Pronounce Vietnamese words: A complete guide

After you have had a good foundation of how to write Vietnamese, it’s time we learn how to speak Vietnamese. The ability to speak even just a few simple words and sentences in the target language quite often arouse a very special feeling!

We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

As we have learned in the lesson on writing, Vietnamese is a tonal language (i.e., with accent marks/diacritics) with some vowels that don’t appear in the English alphabet (e.g. ă, ơ, ê). As such getting the hang of Vietnamese words’ pronunciations is understandably not easy. The key to tackle this difficulty is however still the same as acquiring any difficult knowledge: understanding the basics to get started, then keep listening till you get familiar with the sounds. The wisdom practice makes perfect rings true here.

Let’s start with the vowels.

Pronouncing Vietnamese vowels

The following table list the vowels, their IPA phonetic symbols and the equivalent sounds in English. If you’re unfamiliar with IPA symbols, it’s simply a conventional mapping from symbols to actual sounds so that once you’ve learned the mapping, you would know the correct pronunciation by just looking at the phonetic symbols, which are available in dictionary entries. You can just ignore the IPA symbols if you want to.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels

Vowels IPA English sounds Examples
a /aː/ far xa (“far”)
ă /a/ father (shortened a)* mt (“eye”)
â /ə/ but * đt (“earth”)
e /ɛ/ red xe (“vehicle”)
ê /e/ may * hên (“lucky”)
i, y /i/ me hình (“image”), yêu (“love”)
o /ɔ/ law lo (“worried”)
ô /o/ spoke * cô (“she”)
ơ /ə:/ sir trơn (“slippy”)
u /u/ boo bún (“noodle”)
ư /ɨ/ uh-uh * mt (“jam”)

The 4 asterisks indicate that the examples are not close enough because there isn’t any close sound in English for those cases. In order to overcome this unfamiliarity, you may want to listen to native speakers and record the sounds in your mind. Please watch the video [1] below for native pronunciation of vowels in the above table.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese vowels

The vowel clusters, as we’ve mentioned in the lesson on writing, are pronounced quite differently from their constituent vowels. As such, learning to pronounce the vowel clusters is more difficult. I’d suggest you learn them only after having mastered the sounds of vowels. Once you are there, you can check out the Wiki page for the IPA symbols of some of the common clusters [2].

Pronouncing Vietnamese consonants

The following table provides info about all the 17 consonants and 11 consonant clusters in Vietnamese (ten 2-letter and one 3-letter clusters).

Pronunciation of consonants and consonant clusters

Consonants IPA English sounds Examples
b /b/ bee bao(“bag”)
c, k, q /k/ cat con(“child”), kính(“glass”), q: in qu
ch /c/ chip * cho(“give”)
d, gi /z/(Northern) zoo dao(“knife”), giá(“price”)
/j/(Central, Southern) yes
đ /d/ do đi(“go”)
g, gh /g/ goal ghen(“jealous”)
h /h/ hat hên(“lucky”)
kh /x/ loch * khói(“smoke”)
l /l/ link lái(“drive”)
m /m/ my mẹ(“mum”)
n /n/ net nền(“floor”)
ng, ngh /ŋ/ sing ngồi(“sit”), nghe(“hear”/”listen”)
nh /ɲ/ canyon * nhanh(“fast”)
p /p/ pen p: in ph
ph /f/ fine phở(“pho”)
qu /kw/(Northern, Central) queen quen(“familiar”)
/w/(Southern) will
r /r/ run rau(“vegetable”)
s /s/(Northern) sun sen(“lotus”)
/∫/(Central, Southern) shy
t /t/ tip tối(“dark”)
th /tʰ/ thank thích(“like”)
tr /ʈʂ/ try trơn(“slippy”)
v /v/ vote vẽ(“draw”)
x /s/ stun xem(“watch”)

The table shows that in contrast to the vowels’ sounds, the pronunciations of all consonants and many consonant clusters have close equivalents in English, with the only exceptions of ch, kh and nh, which are annotated with asterisks. In this table, pronunciations of the northern, central and southern regions are also provided where they differ. This information is mainly for your reference and is not meant to cause further confusion. Unless you already have in mind a target region of Vietnam for use, you can simply stick with the northern pronunciation as it’s considered the “standard”. Please watch the video [3] below for native pronunciation of consonants and consonant clusters mentioned in the above table.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese consonants

