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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody, welcome back to chineseclass101.com. I am Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (Dàjiā hǎo), I am victor.
Amber: And today is our pronunciation series. Today’s lesson is on the tone change rules.
Victor: Yeah we know that everyone loves the beautiful tones of Chinese right?
Amber: Yes. We love them so much. So today, we are going to talk about them some more and tell you about a few situations with tones that might kind of throw you for a loop a little.
Victor: Right. They are pretty much generally straightforward but there are a few things you need to pay attention to.

Lesson focus

Amber: Yeah. So we are going to tell you the tone change rules. It might sound ominous but it’s really not that bad, we promise. So let’s just do a little review Victor. We of course learned in our other pronunciation lessons about the four tones of Chinese.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Let’s have them again.
Victor: Sure. I am going to use the sound ma.
Amber: So give us the first tone.
Victor: [MĀ]
Amber: Second tone
Victor: [MÁ]
Amber: Third tone
Victor: [Mǎ]
Amber: Fourth tone
Victor: [MÀ]
Amber: And neutral tone is just the light tone.
Victor: [MA]
Amber: Okay so there is just a couple of small adjustments that we have to keep in mind for when certain tones end up together, combine together in a sentence.
Victor: Right. Basically when certain tones combine with others, there might be a slight change.
Amber: Yes and this is where the rules come in. So first, we are going to start with the third tone rule. So this rule is when two or more third tone characters occur in a row, the last one will stay third tone but the ones before it will shift to second tone.
Victor: Right. It will change to the second one.
Amber: Yes.
Victor: So here are two third tone words.
Amber: Yeah let’s listen to the difference.
Victor: 可以 (kěyǐ)
Amber: So that’s the word for “can”.
Victor: Correct.
Amber: 可 (kě) is third tone, 以 (yǐ) is third tone.
Victor: Individually they would be [kě yǐ] so two third tone words. However when you combine them together as one word, it’s [ké yǐ].
Amber: So here is the rule. When there is two third tones together, the first tone here turned to second tone when you pronounced it.
Victor: So [kě] changes from the third tone [kě] to [ké] the second tone.
Amber: So that’s the thing. It’s because when you try and say two third tones together, it’s actually very difficult.
Victor: Right.
Amber: To say that sound.
Victor: You have to dip twice.
Amber: Yeah. So it’s not very – it doesn’t sound very natural. So actually this rule is though it may seem scary to have a rule and all these changes, it’s actually better for you. It makes speaking Chinese easier.
Victor: Very, very.
Amber: Okay so Victor, what if there are three third tones in a row, what do you do?
Victor: Well then the first two third tone words will also change into second tone.
Amber: So basically what will happen is the final word that’s third tone will stay third tone but the two in front of it will change to second tone.
Victor: Correct.
Amber: So can you give us an example of how that sounds?
Victor: Sure. Like a very simple example would be 给我纸 (gěi wǒ zhǐ)
Amber: So that’s 给 (gěi) is third tone, it means “to give”.
Victor: Right.
Amber: 我 (wǒ) is “I”, third tone.
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: And then 纸 (zhǐ) is “paper”.
Victor: Paper. So give me paper. So in this case, they are all third tone words. So you would say [géi] which is the second tone, [wó] it’s also second, [zhǐ] stayed the third.
Amber: Yeah so it’s a slight change.
Victor: Right.
Amber: I mean it’s not that noticeable but it just makes it easier to say.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay so that’s three in a row but you know, sometimes it’s more complicated than if Chinese is more it is. What if we had four third tones in a row, it does happen. If stars come together and everything aligns and there is bam, four of third tones in a row.
Victor: Yeah it just keeps on popping up.
Amber: Yeah piling up.
Victor: Okay in that situation, you can group these characters in a group of twos.
Amber: So it’s like if they are even numbers, you can kind of go back to the original row.
Victor: Right, exactly. So break them down into smaller groups and in each of the smaller groups, you can follow the simple rule of second tone, third tone.
Amber: Yeah so for example, let’s have a sentence, four third tones in a row.
Victor: Would be 给我很好的东西 (gěi wǒ hěn hǎo de dōngxī)
Amber: So like “give me good things”.
Victor: Yeah so the beginning of the sentence 给我很好 (gěi wǒ hěn hǎo) these are two…
Amber: There are two third tone formations in a row.
Victor: Right [gěi wǒ] is both third tone; [hěn hǎo] they are also third tone. So combine these four together, you have [géi wǒ] which is a second tone and third tone; [hén hǎo] also second tone, third tone.
Amber: That’s right. So you just kind of split it up into more manageable chunks if possible.
Victor: Right.
Amber: But when it’s just three in a row, you just change both of them to second in front of the third tone.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay that makes sense. Okay so, now that you’ve wrapped your mind around that one, hopefully we have another rule and this is the tone changes for 不 (bù). Now probably, a lot of you know what 不 (bù) means, very common character. It means “not” or “no”. It’s the word we use to negate things.
Victor: Right.
Amber: To make things negative.
Victor: So 不 (bù) is actually fourth tone by itself. So it’s 不 (bù).
Amber: Right but what happens is when it comes in front of another fourth tone character, it shifts to the second tone.
Victor: Second tone. We have a lot of tone changes there.
Amber: I think we just do that because otherwise you’d sound too angry, because basically let’s think of a very common one which is 不要 (bú yào)
Victor: 不要 (bú yào)
Amber: It means I don’t want it.
Victor: Okay.
Amber: Now it already sounds a little bit dragged if you said 不要 (bùyào)
Victor: 不要 (bùyào)
Amber: Sounds like really angry.
Victor: It’s like you really don’t want it, yeah.
