The Tone of "Ni3" 你

August 11, 2009, 11:22 AM posted in General Discussion

Hello All,

             Just wondering if the tone for Ni3 你 ever changes?

Maybe its just because im a newbie, but sometimes it sounds as if the tone used is the 2nd instead of the 3rd.


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August 11, 2009, 11:31 AM


Well done.You are hearing correctly.It's always written as a 3rd tone by convention but there is a rule that if you have 2 third tones in a row then the first one is said with a second tone as it does for example in ni3hao3.

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August 11, 2009, 11:40 AM

Ohh right, thanks for that.


Does that work with every situation then? Is it just for words that are grouped together to make one word like Ni3hao3 你好 or will it work for things like Wo3 You3  我右 too?


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August 11, 2009, 01:46 PM

I think I'll corrected if I'm wrong, but from what I've understood and read, every time there's two 3rd tones together (so like your example Wo3 You3) the first 3rd tone always changes to a 2nd tone. 

Eg: Wo3 You3 --->  Wo2 You3

      Ni3 Hao3 --->   Ni2 Hao3

As far as I know, this rule applies to all 3rd tone "pairs" if that makes sense :/ haha, I've never been the best at explaining! 

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August 11, 2009, 02:06 PM

That makes perfect sense. Thanks

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August 12, 2009, 12:01 AM

When there're several 3rd tones used together, they are "theoretically" pronounced as follows, just like

我很想你 (wo2 hen2 xiang2 ni3)  I miss you very much.

But they can sometimes be pronounced, for example, "wo3 .... hen2 xiang2 ni3" when you take a brief pause after "我". In short, this rule applies only when 3rd tones are pronounced continuously (and not slowly). This rule is only for making your speech easy. So you don't always have to follow this "rule". If you feel it's not comfortable if you follow the rule, you don't have to follow the rule.

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August 12, 2009, 01:35 AM

"If you feel it's not comfortable if you follow the rule, you don't have to follow the rule."

I think this is a bit too broad a statement.  Your example was certainly right - the prosody of the sentence can influence whether the rule operates or not.  But that doesn't mean the choice is whether to use the rule or not - rather the choice is how to organized the sentence into units of meaning, and how fast to speak, and these choices in turn determine whether the rule operates.

For example, saying Ni3hao3 as 2 third tones, without applying the rule, is going to sound wrong.  Further, saying xiao3jie0 as 3rd followed by neutral will sound wrong - you need to say it as 2nd followed by neutral (since jie0 was originally 3rd tone and, in this case, the 3rd tone change rule operates despite the neutralization of jie3 to jie0).

You'll probably be understood either way, but that is true for all sorts of mistakes...


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August 12, 2009, 07:15 AM

Wow...sounds like there is a lot to consider. Im a little surprised that tones can change so freely given that a change in tone can give a word a different meaning.

Its all good to know though, thanks everyone.

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August 12, 2009, 07:55 AM

Hi vallance

Don't worry. This "3rd tone change" is much easier than you might think, because it would make your pronouncing difficult if you don't change the 3rd tone into 2nd tone. I guarantee, you'll easily master this tone change sooner or later. Actually, tone changes of “一” (yi1) and “不” (bu4) are much more cumbersome.