop chn even
The following examples are typical single words that can play a role in an utterance or a sentence. 1. T T Hnh ng Words Describing Actions Words like n to eat, khc to cry, ng to sleep, c to read ung to drink are single words to describe action: Ti n tra. I have lunch. Em b

khc. The baby cries. Con mo ti ng ngoi nng. My cat sleeps in the sun. Cha ti c bo. My father reads (a) newspaper. N ung sa. He drinks

2. T T Tnh Cht Words Describing Characteristics Words like bun sad, cao tall, kho fine mt tired; gin angry
80 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Three Lexical Structure

mnh strong, yu weak, sng bright, ti dark, sch clean, d dirty, are single words describing characteristics: M ti bun. My mother (is) sad. Anh ti cao. My brother (is) tall. Ti kho. I (am) fine. Nam mt. Nam (is) tired. Ch ti gin. My old sister (is) angry. ng y mnh. He (is) strong. Em ti yu. My young brother/sister (is) weak. Mu y sng. That color (is) bright. Tri ti. It (is) dark. ...
3. T T Mu Sc Words Describing Colors Words like xanh blue red vng yellow, golden lc green cam orange nu brown trng white en black are for colors: tri xanh. The sky (is) blue. nng vng golden sunlight bc trng Silver (is) white. ...

B. T v Gii Hn Words With Limitations

In addition to words that can work independently or perform a role in a sentence; now come words that can rarely stand alone without a specific context. Lets take hnh a drawing as in Bn hy xem nhng hnh ny Please take a look at these pictures. This definition is simply explanatory; it is not the meaning of the word hnh. To convey a complete meaning, hnh must go with some modifier: hnh v drawing picture hnh chp (to be correct: nh nh chp)
photographed picture hnh mu color picture hnh en trng black-and-white picture, etc. Or the common term thy master; except for addressing someone,

the term barely stands alone. It has to go with another word to form a clearer picture: thy gio school teacher thy cng ceremony wizard thy bi fortune
teller thy home tutor thy a l geomancer thy tu monk thy kin attorney at law.

C. T Khuyt Bound Words Bound words, t khuyt, are those that can never stand alone: For example o and ut cant be alone without each other to form the compound o ut thin and feeble describing a malnourished infant, victim of famine; Tht ti nghip a b trng o ut qu. What a pity for that malnourished infant. Or i and i > i i orang utan. Loi i i ang b nguy c tuyt chng. The orang utan is an endangered species. Common bound words are: m, y, bi, bo, bin, chc, cho, doanh, hoi, lm, nhiu, ri, ... always in need of another to form a minimum meaning: m ch laboring, ngi y that person, bi hoi exhausted, bc bo ungrateful, ngu bin fallacy, i chc exchange, bnh cho dandy-looking, doanh tri quarters (military), bao lm not sufficient by nhiu that many/much, ba ri pork side
Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Ba T Php 81

D. Phn Bit Ch Nm - Ch Hn Distinction of Ch Nm vs Ch Hn

This part is difficult even for Vietnamese young people. In fact, a good knowledge about Vietnamese, ordinary people have a hard time distinguishing the boundary of what is ch Nm and what are loan words, especially ch Hn. The chart below illustrates some typical differences between ch Nm and ch Hn. The meaning in ch Hn is just one of many derived from the same word.

ch Nm ch Hn
brutal protected wave to sue to nurture belt chariot cold generous interest rate greedy female animal dirty spirit gourd sand acting dark get together vehicle waist

c the sun m warm ba three co fox dc to snug i to urinate gi cold hn to weld khoan to drill li worm m bamboo mat ni caterpillar large bowl phch castanet qua to cross sa tc u vy xa yu
fall down age mom {N} thus, so far love

Word ch Nm ai ouch ng container bng Indian almond chn leg dng bright ng road gin roach hc to throw up khot to wave to lao javelin mt one ng way c snail phang to strike quang rattan sling

ch Hn
who, dust bright yellow outside(r) true, real mountain goat hall, church to dissuade bushel wide, width laborious disappear ego, self building direction brightness to copy strange hawk rhyme accurate important

Sino-originals have no terms beginning with r-.

sao tha ng

xc yu

star to forgive agree to turn corpse weak

Please consult i Nam Quc m T V by Hunh Tnh Paulus Ca for more entries to expand this list on your own. Use the given format.