Pronouncing the 6 Vietnamese Tones

The six tones in Vietnamese, their corresponding diacritics and pronunciations are summarised in the following table:

Pronunciation of tones

Tone name Diacritics Pronunciation
Level no diacritic middle starting point; intonation remains level
Sharp acute accent(´) middle starting point; gradual rising
Hanging grave(`) low starting point; gradual falling
Asking hook( ̉ ) middle starting point; quick falling, staying there for a while, then quick rising back to near middle: valley-shape
Tumbling tilde(~) middle starting point; quick rising, slight gradual falling, quick rising
Heavy dot(.) middle starting point; sharp falling

Probably the easiest tone is the level tone. Start at the middle pitch and remain there for the period of pronunciation.

The other tones that are also quite clear in pronunciation are the sharp(with accute accent), the hanging (with grave) and the heavy tone. All of them have monotonous direction in pitch: either rising or falling. The first twos have gradual change while the last has a rather sharp falling.

The asking (with hook) and tumbling (with tilde) are probably the more difficult tones. The asking tone starts at the middle, falling quickly and staying there for a while before rising back to the middle pitch. If pronounced quickly, the asking tone is sometimes confused with the sharp tone as the initial falling and staying at the bottom are not recognised by learners because of the fast pronunciation speed. The tumbling tone starts with a quick rising, followed by a longer period of small falling, then ending with a quick rising.

The first video [4] below records native pronunciation of tones while the second one[5] will guide you through the pronunciation of the Vietnamese Alphabet.

Pronunciation of Vietnamese tones

Pronunciation of the Vietnamese Alphabet

Pronounce new Vietnamese words

Now that we’ve learned the pronunciations of the basic components, let’s move on to discuss how you can learn to pronounce correctly a new Vietnamese word.

By rights, if there is already a standardized set of phonetics symbols (such as the IPA), there wouldn’t be any problems: when you learn new word, you’ll look them up in dictionaries where you can also find their IPAs and, given your knowledge of the IPA system, there you go.

The practical problem here is that existing (online and paper) Vietnamese dictionaries haven’t supported the IPA symbols yet. As a comparison, in English, if one looks up, for example, the word courage, they’d see right below it the IPA /ˈkɜːrɪdʒ/ for American English. This enables independent learners to pronounce the word correctly.

On the other hand, the good news is that some online Vietnamese dictionaries do provide pronunciations of words in sound. So, you would just have to listen to the provided sounds until you feel sure.


  • Many Vietnamese vowels and most consonants have equivalent sounds in English.
  • The sounds of some Vietnamese vowel clusters don’t quite exist in English. In contrast, most Vietnamese consonant clusters have equivalent sounds in English.

How to type Vietnamese: a complete guide

Introduction to Vietnamese typing

Learning to type Vietnamese is learning to type its alphabet and its 5 accent marks (or more accurately diacritics). The complete Vietnamese Alphabet and the 5 accent marks are given below:

Vietnamese alphabet

a, ă, â, b, c, d, đ, e, ê, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, ô, ơ, p, q, r, s, t, u, ư, v, x, y.

The 5 accent marks

acute accent(“´”), grave(“`”), hook(” ̉ “), tilde(“~”) and dot(“.”)

After a closer look, you would probably agree that what you need to know how to type are just ă, â, ê, ô, ơ, ư and the 5 diacritics.

In order to type those “foreign” symbols using the standard English keyboard, there are many different typing conventions, or formally “input methods”. Nowadays, two of the most widely used conventions are the Telex and the Vni. The main difference between these two conventions is that Telex uses letters (a-z) while Vni uses numbers (0-9) to express the accent marks and the marks on top of the vowels (i.e., to type ă, â, ê, ô, ơ, ư)

There is absolutely no advantage or disadvantage of Telex over Vni when it comes to support: it’s 99% correct to say that whenever Telex is supported, Vni is also supported and vice versa. Once you have learned the 2 conventions, you can decide on your favorite convention.

