Crowd of people - Vietnam

What does “Người” mean in Vietnamese?

People – Người (pronounced (i)ng-yoi; down-tone)

Người means “person” or “people”. But, it is mostly used in combination with a verb to describe a category or group of people, such as by occupation, national origin, demography or other traits.

You can think of Người as functioning like the English suffix “-er” when attached to a verb (e.g., driver, builder, worker, lover), as in “person who drives” (Người lái xe, or driver), or “person who builds” (Người xây cất, or builder), the person I love (Người yêu, or lover).

Người also just means “people”. However, we recommend focusing on its use as a “verb+er” analogue, i.e., as a means of categorizing and grouping people. After all, grouping and dividing people into categories is one of the most quintessentially human activities (for better or worse), and is fundamental to understanding cultures.

For instance, you, as a foreigner in Vietnam, are politely referred to as “người nước ngoài” (or literally, person from another country).

Helpful Người Expressions

  • Foreigner – người nước ngoài
  • American people – Người mỹ
  • Europeans – Người châu âu
  • African people – Người châu phi
  • Poor people – người nghèo
  • Rich people – người giàu
  • Midgets/little people- người lùn
  • Bad people – người xấu

Pronunciation: The Infamous Ng Sound

Người is difficult to pronounce because of the leading ng: it is not pronunced like “n”, nor like “n+g”, nor “nh”. Rather it like the “(i)ng” sound at the end of running or talking.

The infamous Ng sound:

As we discussed in our post about Nguyễn, the way to train your English tongue to correctly pronounce ng is by doing the following exercise:


Train the tongue to say “Người” by repeating the following phrases quickly…

running yoi
 unning yoi
   ning yoi
    ing yoi
  (i)ng yoi
  (i)ngyoi (one syllable)

The point of the exercise is to trick your English tongue to begin a word with the “ing” sound, and eventually drop the i altogether to just vocalize the ng.

The final piece to the puzzle is the down-tone: the diacritic in ngưi signifies that the vowels have a downward-pitch dynamic. Listen and learn about the Vietnamese tones here.

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