Vietnamese Alphabet, Spelling, and Tone Marks


Let’s make this month “Vietnamese literacy” month by learning how to read Vietnamese (even if you don’t understand a thing you just read :))

Why? Because it is extremely easy to read Vietnamese.

Any Vietnamese sound is made up of a consonant and a vowel (and a tone mark).

1 Vietnamese sound = 1 consonant + 1 vowel  (+ tone mark)

There are 2 types of consonants and 2 types of vowels.

Consonants: (1) basic ones like b, c, g, h, k and (2) clusters like ng (in Nguyễn), or ph (in phở)

Vowels: (1) basic vowels like a, ê, ô, ơ and (2) compound vowels – (a) vowels that has a consonant at the end like anh (a and nh), ông (ô and ng); (b) vowels at the end like áo (a and o); (c) both vowel and consonant at the end like uống (u, ô, and ng; to drink)

Most sounds make a word and have individual meaning. Combining two sounds/words make a new word that may or may not have similar meaning to the components.

Vietnamese Vowels

A a Ă ă Â â E e Ê ê I i
O o Ô ô Ơ ơ U u Ư ư Y y

Vietnamse Consonants

B b C c D d Đ đ G g H h
K k L l M m N n P p Q q
R r S s T t V v X x

There is no F f or W w in the Vietnamese alphabet. However, the sound F f is written as Ph in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese Consonant Clusters

Ch Gh Gi Kh Ng
Ngh Nh Ph Th Tr

Vietnamese Tone Marks

Dấu huyền: \
Dấu sắc: /
Dấu ngã: ~
Dấu hỏi: ?
Dấu nặng: .
Let’s have a little practice identifying the elements in the following words:
  • Consonants: Basic or Clusters?
  • Vowels: Basic or Compound?
  • Tone marks?


  • ngủ (to sleep) – consonant cluster ng, basic vowel u, tone mark dấu hỏi ?
  • viết (to write) – basic consonant v, compound vowel iêt, tone mark dấu sắc ‘


  • học (to learn)
  • đọc (to read)
  • cơm (cooked rice)
  • ba (father; number 3)
  • nướng (to grill, bake)
  • người yêu (lover)
  • tháng (month)

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