E. T Mn Ca Chu u Loan Words from European Languages

As early as the mid-16th century, many Europeans found their way to evangelize Christianity in Vietnam. Since then, loan words have continually been added to the Vietnamese language. Many of these retain their cognates; others completely disappear. As a rule, these loan words are hyphenated. Those marked
Vietnamese Grammar Handbook Chapter Three Lexical Structure


with an {N} are used in the North; or {N/C} in the North or in Central Vietnam. Loan words to comprise ch Nm need a thorough research and are not included in this publication. 1. T Cn Gi Gc Words Retaining Their Cognates In general, terms borrowed from European languages are closely related to science, technology, sports, and music.

a-xt bay bia c-vt cho ga gng-t k (k-l) lay lng-n moa jin/gin -t pom ru-lp sn (N/C) van x-lch xeo

Source French English French French Italian French English French English French French English French French French French French French English

Meaning acid bye beer tie ciao station (train) gangster kilogram line washer (for nut) me jeans car apple sprocket chain valve salad sale


Source Meaning ng-ten French antenna banh bng English ping pong b-tng French concrete cao-bi English cowboy cp-bi French copy ga-ra French autoshop gn English golf kp French group lp (N/C) French tire mng-a French money order nhc ja English Jazz music on-t-t English one two three phanh French brake ray French railroad st French charge (battery) vt French screw x-bng French soap xm {N} French inner tube xp French soup

2. T Xa Gc Words Veering from Their Cognates Many loan words lost trace of their originals and became new words.
Source ba-l French bnh quy French bao ln French cp-d French nhng French rut xe French c French xng French Words Meaning backpack biscuit balcony apron pignon inner tube screw gasoline Words Source bc-n French bnh-t French bt-tt French dn French ning French soong French v French xch French Meaning bearing overcoat sock connecting rod spoke (of bike) casserole tire chain

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Ba T Php


G. T Ghp Compound Words Compound words, t ghp, are the core part for its lexicon. As stated
earlier, Vietnamese is semantically disyllabic. They reflect the sentimentalism of the Vietnamese people. And sentimentalism is something vague and cant be rationally explained! Compound words are comprised of two main categories: reversible binominals and irreversible binominals. Why does Vietnamese need compounds? Vietnamese has a great number of homophonic words. In order for the speaker to get across his/her idea, she/he uses a compound to specify it. For instance, a statement would be ambiguous if iwritten or spoken this way: Y l ti c nhiu ngi nhc n trong bui hp. Y was the problem many people brought up in the meeting. Had the statement been Y hc l ti c nhiu ngi nhc n, the statement would have been clearer: Medicine was the topic brought up by many people ... Or

Y phc l ti c nhiu ngi nhc n trong bui hp. Clothes were the topic brought up by ... Without hc or phc, the original statement would be
He became the topic of discussion.

1. Hai Dng Thc T Ghp Two Forms of Binominals In general, two key forms of compounds are reversible and irreversible binominals. Each has its own categories and sub-catergories. a. T ghp kh hon (KH) Reversible Binominals Reversible binominals, t ghp kh hon, are compounds that can be flipped horizontally. However, the flipping is limited to certain conditions that meet the categories of semantic intent.

T Ghp KH Khng i Ngha Reversible binominals that do not change meaning A binominal is normally comprised of two words that have a mutual relationship: the first is concrete, the second is abstract; or the first is cause and the second is effect. Purposely, the inversion is widely used in poems or for emphasis: Here are some typical binominals of this type (note: the first pair is normally used and the pair following the > is reversed: au kh > kh au miserable: au physical pain and kh spritual misery (physical torment leading to mental grief); vui contented face mng yearning (pleased to have something one has been yearning for) > mng vui delighted tn bo > bo tn brutal gi gn > gn gi to protect, conserve m c > c m to dream mnh mng > mng mnh vast, immense nguy him > him nguy danger trng en > en trng > black-and-


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

white, and more. [Note: This phrase en trng has it own use: One would say hnh en trng, TV en trng, but khng phn trng en unable to distinguish right from wrong.]

In short, most Vietnamese compound adjectives are of this type.

