How to Type Chinese with Pinyin (Mac OS X Yosemite)

Ever wonder how to input Chinese characters into your computer? There are actually several methods for Chinese input, but I want to focus on what I personally find to be the fastest and most widely-used method: Pinyin.

Don’t know pinyin? Learn pinyin on your iPhone

Note: This post has been updated for Mac OS X Yosemite. If you’re running an older version of Mac OS X, you can find the old post here.

Adding Chinese Pinyin Input Methods

First, open your System Preferences from the Apple menu.

Select System Preferences Mac OS X Yosemite

Then, select Language & Region

Select Language & Region Mac OS X Yosemite

Click the + button under the Preferred languages list.

Add a preferred language

Find 简体中文 - Chinese, Simplified and 繁體中文 - Chinese, Traditional in the list that pops up. Select the one you prefer to use then click Add. You can repeat these last couple steps to add both Simplified and Traditional Chinese input methods if you’d like.

Add Chinese Input Method Mac OS X Yosemite

After you’ve added your preferred method(s), you will see your preferred input methods in the list on the left.

Language and Region Chinese Mac OS X Yosemite

Select Keyboard Preferences… near the bottom of the window.

Keyboard Preferences Mac OS X Yosemite

Make sure Show Input menu in menu bar is checked (near the bottom of the window) so you can see which input method is currently selected by looking at the menu bar.

Switching between input methods

Tapping on said menu bar item will reveal the input menu. You can switch back and forth between input methods by selecting the method of choice here.

Switching Input from the Menu - Mac OS X Yosemite

Using keyboard shortcuts to switch between input methods

If you’re like me, you don’t like taking your hands off the keyboard while typing. And, when typing, you’ll often need to switch between English and Chinese. So, let’s set up keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch between English and Chinese Pinyin input methods.

In the same Keyboard Preferences window, select the Shortcuts tab. Then, select Input Sources in the left column. This will reveal the the option for Select the previous input source. Clicking near the right edge of this row will highlight the current shortcut. When highlighted, hold the control key down and press the spacebar. Afterwards, you should see that the shortcut has been set to ^Space.

Setting up Keyboard Shortcuts - Mac OS X Yosemite

From this point on, you can type control-space to toggle between input methods. You can also hold the control key down and tap space (without letting go of the control key!) to reveal a handle input selector.

Input source selector

Note: on Mac OS X Yosemite, the input selector will only appear when using the “Select the previous input source” option and does not appear for the “Select next input source” option.

Give typing in Chinese a try

Now that you’re all set up, open up your favorite text editor and try typing Chinese!

Typing in Chinese with Pinyin input - Mac OS X Yosemite

That’s all there is to it!

If you found this article helpful, please take a moment to share it! Also, let me know if you have any questions.


  1. Arjun - reply

    Thank you so much for this tip!

    • steven - reply

      No problem! Thanks for stopping by : )

  2. Toratatsu - reply

    Pinning input doesn’t seem to work on mine. For some strange reason, types out Greek letters. Any thoughts on what could be wrong?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Toratatsu, That is a very strange issue indeed! Unfortunately, I have not seen it before and can’t seem to reproduce it. Is it possible that you accidentally enabled a Greek input method and are toggling to that instead of pinyin?

  3. david44 - reply

    Not sure why some times I could not input Chinese character after selecting Chinese input from the menu bar. This happens when I switch from English to Chinese inputs a few times, then this would persist so I could not input Chinese at all. In the end I may need to restart my macbook to fix the problem.

    Can you help? Thanks


    • steven - reply

      Hi David, have you tried using the keyboard shortcuts to switch input methods instead? Does the same problem occur if you use them instead of the menu bar? Also, which version of Mac OS X are you running? I personally only use keyboard shortcuts and switch between English and Chinese input methods dozens of times everyday and haven’t run into any similar issues.

  4. Alicia - reply

    Hi there, the pinyin doesn’t appear, instead it shows normal english instead.

    Kindly advise. Thank you.

    • steven - reply

      Hi Alicia, did you ensure that the input method was selected in the menu bar as shown in the above screenshot? Also, just to clarify are you trying to type Chinese characters via pinyin or just add tone markers to the pinyin you type?

  5. SBOBET - reply

    Thank you for sharing knowledge.

  6. Alice - reply

    Hello! I have no problems to get started . But, I am just wondering – does this system allow you to add tones as you input a pinyin? For example, the pinyin expression “how are you” in Chinese should be ni(3 tone) and hao (3 tone). Can I can add the tone in this system? Thank you!

    • steven - reply

      Hi Alice, this is a great question, but unfortunately a bit too much to answer in a single comment. So, I’ve gone ahead put together a new post on how to type pinyin with tone marks here.

      The post starts quite similar to this one, but there are a few key differences to watch out for. Particularly, you will need to add the U.S. Extended input method instead of Chinese input methods, then follow the instructions in the last section titled Typing pinyin with tone marks.

      I hope this helps!

  7. SteveP - reply

    There’s still no way to filter characters by tone, I guess?
    I still don’t understand why the option was eliminated -what was it? Two OS refreshes ago?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Steve, I just gave this a try and it looks like option + tab does indeed toggle the tone and filter the output accordingly. Try this:

      1. Switch to your Chinese input method of choice
      2. Type “ni” (without the quotes) and you will see a list of possible matches (你、妳、尼、妮、等)
      3. Press option + tab and the ni you typed will become nī, your input choices will also be filtered accordingly
      4. Repeat step 3 to step through the remaining tone filters

      Hope that helps!


      • SteveP - reply

        Ah, that’s very helpful, thanks. I still wish I could just type numbers while writing out the pinyin (like on Windows, or in earlier versions of MacOS) but this definitely will help.

  8. Dan - reply

    Is there a way to type out the chinese characters with the pinyin above each character?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Dan, unfortunately the only way I know of is to type the pinyin and the Chinese characters on two separate lines. This guide will get you set up to type Chinese characters using pinyin, and you can use this other guide on typing pinyin tone marks to get set up typing the actual pinyin itself. Hope this helps!

  9. Rob - reply

    Super helpful and easy-to-follow guide, thanks!

  10. jingjing - reply

    great great thanks

  11. Rachel - reply

    I use the Pinyin – Simplified. However, whenever I want to type something with ü, it will not appear. For example, I tried to type nü, the characters the keyboard showed are only with nu. Any recommendation to fix please?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Rachel, instead of entering a ü, use a v. For example nv for 女 and lve for 略. Hope that helps!

  12. Emma - reply

    Thanks very much.

  13. Julia - reply

    How do you change Simplified Stroke to Simplified Pinyin?

    • steven - reply

      Hi Julia, by stroke do you mean handwriting? If so, and you followed the directions above to set up the pinyin method properly, the following will toggle between the Simplified Pinyin and Simplified Handwriting input methods:

      1. Make sure the “Pinyin – Simplified” input method is selected (either through the menu bar or via keyboard shortcuts)
      2. Press control + shift + space to toggle between pinyin and stroke handwriting

      I hope that helps!

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