Installing Vietnamese keyboard

In the Telex Convention, for example, you’ll type the sequence “aa” (two a’s) to get â. Please go ahead and try typing aa on your favorite text editor to see what you get. What did you get?

Of course, it’s …aa!

This is because by default, your computer has yet to support Vietnamese typing, which means that you need to either install a software or enable Vietnamese typing if it’s already shipped with your Operating System (for example, on Mac and Gnu/Linux). Once that piece of software has been properly installed and the mode to type Vietnamese is selected, you’ll get â whenever you type the sequence “aa”. Please refer to the Notes (*) below for more details on the various Vietnamese typing software.

To practice typing Vietnamese online using Telex or Vni typing methods, as you’d be shown below, you can use this no-frill Vietnamese typepad or using the typepad on this site.

Type Vietnamese using Telex

Typing â, ê, ô

As you can observe, these 3 letters all have the circumflex. The rule to type them is hence the same:

  • Telex: Type the underlying letter twice. For example, to get â, your typing sequence is “aa”. Similarly, “oo” for ô and “ee” for ê.

Typing ư, ơ and ă

These first 2 letters share the “horn”; the last one is not quite the same but is close enough, at least according to the Telex way of typing.

  • Telex: type the underlying letter + w. For exaple, to get ư, your typing sequence is “uw”. Similarly, “ow” for ơ and “aw” for ă.

Typing the 5 diacritics

The Telex and Vni conventions for typing the 5 diacritics are summarised in the following table:

Type diacritics (or accent marks):

Diacritics acute accent(“´”) grave(“`”) hook(” ̉ “) tilde(“~”) dot(“.”)
Telex s f r x j
Example with a á = as à = af ả = ar ã = ax ạ = aj

And there you go! Congratulation on having learned how to type Vietnamese. But before we conclude, let’s do some exercises to make sure everything has been well understood. How would you type ? Yes, it’s: ơ + the acute accent, so that the Telex typing sequence is “ows”.

Now, how about the word đặng? If your answer is “ddawjng” for Telex, you’ve got it! The only note here is that instead of typing the dot right after the ă (i.e, “awj” for Telex), you can delay the dot till completing the whole word, which means your typing sequence could have been “ddawngj” for Telex. In fact many Vietnamese use this second way of typing the accent mark after completing the alphabet.

Now, if you have asked if it’s possible to defer the “breve” on top of the a till finishing the whole word, which means typing “ddajngw” instead of “ddawjng”, the answer is yes. It’s possible because the typing software, which understands our conventions, would easily figure out that your “w” is to change the a to ă. However, this type of deferral is not used by many people and is also not recommended for the reason that it may actually slow you down. Indeed, when you finish the world, you probably need to “look back” at the word and see what kind of “symbol” you need to add to the vowels. In addition, since ă, for example, is part of the Vietnamese Alphabet, it makes sense that we type it as one single unit.

Type Vietnamese using Vni

Typing â, ê, ô

As you can observe, these 3 letters all have the circumflex. The rule to type them is hence the same:

  • Vni: type the underlying letter + number 6. For example, to get â, your typing sequence is “a6”. Similarly, “o6” for ô and “e6” for ê.

Type ư, ơ and ă

These first 2 letters share the “horn”; the last one is not quite the same but is close enough, at least according to the Telex way of typing.

  • Vni: This convention considers the first 2 as one group and the last letter a different group:
    • ư, ơ: type the underlying letter + number 7. That is, “u7” for ư and “o7” for ơ.
    • ă: type “a8”

Type the 5 diacritics

The Telex and Vni conventions for typing the 5 diacritics are summarised in the following table:

Type diacritics (or accent marks):

Diacritics acute accent(“´”) grave(“`”) hook(” ̉ “) tilde(“~”) dot(“.”)
Vni 1 2 3 4 5
Example with a á = a1 à = a2 ả = a3 ã = a4 ạ = a5

Let’s do a review excercise to clear things up. How would you type ? Yes, it’s: ơ + the acute accent, so that the Vni typing sequence is “o71”. The reminder here is that we type Vietnamese alphabet letters before typing accent marks.