T Ghp KH i Ngha Reversible binominals that affect meaning

This type consists of many binominals:

bn chn the foot bn n opium tray chi phiu check cng nhnworker cng vic work, task danh nhn person of celebrity im yu weak point ng tin money giy t document, paperwork gian nh small house hc sinh student hc vic apprentice lm vic working nh nc government qun i military trng cng public school

chn bn foot of a table n bn table lamp phiu chi voucher nhn cng laborer (general) vic cng public service nhn danh on behalf of yu im strong point tin ng copper money t giy sheet of paper nh gian apartment sinh hc physiology vic hc the study vic lm job nc nh beloved country i qun troopers cng trng construction site

b. T ghp bt kh hon (BKH) Irreversible Binominals Irreversible binominals, t ghp bt hon, are similar to English blackand-white, life-and-death or back-and-forth. It means one can say one way, but not another disregarding the change of meaning. Most Vietnamese noun, adjective and verb phrases are of this type:

T Ghp BKH l Danh T Irreversible binominals are nouns: nh sng n mng bi bin chi nhnh dn qu ng ph em r
Compound Meaning light homicide beach branch office country men city street brother-in-law Compound Meaning o quan coffin n hu mercy binh lnh troopers chim chc birds of all kinds du vt trace, remnant ng bo fellow countrymen ch nhi frogs of all kinds

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Ba T Php


gc chung spire, bell tower hnh hc geometry kt qu result mn nh screen ng hm alleys nh th church ong bm birds and bees phi tri right from wrong quan ti coffin rp ht theatre su b worms & bugs thy gio male teacher ung th cancer vn chng literature
Compound Meaning

gio chc teaching career hot hnh/ho cartoon khng gian space mc ch target ngi ta people nng dn farmer ng b Mr.&Mrs. trc sau faithful qun soc shorts ranh gii border, boundary sinh vin college student trng hc school t t oink oink vt cht material
Compound Meaning mournful busy as a bee proper, mature mean and cruel free from error tranquil skin and bones quiet contemptuous toilsome immense heavy thin and weak fat, corpulent calamitous timid neat and clean honest obscure hurried distant tranquil

T Ghp BKH L Tnh T Irreversible binominals are adjectives. m m gloomy b bi negligent cao ln tall and grand d dng very easy m ang devoted o ut sick and feeble gay go difficult hung hng agressive inh i noisy, clamorous kh khn difficult lo lng worried mnh m vigorous nghch ngm playful n tn gentle phong ph superfluous qu qut lame and feeble rng rn horrible sung sng gratified t m curious uyn chuyn flexible vui sng enjoyable xinh p pretty
86 Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

m u bn bu chng chc d dn ng n m gy guc im vng khinh khi lam l mnh mng nng n m o ph nn qu qut rt r sch s thnh tht u ti vi vng xa xi yn tnh

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

Most of these compounds are two singles of the same category.

T Ghp BKH L ng T Irreversible binominals are verbs

Compound Meaning n ung eat an drink ch to make and produce Compound

chc gho i ng ku go nhy nht pht biu rng ri thch tung h

bully and tease go and stand (travel) call and cry jump and dance express idea feel horrified challenge praise, extol

an i pht kin pht trin qua li suy ngm c mong u i vn dng vit lch xy ct

Meaning comfort, console discover develop be in touch think deliberately wish, yearn for be concerned utilize, devise do the writing build, construct

2. Cc Loi T Ghp Types of Compounds As stated earlier, in the course of history the contact between the two languages Vit and Hn Vietnamese has borrowed quite a few terms from Hn to fulfill its disyllablic specialty. There are four types of content words: NmNm, Hn-Hn, Nm-Hn, and Hn-Nm. In the market, people can find dictionaries entitled T in Hn-Vit Dictionary of Sino-Vit, in which a list of Hn entries are translated into Nm. a. Nm-Nm Words of different meanings This category comprises terms purely from non-Sino originals (Table 22). In daily conversations, this type is widely applied. What is particular about this type, especially compound nouns, is that the first noun denotes a more important idea than its follower. The compound becomes a countable collective noun. For instance, anh em brother and younger, o qun shirt and pants9, bn gh table and chairs, ch ba markets of all kinds, rng r all kinds of forest and woods... This then explains why the Vietnamese do not say husband and wife but v chng wife and husband. In a family, the wife is the queen who takes care of everything, and so her voice is louder than her husbands. If an adjectival compound, it comprises of two elements: the first one denotes a concrete idea and the latter an abstract: au n (= kh) physical pain + mental suffering. If the physical pain prolongs, such a pain would lead to

In the old days, people wore heel length.

o di (for ladies), or o thng (for men) which is down-toChng Ba T Php

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit


and is the cause of mental suffering. Hi thi fishy smell + stink. Actually, hi denotes something that begins to rot; thi strong, offensive smell, the end of the process of destruction in the flesh.

