Pinyin Tutorial – Change of Tones

In Chinese it happens that sometimes we change the Tones of certain Pinyin syllable to improve the clarity or ease pronunciation difficulties, here are some general rules:

  • When two 3rd tones come together, the first tone changes into the 2nd (but its tone mark remains unchanged), e.g. “你好 nǐ hǎo” (How are you) is actually pronounced as “ní hǎo”.
  • When a syllable in the 3rd tone precedes a syllable in the 1st, 2nd, 4th or neutral tone, it is pronounced in the half 3rd tone, that is, the tone only falls but doesn’t rise, e.g. “你们 nǐ men”.

Change of Tones of “不” and “一”

  • “不 bù” is pronounced in the 2nd tone (bú) when it is put before a syllable in the 4th tone or a syllable in the neutral tone developed from 4th tone, e.g. “不谢 bú xiè” (Don’t mention it), “不是 bú shì” (No, it isn’t). But “不” is still pronounced in the 4th tone (bù) when it precedes a syllable in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd tone, e.g. “不新 bù xīn” (not new), “不来 bù lái” (not come), “不好 bù hǎo” (not good).
  • “一 yī” is pronounced in the 2nd tone (yí) when it precedes a syllable in the 4th tone or a syllable in the neutral tone developed from the 4th tone, e.g. “一块 yí kuài” (a block/bar), “一个 yí gè” (a piece). But “一” is pronounced in the 4th tone (yì) when it precedes a syllable in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd tone, e.g. “一天 yì tiān” (a day), “一年 yì nián” (a year), “一起 yì qǐ ” (together).

Retroflexion with -r 儿化

“er” is often added to another final to make it retroflexed. The retroflex final is transcribed by adding “r” to the original final, e.g. “玩儿 wánr” (play), “花儿 huār” (flower).

Book reference:
MANDARIN CHINESE – Learning Through Conversation I

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