As part of my Cantonese self-studies, I have decided to compare the sounds of Mandarin and
Cantonese, which are closely related to each other. I am a native Mandarin speaker, and as I
learn more Cantonese vocabulary, I begin to notice recurring patterns in the pronunciation of
characters, in which similar sounding characters in Mandarin would result in those characters
sounding similar in Cantonese as well. Thus, I conducted this experiment to confirm my
This page is subject to change; when it does, I will create a changelog detailing the changes.
I collected 3500 characters from the "Table of General Standard Chinese Characters", which
consist of the most commonly used characters (and thus would exist in both Mandarin and
Cantonese). One source of issue is that some characters, such as 行, are polyphonic, and thus
cannot be easily mapped between the two languages. For simplicity, I have removed them from
the dataset, and used monophonic characters exclusively.
I separately compared the initials (the first consonant of a syllable) and the finals (the
portion of a syllable after its first consonant) of characters in Mandarin and Cantonese. For
Cantonese, I removed the ending consonant (-p, -t, and -k), since Mandarin does not have them
and would excessively fragment the results (since if I included the ending consonant, one
Mandarin final would correspond to three different Cantonese finals).
In addition, w- and y- are considered a part of the final in Mandarin, but they are classified
as initials in Cantonese. In my comparison, I treat them as initials in Mandarin when they
are not preceded by another consonant, and as a part of the final otherwise.
For Mandarin syllables, this page uses Pinyin; for Cantonese, this page uses Jyutping.
The following graph shows the frequencies of Cantonese initials that correspond to the
selected Mandarin initial.
Select a Mandarin initial:
For the most part, the initials map between the two languages intuitively; Mandarin initials
correspond to their idential counterparts in Cantonese. However, the results also have some
The Mandarin initial k- maps to the Cantonese k- (or kw-) only in a minority set of
characters. Almost half of the time, it maps instead to h-, and a significant portion to f-
Cantonese does not have the r- initial (which is also rare in Mandarin). These characters
start with j- instead.
Among all the characters in the dataset, the m- initial has a perfect mapping to m-. All
other initials have at least one deviation. This only applies in the Mandarin-to-Cantonese
results, since a portion of w- in Mandarin also maps to m- in Cantonese.
The following graph shows the correspondences between Mandarin and Cantonese finals. In the
dropdown, the underscone ("_") represents the syllabic consonants (zhi, chi, shi, zi, ci, si,
ri in Pinyin). This distinguish them from the /i/ vowel, which appears in syllables like "ti".
Select a Mandarin final:
Cantonese has more finals than Mandarin does, so a single Mandarin final will often map to
many Cantonese finals. Moreover, Cantonese finals can also end with the consonant "-m", which
is not possible in Mandarin. Here are some notable comparisons:
The finals that have strong correspondences include: -a, -an, -ao, -ong, -ou, -wo.
While "w-" is not a part of Cantonese finals, it still has an effect on the vowel, namely,
causing it to become a rounded vowel (e.g. "-wang" to "-ong").
Perhaps not surprisingly, the tones in Mandarin and Cantonese have correspondences as well.
The following graph shows the mapping between them. Click on "Invert graph" to flip between
As the graph indicates, the contours of the tones do not correspond directly (i.e. a rising
tone in one language does not translate to a rising tone in the other), but the relationship
is still clear, going from Mandarin to Cantonese:
The flat tone (tone 1) maps to the high flat tone (tone 1)
The rising tone (tone 2) maps to the low falling tone (tone 4)
The bounce tone (tone 3) maps to one of the rising tones (tone 2or 5)
The falling tone (tone 4) maps to either the mid flat or the low flat tones (tone 3 or 6)
Exceptions do exist though; since the checked syllables in Cantonese (those that end with -p,
-t, or -k) will always have a flat tone, characters that would have had a falling or rising
tone (as predicted by the patterns listed above) would instead have a flat tone. As an
example, 十 has a rising tone (tone 2) in Mandarin, but instead of a falling tone, due to
having a checked syllable that ends with -p, it instead has the low flat tone (tone 6).
On the other hand, mapping from Cantonese to Mandarin is fairly straightforward:
The high flat tone (tone 1) maps to the flat tone (tone 1)
The mid rising tone (tone 2) maps to the bounce tone (tone 3)
The mid flat tone (tone 3) maps to the falling tone (tone 4)
The low falling tone (tone 4) maps to the rising tone (tone 2)
The low rising tone (tone 5) maps to the bounce tone (tone 3)
The low flat tone (tone 6) maps to the falling tone (tone 4)