Nm-Nm Compounds
Nm-Nm anh em o qun bn gh cha con chn tay ch ba Meaning siblings clothes table+chairs father+son arms+legs markets Nm-Nm au n t nc gi bi hi thi ngn dm my ru Meaning painful country tough stinky very distant manly Nm-Nm ming li nh ca non nc rng r sng ni v chng Meaning glib housing scenery forest+woods river+mountain wife+husband

Table 22: Bng t ghp Nm-Nm Nm-Nm compounds pattern #1.

Words of the same meaning Linguistically, it is the perfect form of semantic derivatives. One term from the Northern dialect combines with another from the Southern. If a noun phrase, it functions collectively; an adjectival a routine or a condition. South-North Reconciliation
South North Compound Meaning bng hoa bng hoa flowers chn bt chn bt bowl+plate d bn d bn dirty d d umbrella au m au m sick ghe thuyn ghe thuyn boats hm ng ng hm alley ku gi ku gi to appeal to kim tm tm kim to look for lau chi lau chi to clean ly cc ly cc cup+ glass nh b nh b inferior, tiny thng yu thng yu love xi tiu tiu xi to spend Table 23: Nm-Nm compounds pattern #2 Examples nhng bng hoa y mu sc chn bt y bn cha dp n d bn khng ai chu ni nn d lan trn Vit Nam ng ti c au m hoi ghe thuyn tp np ra vo bn ng hm ti tm ly li h ku gi mi ngi tham gia tm kim ngi mt tch lau chi bn gh mi ngy ly cc by y bn thn phn nh b anh em phi thng yu nhau tiu xi x lng


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

Words of opposite meanings This type connotes a third meaning derived from two consisting components whose meanings are completely opposite: my truyn hnh en

trng black-and-white television or hnh en trng black-and-white photographs, but one would say khng phn bit trng en without distinguishing right from wrong chim ht y birds singing everywhere, gi tr ln b g cng thch xem phim people of all ages love to watch that film, anh y khng phn bit phi tri he doesnt care whether it is reasonable, ...
Words of Opposite Meanings
Nm-Nm en trng y gi trai gi tr hay d ln b phi tri sng cht to nh tt xu trai gi English black and white here-and-there girl+boy old and young interesting/tastless big and small right and wrong life-and-death low-and-loud good and bad boy and girl Meaning clear everywhere disregarding gender all ages unable to tell good or bad everyone reasonable crucial, extremely important gossip, cause the tongues to wag undefined quality the birds and the bees

Table 24: Nm-Nm Compounds Pattern #3

b. Hn-Hn In formal conversation or written documents, people tend to use Sinooriginals instead of ch Nm. This custom shows repect to the addressed. This pattern also illustrates the idea that most Sino-originals have their equivalents in Vietnamese. For instance, tnh huynh bn vng the long-lasting friendship, y phc chnh t dressed neatly, tnh ph t kh dt unbreakable love between father and son, huynh nh th tc siblings are like arms and legs, thin a phong trn hng nhan a trun in wartime even a woman at home has to suffer miseries.10, tnh ngha phu th bn cht lasting love of husband and wife, bc

adapted from ng Trn Cn, Chinh Ph Ngm Ballad of the Warriors Wife Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit Chng Ba T Php 89

tranh sn thu tht p a beautiful picture of the sceney, t quc danh d v trch nhim beloved country, honor and responsibility ... ng ti khng thch sng ni th t my grandpa does not want to live in the market place. Hn-Hn Compounds
Hn-Hn huynh y phc trt k ph t th tc th t Meaning siblings clothes table+chairs father+son arms+legs markets Hn-Hn thng kh t(h) quc phong trn x u thin l tu mi Meaning miserable country tough stinky very distant manly Hn-Hn khu thit mn h sn thu sn lm giang sn phu th Meaning glib housing scenery forest+woods river+mountain husband+wife

Table 25: T ghp Hn-Hn Hn-Hn combination

c. Nm-Hn This type is comprised of a ch Nm plus a ch Hn usually in the form of a compound noun, compound verb, compound adjective, and so on. These compounds are either countable or non-countable and they take up a great portion of the Vietnamese vocabulary. More explanations about this type will be introduced in Chapter Four Parts of Speech. For example: h chuyn vo

ca hu they are always entering the back door b ti nm nh thng my grandma is in the hospital con chut x chy the mole ran qu hng ti p lm my home country is beautiful ngh nghip chuyn mn professional jobs and career khen thng cho nhn vin reward the employees cuc so ti cao thp involve in a competitive tournament mi v sao kh chu qu what a pungent smell cc v y lc no cng i bng ca hu those gentlemen always
come and go through the back door

Mi ng i vo ng ny.