Now, how about đặng? If your answer is “d9a85ng” for Vni, you’ve got it! The only note here is that instead of typing the dot right after the ă (i.e, “a85” for Vni), you can delay the dot till completing the whole word. In other words, your typing sequence could have been “d9a8ng5” for Vni. Many people find this deferral of typing diacritics help improve typing speed.

As with Telex, it’s possible to defer the “breve” on top of the a till finishing the whole word so that you could also have typed “d9a5ng8”. However, this way of typing is not commonplace as it actually slows you down.

Regardless of what’ve been suggested or advised, as the ultimate goal is to get you type fast, you should use whatever method you feel most comfortable with.

Type Vietnamese on Mac

The great news is that Mac has built-in support for Vietnamese Language. To enable Vietnamese typing support, go to System Preferences and open International. Then select the tab Input Menu.

For Operating System before Leopard, you would see only the Vietnamese option. For OS X Leopard onwards, you have the Vietnamese Unikey option where you can select the Telex or Vni input method as learned above!

Now, for folks with an old Mac OS, the table below shows how to type the special alphabet letters and diacritics in Vietnamese: (Thank you Greg at CJVLang for suggesting this)

Type Vietnamese On Mac before Leopard:

ă â ê ô grave(“`”) hook(” ̉ “) tilde(“~”) acute accent(“´”) dot(“.”) đ ư ơ
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 [ ]

So to type the word huyền, the sequence would be “huy3n5”.

Type Vietnamese on Gnu/Linux

As for Mac, Gnu/Linux Operating systems such as Ubuntu has built-in support for Vietnamese.

To activate Vietnamese typing support in Ubuntu, for example, go to: System->Administration->Language Support: Click Install/Remove Language and then select Vietnamese to install. And there you go.

Type Vietnamese on Windows

On Windows, you would need to install a software to help you type Vietnamese. But don’t worry, install this piece of software is just a piece of cake.

Below are a couple of Vietnamese typing software that you can use.


If you don’t know what to use, select the first one: Unikey. Go to Unikey’s download page, and select the latest version to download. As of this writing, the latest version is Unikey 4.0 RC2. After it’s downloaded, everything else would be a series of clicking ‘Next’, typical of installing Windows software.

Insert Vietnamese Accent Marks automatically

Congratulations for having gone through this lesson on how to type Vietnamese using the Telex or Vni convention. You should now be comfortably typing Vietnamese, with some practice of course.

Now that you’ve known the fundamentals, I would like to show you a “secret weapon”: automatically inserting Vietnamese accent marks. Yes, that’s possible through application of a field called Natural Language Processing.

There are a couple of sites providing such a service but the best one is

But I only introduce them to you at the end of the lesson because of 2 reasons:

  • They’re not 100% correct. In fact, no artificial intelligence tool can be 100% correct. This means that you can’t rely on them to help you insert the accent marks for Vietnamese.
  • Even if they were 100% correct, you should still know how to type Vietnamese accent marks because you can then type Vietnamese in any editors, not just in the sites mentioned above.

So do play around with them, but you should always treat them as mere convenience tools, not something for you to avoiding learning how to type the Vietnamese accent marks.

Vietnamese Alphabet & How to write Vietnamese

In this lesson, we’ll learn how to write Vietnamese by quickly learning the most fundamental and useful knowledge about Vietnamese words. The next lesson on how to speak Vietnamese would give you the other half of the picture.

The Vietnamese Alphabet

At the core of a writing system is its alphabet, the set of letters or symbols from which all words are written. For learners of Vietnamese, it’s quite fortunate that Vietnamese not only uses the same Latin-based letters (a, b, etc.), its alphabet is also closely related to the English one.

In fact, we’ll begin to learn the Vietnamese Alphabet by assuming that it is the same as the English one: a-z with 26 letters. Yes, just assume that!

What are the vowels in English? They are a, e, i, o and u, right? The good news is that they also form the basics of the set of Vietnamese vowels! The other members of the Vietnamese Alphabet may simply be considered as “variations” of the English vowels as detailed below:

Table 1: “Variations” of the English vowels

English vowel Addition “variations”
a ă, â
e ê
i No variation
o ô, ơ
u ư

Next, the magic happens: take away from the alphabet the following letters: f, j, w, z. Add the only letter đ (yes, this strange letter is the d letter with a short horizontal stroke at the middle of the vertical top).

