Chinese Tones Rules

When starting to learn Chinese, you will notice that there are tone marks in pinyin. But where are the tone marks go? And do you know there are a few cases in Chinese where you have to change the pronunciation of a certain character? Let’s learn some Chinese tones rules!

Where do the Chinese tone marks go?

For instants, you are learning the word “回,” which means return. Its pinyin is “huai” with the second tone. Then which the following one is correct?

´huai  or

huaí  or

húai  or

huái  or

huai´

Here are the rules:

  1. Vowels (a, e, i, o, u, ü) get the marks. That means,
    • The Chinese tone marks are always above a letter.
    • There will NOT be a tone mark above the consonant.
  2. “a” or “e” always gets the tone mark. (There is no Hanyu Pinyin that contains both a and e)
  3. If you see “ou” or “uo,” then “o” gets the mark.
  4. The final vowel gets the tone mark in all other cases.

So use the rules above, let’s see the example again.

´huai  or

huaí  or

húai  or

huái  or

huai´

According to the first rule (vowels get the tone mark), ´huai and huai´ will not the correct answer.

According to the second rule (a or e get the tone mark), “huái” is the correct answer.

 

Let’s practice more!

  1. dao with the fourth tone
  2. miao with the first tone
  3. mou with the third tone
  4. ye with the fourth tone
  5. wu with the third tone

 

Answers:

  1. dào (the first and second rules)
  2. miāo (the first and third rules)
  3. mǒu (the first and third rules)
  4. (the first and second rules)
  5. (the first and fourth rules)

 

Where Do The Chinese Tone Marks Go Infographic

Where do the tone marks go?

 

Chinese Tones Change Rules

There are a few cases in Chinese where you have to change the pronunciations of a character. Below are the three you will encounter the most often.

 

  • 不 usually pronouns as “bù.” But it can change to “bú” when it follows by a 4th tone word.
    • bú + a 4th tone
      • 不 要 bú yào
      • 不 是 bú shì
      • 不 去 bú qù
    • bù + other tones
      • 不 说 bù shuō
      • 不 来 bù lái
      • 不 好 bù hǎo

 

  • 一 pronouns as “yī.” But it can change to “yí” or “yì.”
    • yī. When “一” appears as a number in a series, address, dates, etc…
      • 2011年1月11日 èr líng yīyī nián yī yuè shíyī rì
      • 311 sānbǎi yīshíyī
    • yí + a 4th tone
      • 一片  yí piàn
      • 一样  yí yàng
    • yì + other tones
      • 一双  yì shuāng
      • 一条  yì tiáo
      • 一本  yì běn

 

  • If you see two “third tones” in a row, simply change the pronunciation of the first one to “second tone.”

two second tones

      • 你好  nǐ hǎo –> ní hǎo
      • 所以  suǒ yǐ –> suó yǐ
      • 很久  hěn jiǔ –> hén jiǔ

Chinese Tone Change Rules Chinese Simplified Version Infographic

Tone Change Rules Chinese Simplified Version Infographic

 

Chinese Tone Change Rules Chinese Traditional Version Infographic

Tone Change Rules Chinese Traditional Version Infographic

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