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er and er-colored words

We'll explain a special case in Chinese phonetics: er and er-colored words.

“er” is a special final in Chinese Pinyin. When pronouncing it, make “e” sound and then roll your tongue. As a final, “er” can only be a syllable itself, meaning it can’t be together with any initial. In Chinese we just have a few words with it. For example: Click to listen

  • èr — two
  • érzi — son
  • nǚ‘ér — daughter
  • ěrduo — ear.
Although er can’t be put next to initials, it can follow other finals. When this happens, it’s represented with just the letter “r”. For example,
  • huār——flower.
“er” is often used for something small and gives the listener the feeling that you like it. Usually it doesn’t change the meaning if you add “er”. For example,Click to listen
  • xiǎo niǎor——bird
  • xiǎo háir——children
  • yì diǎnr——a little
  • hǎo wánr——interesting
Sometimes words have different meanings when we add “er”. For example,Click to listen
  • nǎ——which, nǎ guó——which country
  • nǎr ——where,Nǐ qù nǎr?—— where are you going?
  • huà—— to draw, huàr——picture, huà huàr—— to draw a picture.

Usually we use ‘er’ in oral Chinese, especially in Northern China. In the south, people don’t use it very often. In the video, you can see two students talking about going out to a park. The boy from North is using a lot of er-colored words while not for the girl from South.

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Learn Chinese: Introduction to Chinese Pronunciation and Tone

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