…And that’s it. Congratulation! You’ve learned the Vietnamese Alphabet!

Vietnamese Alphabet

a, ă, â, b, c, d, đ, e, ê, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, ô, ơ, p, q, r, s, t, u, ư, v, x, y.

How many letters are there? It’s 26 (size of the English alphabet) – 4 (f, j, w, z) + 1 (đ) + 6 (the “variations” in the above table) = 29 letters!

So far, there are two strange things we’ve encountered: it’s the đ letter that doesn’t exist in the English alphabet and the weird symbols that come with the “variations” in the above table. The easy way to deal with this unfamiliarity is just to see them as some new letters written by putting some special marks on or over our familiar vowel letters. Later on, you can follow this tutorial to learn how to type Vietnamese words.

Vietnamese words, similar to English words, are made up of consonants and vowels. In the next section, we’ll answer the question of which letters are vowels and which are consonants in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese Vowels and Consonants

We’ve learned about the letters that are used to write all Vietnamese words. In this section, we’ll learn more about vowels and consonants in Vietnamese.

In English, there are five vowels; the rest of the alphabet are treated as consonants. In Vietnamese, all the 5 English vowels, their variations as recorded in table 1 above and the y letter are considered vowels. Thus, the complete set of 12 Vietnamese vowels are: a, ă, â, e, ê, i, y, o, ô, ơ, u, ư.

Some, but not all, vowels may combine with each other to form “vowel clusters” (or “vowel groups”) such as ư + ơ + i to form the vowel cluster ươi; a + i to form the cluster ai; e + o to form eo and so on. These vowel clusters may consist of 2 or 3 consecutive vowels: a two-vowel cluster forms a “diphthong” and a three-vowel cluster forms a “triphthong”. Contrast this with English where we don’t seem to have triphthongs.

It’s worth a quick mention that each vowel cluster has a new pronunciation which, though based on the sounds of its constituent vowels, is markedly different from mere sound concatenation.

That’s enough for vowels. Let’s now move on to consonants. How many are there? I hope you answered 17, which equals the size of our Vietnamese alphabet – the size of the set of Vietnamese vowels = 29 – 12 = 17.

Just as vowels can be strung together to form vowel groups, some consonants also combine to create “consonant clusters” (or “consonant groups”) such as gh, tr and ph. Of course, not all combinations of consonants make valid consonant clusters, just as not all vowel combinations are valid. For instance, đg is not a valid vowel cluster. Similar to the case of vowels, the sound of consonant clusters may be quite different from just chaining their single-letter consonants’ sounds. More about their pronunciations in the next lesson.

As the conclusion for this section, we’ve learned that there are 12 vowels and 17 consonants; and two or three vowels(similarly, consonants) may combine to form vowel(similarly, consonant) clusters. With this knowledge, we’ll go ahead to get the big picture: the general structure of Vietnamese words.

Vietnamese Word structure

In order to simply the wording, in this section on structure of words, we’ll use “consonant” to refer to both (single-letter) consonants and consonant clusters. Similarly, “vowel” is the umbrella name referring to either a vowel or a vowel cluster.

A Vietnamese word, which is for our purpose identified by surrounding spaces, is comprised of one optional beginning consonant, followed by a mandatory vowel, and one optional ending consonant. While the vowel is compulsory, both the beginning and ending consonant are optional. For example, the word ưu in the adjective ưu tiên(“having higher priority”) has only the vowel ưu with neither the beginning nor the ending consonants. There are also a few rules regarding which consonants can begin or end a word, and if you’re keen, a discussion on this can be found, for example, at [1].

Structure of Vietnamese words

Vietnamese word = 1 Optional consonant + 1 Compulsory Vowel + 1 Optional consonant

Another interesting observation from the Vietname words’ structure is that they have only one vowel! This is very different from English where each word may be has multiple vowels (e.g. the English word interesting has four non-consecutive vowels, namely: i, e, e, i). The fact that Vietnamese words only have one vowel makes them known as monosyllabic: having only one vowel in each word. This monosyllabic nature of Vietnamese words make their pronunciations rather short compared to English words.