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

Nm-Hn Compounds
Nm-Hn ca hu nh thng ngh nghip khen thng th phng thp cao Meaning back door hospital job+career to reward to worship competitive Nm-Hn tri hnh in cung mi v ngi kinh rn luyn kin tng Meaning god punishes wildly mad smell+taste lowlander to train file law suit Nm-Hn chia ly thy gio di tr ngho kh kh khan ng thu Meaning farewell teacher to cheat poverty dry waterway

Table 26: Nm-Hn compound pattern

d. Hn-Nm The last type of compound words is Hn-Nm. The first word of the compound is ch Hn.. Similar to the previous type, a Hn-Nm compound consists of two words of the same (or opposite) meaning to signify an idea.

Hn-Nm Compounds
Hn-Nm chi nhnh ch t dn en gim bt ho l k l Meaning branch office master-servant grassroots alleviate fire stove strange Hn-Nm hung d hin lnh hng mnh khi d knh n linh thing Meaning ferocious to be meek strong disgusting respectful miraculous Hn-Nm phn chia ph b thot khi ti li ton vn tr gip Meaning to divide to discard escape from sinful intact support

Table 27: Hn-Nm compound pattern

For instance: chi nhnh ngn hng a branch of the bank h l ch t

they are master and servant dn en thp c b ming the helpless grassroots gim bt ni au kh to alleviate the misery ho l ca trn gian fire stove of the earth con ngi k l a strange person con vt hung d ferocious animal cu l con vt hin lnh the lamb is a meek animal mt nc hng mnh a strong nation thi khi d disgusting manner, ...

II. Th T Content Word

A content word is capable of holding a minimum meaning and can stand alone. Content words can be used as a question, a command, an answer affirmative or a negative, suggestion, or rejection:

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Ba T Php


Ai? Who? u? Where? i. Go. Im! Quiet! Nhanh! Quick! y! Here! . Uh Khng. No ng! Dont y l chi nhnh ngn hng X. This is a branch of Bank X. T tng anh y tht thm su. His ideas are quite profound. S t l loi d th hung d. The lion is a ferocious wild beast. Chng ti cn s tr gip ca cc anh. We need your support.
From European point of view, content words are nouns, proforms, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. In order for beginners to easily cope with Vietnamese basic structure, this book views the language the same way with the addition of more parts of speech.

III. Dng T Function Word

Dng t function word is the glue that joins th t content words
together. A Vietnamese word can have a great variety of roles depending on its position in an utterance or a sentence. In general, a function word theoretically can only help others to complete the more advanced idea that needs many words to put across. Lets take the last example Chng ti cn s gip ca cc anh. We can see, literally, chng ti we, cn need s gip the support ca of cc anh you many. From an English speakers perspective, s, ca, cc are function words because they contribute to the bare element gip > s gip denoting the noun the support ca of for someones possession and cc a plural particle, denoting the plurality of you in the sentence: ca cc anh your (plural). Content words reflect the nature of any existence and function words enrich the presence of content words by joining them together. They are basic ingredients that make up the cake of language.

V li ch su thng, hy trng la. For the profit of six months, grow rice. V li ch mi nm, hy trng cy. For the profit of ten years, plant trees. V li ch mt trm nm, hy gio dc con ngi. For the profit of a hundred
years, educate people. Ancient Chinese wise saying


Vietnamese Grammar Handbook

Chapter Three Lexical Structure

Tm Tt Summary
Vietnamese lexical forms comprise single terms; compounds, which originally come from ancient Vietnamese and its relatives; Sino-originals; and loan words from European languages. By now learners are able to recognize:
tng qut gii hn ca t t n t t hnh ng t t tnh cht t t mu sc t v gii hn t khuyt phn bit ch Nm & ch Hn t mn ca chu u t cn gi gc t xa gc t ghp t ghp kh hon (KH) t ghp KH khng i ngha t ghp KH i ngha t ghp bt kh hon (BKH) t ghp BKH l danh t t ghp BKH l tnh t cc loi t ghp nm-nm hn-hn nm-hn hn-nm th t h t

Cm Nang Ng Php Ting Vit

Chng Ba T Php