Amber: So I mean it just kind of – in a way it makes it easier to say as well.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So how about another one Victor like we know, also you can use 不 (bù) with 是 (shì) the verb for “to be”, to say like it’s not. How would you say that?
Victor: Yeah. You say 不是 (bú shì)
Amber: Right. So originally the 不 (bù) is the fourth tone. The 是 (shì) is the fourth tone but the 不 (bú) will change to second tone.
Victor: Yeah so as in 不要 (bú yào) and 不是 (bú shì).
Amber: Right. Okay and one last little tone change rule. The last one, we promise.
Victor: Oh what is that?
Amber: Well this is specifically for when we use the character for the number 1.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: Which is
Victor: 一 (yī)
Amber: Right. Now everyone can hear that is first tone.
Victor: 一 (yī)
Amber: So what are the tone changes for 一 (yī)? Well, the word 一 (yī) is first tone when it’s used as part of a number whether it’s on its own...
Victor: As in the number 一二三 (yī èrs ān)
Amber: Yeah so if you were just saying the number on its own, it stays first tone.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Or if you also put it in combination with another number, it still says first tone. For example say 11.
Victor: Yeah like in 十一 (shí yī)
Amber: Yeah so it’s just normal.
Victor: So the rule with 一 (yī) is as a digits, as a number by itself, it always stays at first tone; either by itself or in combination with another number like we just gave the example of.
Amber: Okay. So now, what happens is though, sometimes this character 一 (yī) will become part of another word and it may be doesn’t mean the number one anymore. So in these cases, this is when the tone will have this tone change rule.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So here is the rule. The word 一 (yī) which is normally first tone in this character, it becomes fourth tone when it’s in front of a word that is either first, second or third tone.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Okay did you get that? I will say it again. So 一 (yī) which is first tone, this character for the number 1, when it’s combined with another character that is either first, second or third tone, it will change and become fourth tone. So Victor is going to give us the example.
Victor: It’s 一般 (yì bān)
Amber: It’s the word for “every day”, “normal”…
Victor: Right “so, so”…
Amber: Okay can you say it again Victor?
Victor: 一般 (yì bān)
Amber: Okay so we can hear when he says it that the 一 (yī) there does not sound like first tone. If it was first tone, how would it sound?
Victor: It would be 一般 (yī bān)
Amber: Yeah but it’s not because the 般 (bān) is first tone, the 一 (yī) will turn to fourth tone.
Victor: 一般 (yì bān)
Amber: It sounds a little bit more confusing but it will make sense in time.
Victor: Right.
Amber: How about another example where the 一 (yī) turns into fourth tone?
Victor: Let’s say a measure word 一沓 (yì dá)
Amber: So when combined with a measure word that is second tone, the 一 (yī) also once again becomes fourth tone.
Victor: Right. 一沓 (yì dá) kind of means a stack of something.
Amber: 一沓 (yì dá)
Victor: So 一沓 (yì dá)
Amber: Good. Okay so basically here is the sum up of the rule. If the character 一 (yī) comes before a word that is either first, second, or third tone just automatically change the sound into fourth tone for the each.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So the rule is that anything but a fourth tone combined with 一 (yī) will make the一 (yī) turn into a fourth tone. So now, what about the fourth tone then?
Victor: If a word after 一 (yī) is at the fourth tone, then the 一 (yī) will become second tone.
Amber: 一 (yī) is just like a chameleon character I think.
Victor: Yeah it changes.
Amber: It’s constantly morphing. Okay so again, the rule is, when 一 (yī) comes before any word that is fourth tone, it changes to second tone. So can we have an example Victor?
Victor: Sure. A very common phrase is 一定 (yí dìng)
Amber: So that sounds like second/fourth right?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: But really the character should be read first/fourth but because of the tone change rule when we pronounce it, it is second/fourth.
Victor: Yes 一定 (yí dìng). Another good example is 一共 (yí gòng)
Amber: Right which means “altogether”.
Victor: “Altogether”, yeah.
Amber: So that’s definitely first tone, fourth tone in the characters but when we pronounce it again because the second syllable is fourth tone, the first syllable 一 (yī) turns to give second tone.
Victor: 一共 (yí gòng), Yes.
Amber: Okay so those were the tone change rules, not so bad, only three that we gave you today but one important side note I wanted to bring up is that when we see these characters written out in pinyin, the tone change rules are not reflected in the written form of pinyin’s. So sometimes people get confused, they will hear something and they will hear, that sounds like 很好 (hén hǎo). It sounds like second-third but then it’s written as third-third or same with 一定 (yí dìng), it’s actually written in the pinyin with the actual original tones.
Victor: Right.
Amber: So you kind of have to know the rules even when you are reading pinyin.
Victor: Some of the unwritten rules.
Amber: The unwritten rules.
Victor: Right.
Amber: Inside...
Victor: Only on Chinese class.
Amber: Chineseclass101 code of honor rules we are going to tell you them all.
Victor: You can only get it here.
Amber: Yeah. Okay and just remember, one of the best ways to get your pronunciation down is to listen and repeat and just keep trying and eventually, it will become very familiar to your ears and you will have no problem.
Victor: Yeah just play us on the loop, you know.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: We gave a lot of rules today. Just keep on listening once…
Amber: Loop…
Victor: You know, pronounce and repeat and after a while, you will finally get it.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: Yeah.


Amber: Okay Victor, well that’s it for today. We hope that everyone can if you have any questions, come to the site, leave a comment and we will try to answer them.
Victor: Okay.
Amber: And we will see you next time on chineseclass101.com
Victor: 再见!(zàijiàn!)
Amber: 再见!(zàijiàn!)