In our last discussion below, we’ll look at a very special attribute of Vietnamese words: the accent marks.

Vietnamese Tones

Although there are stresses for some syllable(s) of each English word, there is absolutely no accent mark for English words, except for borrowed words. In contrast, accent marks (or more accurately diacritics) is a popular component of Vietnamese words. So you’ll find that although dai and dài share the same set of alphabet letters, they are two completely different words with different meanings: the first word means tough(for food) while the second one means long(for distance or time). We’ll see in the lesson on pronunciations that they would have similar sound due to the same letter set but with different “intonation”. This tonal feature is also a feature of Chinese. Though more limited, French also has some forms of accent marks.

There are 5 kinds of tone markers in Vietnamese: acute accent(“´”), grave(“`”), hook(” ̉ “), tilde(“~”) and dot(“.”). These 5 diacritics yield 5 different tones and together with the no-diacritic tone, we have the 6 tones in Vietnamese. For example, the word dài(“long”) carries a grave. From the letter set of “dai”, the other 5 tonal variations are: dái: acute accent, dải: hook, dãi: tilde and dại: dot.

As you could have observed in the above example, all the diacritics are written above the vowel except for the dot, which is written below the vowel (and hence its other name “dot below”). In vowel clusters that have 2 to 3 consecutive vowels such as the cluster oa in hoa, it’s practically acceptable to put the tone marks above the letter a in hoà or the letter o to produce the writing form hòa. Interested readers can find in-depth discussions on the place of the tone markers at [2] and [3].

If you want to learn how to type these accent marks, please consult the tutorial on how to type Vietnamese.


In this lesson, we’ve learned the followings about Vietnamese words:

  • Vietnamese alphabet is mostly Latin-based and quite close to the English alphabet. Vowels(consonants) clusters are formed by 2 or 3 consecutive vowels(consonants).
  • Vietnamese words follow the structure: 1 optional consonant/consonant cluster + 1 compulsory Vowel/Vowel Cluster + 1 optional consonant/consonant cluster.
  • There are 6 Vietnamese tones: 5 of which correspond to the 5 diacritics and the no-diacritic tone.

Vietnamese basic grammar: sentence structure

The Introduction to Vietnamese Language has introduced you the most important characteristics of the language as a whole. In this very first lesson of the Express Grammar Course, we would learn the most important grammatical features of Vietnamese Language, especially when compared with English.

Vietnamese Sentence Structure

In this section, we’ll learn how Vietnamese words are arranged to form meaning. Let’s get started with the classical example: I love you. How is that expressed in Vietnamese? It’s Anh yêu em. Let’s see the break-downs:


Viet English
Anh It means: I, also implying that you’re older or more senior.

In Vietnamese, we’ll use different words for I, depending on our relationship with the listener (whether we are older or more senior). The specific word choice also varies with different regions of Vietnam.

Yêu This means: love.
Em The word means: you. This word implies that you are younger, less senior. (More on pronouns)

Please don’t remember all the details above, it’s just for reading purpose. What should be remembered, however, is this:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 1

Vietnamese Language has the same sentence structure as English:
Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO for short).

Did you see it? Anh(“I”: Subject) + yêu(“love”: Verb) + em(“you”: Object). This is one of the most fundamental rules of Vietnamese grammar, or of any language for that matter. The next time you learn a new language, it’s good to ask from the very beginning: what’s the basic sentence structure of this language? (For a language with a different sentence structure, Japanese is a good example).

Position of Vietnamese Adverbs

Now, let’s try to add some more romance to this sentence. How about I love you a lot? The Vietnamese equivalent is Tôi yêu em nhiều. The first part remains the same and the added part is nhiều for a lot: a lot <–> nhiều. And this gives us a general rule about position of adverbs (eg. often, fast, beautifully):

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 2

In Vietnamese, as in English, adverbs are positioned after the verbs they modify.

