The many faces of 破音字 (homographs)

When teaching children how to read Chinese, it is inevitable we run into the concept of 破音字, aka多音字.

They are similar to homographs in English, when  a character is pronounced differently in different situations. Examples in English are:

  • "read" - as /riːd/ (present tense) or /red/(past tense)
  • "bow" - as /baʊ/ (verb) or /bəʊ/ (noun, as in "bow and arrows")

In Chinese, a character changes its pronunciation for  2 main reasons :

  • change of sound, but not the meaning, to accommodate the pronunciation of the following character - such as [] in 對 / duì/, 行 / xíng/;or change to 輕聲 such as 說好 /shuō de hǎo/, 一個 /yí gè ge/
  • change of sound and the meaning, in which case those characters are referred to as 破音字.

While some of the 破音字 have gradually been dropped in everyday use and only appear in classical literature, a lot of them are still being used in modern Chinese. Some common examples are:

漢字的其中一個特色是 破音字 :同一個漢字由於用法和意思的變化,讀音也產生變化。

在日常應用中,同一個漢字的發音會因為隨後的那個字的發音而需要作出改變,例如:普通話的第三音,當隨後的那個字也是第三音時,前面的字就轉為第二音:水 / shuǐ/ – 水桶 /shuí tǒng/
一些其他的例子有:不對 /bú duì/, 不行 /bù xíng/
也有些字在應用時轉為輕聲:說得好 /shuō de hǎo/, 一個個 /yí gè ge/


漢字 發音1 發音2
好孩子 (/hǎo háizi/ good) 喜好 (/xǐ hào/ to like)
長短 (cháng duǎn/ length) 長大 (/zhǎng dà/ to grow)
快樂 (/kuài lè/ happy) 音樂 (/yīn yuè/ music)
還好 (/hái hǎo/ [still] okay) 歸還 (/guī huán/ to return)
重要 (/zhòng yào/ important) 重複 (/chóng fù/ to repeat)
菜種 (/cài zhǒng/ type of, seed) 種菜 (/zhòng cài/ to plant)

There are 30 commonly used 破音字 in the Basic Chinese 500 course. We have created a study sheet, in case you are interested to learn them all. You can also use the study sheet as a source of reference for the games below.

A good understanding of 破音字 is important when your child starts to write in Chinese. It helps them to avoid falling into the trap of using a homophone which has a different meaning. For example: mistakes in  writing () instead of 經 in Putonghua, or () instead of 複  in Cantonese.

孩子對破音字的掌握可以減低寫白字的錯誤,尤其是將同音字混淆的情況。例如:普通話的「經常」誤寫成「經長」/ 廣東話的「重複」誤寫成「從複」等。

You might also be interested in our video: How would you read 長, which explains in more detail about this particular character – its history and various pronunciations.

Below are some activities to help your children to grasp the concept of 破音字.


Most of these activities are geared towards teaching your kids some common 破音字 so they have them in their vocabulary and can recognize when to use them in the correct context.


破音字 Phrase Matching Activity 組詞練習 (age 3+, single or multiple players)

  • Sheets of paper 紙 (裁成大紙卡)
  • Pen/Pencil 筆
  • Using examples, write the 破音字 on some cards and characters that make phrases with the different pronunciations on another card (eg: 好 on one card and 奇 and 吃 on other cards)
  • 參考例子,將破音字寫在一張紙卡上,將不同的可配成詞語的字寫在另一張紙卡上。例如:「好」字寫在一張卡上,「奇」和「吃」在另兩張卡上

  1. Lay down the 破音字 face up
  2. Give your child the other half of the phrases
  3. Have your child match their half with the face up cards
  1. 將所有破音字排在孩子面前,字面向上
  2. 將另一半的字卡給孩子
  3. 由孩子將兩部分的字卡配對,組成正確的詞語

Depending on the age of your child, you can increase or decrease the difficulty level of the activity by:

