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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Yinru here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Chinese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is…
What’s the rule of pronunciation for 不 bù and 一 yī?
When studying Chinese, you’ve probably seen these two characters often: 不 bù and 一 yī. They’re very, very common, but you may notice that their tones change when they come before certain words. For example, 不 bù is the second rising tone in 不要 bú yào (“don’t want” or “don’t need”), but it’s the fourth falling tone in 不好 bù hǎo (“not good”); 一 yī as in “number 1” is pronounced as yī, but in 一样 yí yàng (“same”), it becomes the second tone. In 一起 yì qǐ (“together”), it’s the fourth tone. Seems very confusing, right? Don’t worry, there are some rules we can follow to use the correct tones.
When 不 bù is used alone, it is always the fourth tone 不 bù.
When 不 bù is followed by a character with a fourth tone, it changs to the second tone bú - for example, 不是 bú shì (“not”),不会 bú huì (“won’t” or “don’t know how”),不错 bú cuò (“pretty good”).
When 不 bù is followed by a non-fourth tone, which are the first, second, and third tones, it’s pronounced as the fourth tone. As in 不知道 bù zhīdào (“don’t know”),不行 bù xíng (“not ok”),不好 bù hǎo (“not good”).
When 一 yī is used as a number, it’s the first flat tone, as in 一二三四 yī èr sān sì (“one two three four”), 第一 dì yī (“the first”), 一号线 yī hào xiàn (“Line 1”).
When 一 yī is followed by a fourth tone, it changes to the second tone: 一样 yí yàng (“same”),一定 yí dìng (“certainly”), 一次 yí cì (“one time”).
When 一 yī is followed by a non-fourth tone, it becomes the fourth tone. 一般 yì bān (“ordinary”),一种 yì zhǒng (“one kind”),一点儿 yì diǎnr (“a bit”).
Now that you know the rules, how do you pronounce this phrase:
一不一样?(“Is it the same?”)
Let’s work backwards. The second 一 yī is followed by a fourth tone 样 yàng, so 一 here should be the second rising tone, 一样 yí yàng. Now the 不 bù here is followed by a second tone 一 yí,so 不 here should be the fourth tone, 不一样 bù yí yàng. Now the first 一 yī is followed by a fourth tone 不 bù, so the first 一 itself should be the second tone 一不一样 yí bù yí yàng.
So problem solved! This phrase 一不一样?is pronounced as yí bù yí yàng? (“Is it the same?”)
Nǐ háiyǒu shénme bùdǒng de dìfang ma? Qǐng gěi wǒmen liúyán, wǒmen yídìng huì gěi nǐ huífù.
“Is there anything you still couldn’t figure out? Please leave us comments; we will answer your questions.”


How was it? Pretty interesting, right?
Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below, and I’ll try to answer them!
我们下期再见!Wǒmen xià qī zàijiàn!