In English, some adverbs, such as rather, are positioned before the verb as in this sentence: I rather like it. This is also the case in Vietnamese and indeed, the translation of that sentence is: Anh(I) khá(rather) thích(like) nó(it).

The other rule is that if verbs require objects, adverbs are then positioned after the objects, as in English. As we don’t say I love a lot you in English, we don’t say Anh yêu nhiều em (*). The correct Vietnamese translation is Anh yêu em nhiều. The sentence structure we have learned so far is then: Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Adverbs.


In fact you are very beautiful
Quả thật em No translation needed rất đẹp

Apart from the absence of the translation of the verb to be, this is almost a direct one-to-one word mapping from English to Vietnamese. How similar Vietnamese is to English! Don’t you think so? The absence of the translation of the verb to be is explained in the following rule:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 3

In Vietnamese, adjectives don’t go with to be.

No to be with adjectives? Yes, so the Vietnamese way of saying She’s beautiful is simply She beautiful!

The astute readers would then ask: Then, how do we change it to a question: there is no to be to be inverted to the front of the sentence as in English! That’s a really good question and the answer is that we’ll use a question marker combined with a rising in intonation to express questions in Vietnamese. This way of asking questions is shared by Chinese and French as well.

We’ve learned about verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Now, we’ll conclude this overview of Vietnamese Grammar with the usage of nouns through another compliment: You have a very beautiful voice. What’s the Vietnamese translation? Let’s first break this English sentence into its major components:

You(Subject) + have(Verb) + a very beautiful voice(Object). We’ve learned above that Vietnamese also shares the same Subject + Verb + Object (or SVO) ordering. So how does the sentence structure of the Vietnamese translation look like? Yes, it’s the same!

Translation mapping:

You have a very beautiful voice
Em một giọng nói rất hay.

Let’s take a closer look at the translation of the phrase very beautiful voice: giọng nói rất hay.

giọng nói rất hay
voice very beautiful

As you can observe, the phrase rất hay(“very beautiful”) is positioned after giọng nói(“voice”), which is different from English. And this gives us another general rule:

Vietnamese Grammar Rule 4

In Vietnamese, adjectives are positioned after the nouns they modify.

Another observation that you might have had is that the adverb of intensity very is positioned before the adjective beautiful: rất(“very”) đẹp(“beautiful”), as in English. This is aslo a general rule: adverbs are put before adjectives they modify, just as in English. For instance, She is very smart would translate into Cô ta rất thông minh. Note that rất (very) occurs before the adjective thông minh (smart).

Now, let’s review what we’ve learned by translating this snippet You are very beautiful. Let’s go very slowly, though I know that you can do it much faster, to make it very sure that everything is clear and in order.

You + are(“to be”) + very(adverb) + beautiful(adjective). The phrase very beautiful is an adjectival phrase consisting of the main adjective beautiful and the adverb of intensity very. The Vietnamese translation of this phrase, as we’ve already discussed, has the same order of: rất(“very”) + đẹp(“beautiful”).

We’ve also learned that adjectives in Vietnamese aren’t accompanied by to be. Therefore, the Vietnamese version would be You very beautiful. Putting everything together, we reach the correct translation: Em rất đẹp. If you got it right, congratulations!

That’s enough for an overview. I hope you have enjoyed the reading and learning so far.


We’ve quickly gone through the most important points in Vietnamese Grammar in this overview. The take-away points are:

  • Vietnamese is similar to English in the general sentence structure, which is: Subject + Verb (+ Object) + Adverbs.
  • In Vietnamese, as in English, adverbs are put after the verbs they modify.
  • In Vietnamese, adjectives aren’t prefixed with to be.
  • In Vietnamese, adjectives are positioned after the nouns they modify.

You would probably now agree that Vietnamese and English Grammar are very similar. The last two points about adjectives in the summary list above are two of the (few) most significant grammatical differences. Everything else can be assumed to be the same for now.

Vietnamese Language: an Introduction


The Vietnamese Language (in Vietnamese: Tiếng Việt, or Tieng Viet without accent marks) has existed for millenia but only in spoken form for most of the earlier periods. The writing system used in Vietnam was classical Chinese (~9th → 13th Century), Chữ Nôm (13th → 17th) and Romanized script (17th → Present) [1], [2].

