Mastering Pinyin Typing: A Comprehensive Guide

Do you think pinyin is complicated? Don’t know how to type in pinyin to communicate in Chinese? 

Here, we’ll teach you how to type Chinese using the pinyin system on your phone and computer. Let’s dive in!

The Basics of Typing in Pinyin

Firstly, you have to grasp the basics of the pinyin system.

The good news is that typing in pinyin doesn’t require you to know the four tones, which is one of the most complicated parts of learning Chinese.

Typing Chinese with the pinyin system is easy for English speakers because you just type the alphabet in how the Chinese character is pronounced.

Here’s an example:

If you want to type “one,” which is 一 (yī) in Chinese, you only have to type “yi.” The keyboard will provide you with all the “yi” sounding Chinese characters, regardless of their tone. You just need to choose the character you want, and voila!

Take note of the difference between retroflex sounds (翘舌音 qiào shé yīn) like “z-” and “zh-,” “s-” and “sh-,” and “c-” and “ch-”! Most people tend to get confused when they should add in the “h” when typing pinyin.

A Special Case: The “ü” Sound

If you’ve learned pinyin before, you may know that there is an “ü” sound that is pronounced differently from “u.” So, how do you type in this character?

It’s easy. The “ü” is typed as “v” on the pinyin keyboard. For example:

To type 旅行 (lǚ xíng), which means travel, you’ll need to type “lv xing.” 

There are only two types of sounds that require you to type “v,” which are lü and nü, typed as “lv” and “nv.” 

As for other “ü” sounding characters such as “ju,” “yu,” “lue,” and “nue,” you only need to type the normal “u.” They do not have other pronunciation alternatives like “lu” and “nu.” However, the keyboard can also recognize it if you type it as “jv,” “yv,” “lve,” and “nve.”

More Convenient Ways of Typing

You can also type in several characters at once – or even a whole sentence! It makes typing faster and more convenient.

For instance:

Say you want to type 今天我想吃苹果 (jīn tiān wǒ xiǎng chī píng guǒ), which means I want to eat an apple today. 

You can type “jin tian wo xiang chi ping guo” one by one. But that is too slow and tedious, right? So, you can type in short phrases like “jin’tian,” “wo’xiang’chi,” and “ping’guo.” The keyboard will automatically separate each character and provide the most commonly used same-sounding phrases for you to choose. 

If you want to type even faster, you can just type in “jin’tian’wo’xiang’chi’ping’guo.” 

However, the continuous characters that you can type in are separated by punctuations. For example: 

我看过《红楼梦》后,决定看《三国演义》。(wǒ kàn guò《hóng lóu mèng》hòu,jué dìng kàn 《sān guó yǎn yì》): After I finished reading “Dream of the Red Chamber,” I decided to read “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”

In this case, if you type “wo’kan’guo’hong’lou’meng’hou’jue’ding’kan’san’guo’yan’yi”, what you can do is add in the punctuation marks after you’ve finished typing the whole sentence. 

If not, you need to stop the continuous typing before each punctuation mark. 

Another convenient tip is typing abbreviated pinyin. Look at this example:

To type “lunch,” which is 午餐 (wǔ cān), you can just type “wc,” and this phrase will pop out. It will also list other phrases that have “w” and “c” as the first consonants, such as 晚餐 (wǎn cān), 完成 (wán chéng), and more. Pretty handy, right?

Picking the Character You Want

If the sentence or phrase is not that commonly used, you may have to pick the characters and phrases one by one from the list provided. For instance, when typing a name:

艾美莉 (ài měi lì), which is the Chinese pronunciation of the name “Emily.” 

The first word that might pop up will be 爱美丽, which sounds exactly the same as 艾美莉, but it means “to love beauty.” 

So, you’ll need to scroll through the list to find the exact characters you’re looking for. Usually, the first few recommendations are common phrases. After that, it’ll be the first character of the phrase you typed.

For this example, after 爱美丽, the following choices would be “ai” sounding characters. Pick the one you’re looking for (艾), and the list will continue to let you pick among “mei” sounding characters, which is the second character you typed in. 

After that, if you try typing the same characters again, the keyboard will remember your choices and give you 艾美莉 as the first choice. It works just like your keyboard recommendations in English.

Try typing it and see for yourself! 

Typing on Phone vs. Typing on PC

Before that, you’ll have to turn on your device settings and add the Chinese pinyin input system to your keyboards.

Here’s how to do it.

For Windows PC:

Windows Start menu >> Control Panel >> Clock, Language and Region >> Change keyboards or other input methods >> Change Keyboards >> Add >> Select “Chinese (Simplified) – Microsoft Pinyin IME”.

Click ‘OK’ here and in ‘Region and Languages’ too. Shortcut key for switching languages is “Alt + Shift”.


System Preferences >> Choose Keyboard >> Choose Input Sources >> Click + >> Select “Chinese (Simplified) – Pinyin – Simplified” >> click Add.

Confirm that ‘Show Input menu in menu bar’ is checked.

To switch modes, use the language icon in the menu bar at the top.

For iOS Devices:

Settings >> General >> Keyboard >> Keyboards >> Add New Keyboard >> Select “Chinese – Simplified (Pinyin)”.

For Android Devices:

Settings >> System >> Languages & input >> “Keyboards,”  >> Virtual keyboard >> Gboard >> Languages >> Pick “Chinese (Simplified) – Pinyin” >> Done.

To switch between languages on your phone, tap the globe icon on your keyboard.

Then you’re ready to go!

What’s the difference between typing pinyin on the phone and a PC? Not much, really. The main difference is how you choose the characters on the character list. 

The keyboard will give you 5-6 recommended characters on your phone. You’ll need to tap on the arrow beside it to show the complete list of other less-used characters. You only have to tap on your desired character or phrases, and you’re done.

As for PCs, the keyboard will give you 7 choices of characters or phrases. If the character or phrase you’re looking for isn’t among the top 7, you’ll need to press the “down button” on your keyboard or click the right arrow on the list to see more choices. To choose the character or phrase, press the corresponding number on your keyboard or just click on it. 


So, we’ve covered most of what you need to know about typing Chinese in pinyin. 

Most importantly, you must understand how each character is pronounced to know the pinyin you need to type. After that, typing in pinyin will be a breeze!

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