  1. To make it more difficult, you can include multiple phrases (as well as unequal amounts of phrases per 破音字).
  2. To make it easier, write the full phrase on each card and have your child match the full phrases (eg: matching 好奇 to 好奇)
  3. To make it more difficult, you can also have the full 破音字 on one card and the MEANING/definition on the other card.
  4. To make it easier, you can also have the full 破音字 on one card and a picture of the meaning on the other card.
  1. 當孩子掌握了一個破音字的一個組詞後,可以增加同一個破音字的組詞。以「好」字為例,可以增加:好看、好像、好朋友...
  2. 當孩子掌握了同一個破音字的幾個組詞後,可以請孩子將同音的破音字詞語放在一組。例如:長短、長路、長時間是一組;長大、班長、校長、長者是另一組

破音字 Pronunciation Matching Activity 發音配對遊戲 (age 4+, single or multi players)

  • Sheets of paper 紙
  • Pen/Pencil 筆
  • Write each character of the 破音字 on individual cards 將破音字分別寫在一組字卡上
  • Write the pinyin (and/or zhuyin) on other cards 將每個破音字不同的拼音寫在另一組字卡上

  1. Take all the 多音字 and lay them face up
  2. Give all the zhuyin/pinyin cards to your child
  3. Have them match the zhuyin/pinyin to the 多音字
  1. 將所有破音字排在孩子面前,字面向上
  2. 將拼音卡交給孩子
  3. 由孩子將拼音卡與不同的字卡配對
  1. To make the activity harder, you can mix up both 破音字 and zhuyin/pinyin cards together and have your child match them.
  2. To make the activity easier, you can include the zhuyin/pinyin on the 破音字
  3. To make the activity harder, you can also have both zhuyin and pinyin cards for your child to match.


  1. 要增加難度,將所有字卡和拼音卡都交給孩子,請孩子配對
  2. 要是開始時孩子感到困難,可以在字卡上加上拼音,作為輔導

破音字 Pronunciation Matching Activity 2 發音配對遊戲2 (age 4+, multi players)

  • Sheets of paper 紙
  • Pen/Pencil 筆
  • Write each character of the 破音字 on individual cards 將破音字分別寫在一組字卡上
  1. Take all the 破音字 and shuffle them
  2. Split the children into teams
  3. One by one, flip over a 破音字 card and ask the children to name some of the pronunciations
  4. Whoever raises their hand first can name one or all the pronunciations. If one child only says one pronunciation, the other team has a chance to earn another point by saying the additional pronunciation.
  5. 將所有破音字卡洗亂
  6. 將孩子分組
  7. 將破音字卡逐一揭開,請孩子說出不同的發音
  8. 由最先舉手的孩子開始,說出一個或所有的發音。要是孩子只能說出一個發音,就輪到另一組說出其他發音。正確說出發音的都可以得一分。
  1. To make the activity harder, you can also require the child to make a phrase using the word with the correct pronunciation.
  2. To make the activity harder, you can also require the child to name ALL the pronunciations in order to win a point.
  3. To make the activity easier, you can let the team come up with an answer collectively vs. making each child answer on behalf of their team.
  1. 要增加難度, 孩子在說出讀音後必須組出一句含有那個詞語的正確句子。
  2. 要增加難度,也可以要求孩子說出同一個字的所有發音才可以得分。
  3. 要減低難度,可以讓每組的孩子合力回答,而不是單一人作答。

We would love to hear your comments and see pictures of your kids doing the activities. Make sure you join our Sagebooks HK Parent Support Facebook Group and share with us!


Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Sometimes, we’re so worried about repeating activities that we forget children love to repeat things. Do your kids love matching games? Great! They can match cards, shapes, colors, pictures, whatever you can think of! They all teach your children vocabulary and character recognition (if you tape the card to the shapes, etc.).

Do your kids love to find things? Hide character cards in easter eggs, under bowls, in boxes, or whatever you want! These are all similar concepts to our activities – but they can be endlessly recycled and adapted.

If it works, use it until your kids beg for something different. We have provided many iterations to our activities so you have plenty to choose from!

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