Geographical Distribution

The Vietnamese Language is currently used by more than 86 million Vietnamese in Vietnam and approximately 4 million Overseas Vietnamese, most notably in:[3]

  • The United States: 1.8 million
  • Cambodia: 600 thousand
  • France: 250 thousand
  • Australia: 160 thousand
  • Taiwan: 120 – 200 thousand
  • Canada, Laos: 150 thousand
  • And others such as Russia and South Korea

Main Features of Vietnamese

The following are the most notable characteristics of Vietnamese Language, especially when compared to English:

  • The Vietnamese Alphabet is closely related to the English Alphabet, but with additional letters such as ă or ơ. Learn more about Vietnamese Alphabet.
  • Vietnamese Language is a tonal language: its words are written with diacritics, or accent marks. The same underlying letters with different diacritics produce different words: different in both pronuncation and meaning. For example, the word ma means ghosts while the word means mother. Vietnamese has 6 tones.
  • Vietnamese Language is monosyllabic, i.e., having only one syllable (vowel) per word, like many other Southeast Asian Languages. Contrast this with English when words have many syllables. For example, the word beautiful has 3 syllables. To learn more about Vietnamese word structure, please refer to this article.
  • Vietnamese Language has many loan words from Chinese and French. The reason is that Vietnam was many times and for long periods under Chinese domination during the previous millennium, and was a French colony for almost a hundred year (1985 – 1954). Examples of words transliterated from French are sơ mi (from French word chemise, meaning shirt), búp bê (from French word poupée, meaning doll) [4].

To learn more about Vietnamese, start here for Grammar or here for Vocabulary.

Vietnamese Language Dialects

There are 3 main dialects of Vietnamese Language:

  • the Northern Dialect (represented by Hanoi, the capital)
  • the Central Dialect (represented by Hue, the former capital during feudalism)
  • the Southern Dialect (represented by Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the most dynamic city in Vietnam)

There is one very important note: these 3 dialects are mutually intelligible by all Vietnamese. They differ mainly in pronunciation of certain alphabet letters and in a few word usages. These 3 dialects don’t differ at the scale of Chinese dialects such as Mandarin and Cantonese or Hokkien.

Below are the major differences in pronunciation among the 3 Vietnamese dialects:

  • Northern Dialect: considered the standard of Vietnamese pronunciation, having clear distinction in pronunciation of different tones.
  • Central Dialect: noted by its heaviness due to the emphasis on low tones.
  • Southern Dialect: normally do not distinguish between the asking tone (hook) and the tumbling tone (tilde); also pronounce certain consonants differently.

Vietnamese Writing System

The Vietnamse Writing System has passed through the following 3 transformational stages so far:

Before the 13th century

The Vietnamese Language then only existed in the spoken form. The writing was classical Chinese, whose indigenous name was Chữ Nho, since Vietnam was many times under Chinese domination during the 1st to the 15th century.

From the 13th to the 17th century

Invention of Chữ Nôm, which is based largely on Chinese characters but with phonetic elements to make it more suitable to the tones of the Vietnamese Language at that current stage (in spoken form). It was also interesting that Chữ Nôm was actually unintelligible to the Chinese people. Chữ Nôm was in widespread use during this period, especially for poetry and literature with the masterpiece The Tale of Kieu, written by Nguyễn Du, which is still being taught in Vietnamese schools up until now. While receiving widespread adoption, Chữ Nôm was not the official langauge of Vietnam during this period; the official writing script was still classical Chinese.

From the 17th century to present

The collective effort of Catholic missionaries to romanize Vietnamese Language has successfully produced the Romanized writing system called Quốc Ngữ, meaning National Language. The achievement was commonly attributed to the French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes [5]. The initial introduction of Quốc Ngữ was not very successful and the script only received more adoption in the 19th century as the French colonical government pushed the language to replace the Chinese-style Chữ Nôm [6]. And at the beginning of the 20th century that was Quốc Ngữ made the official language by the French colonial government. Minor changes to Quốc Ngữ were made up until 1975. To learn more, please consult this lesson on how to write Vietnamese.