At 0:57 in the link below, the woman says "餐" in what sounds to be the second tone, which is rising (Edit: on second thought, it sounds more like a toneless tone, like "么" in "什么." The girl says "餐" there in the same manner as she says "欢" immediately before that in the same sentence, which has a toneless tone. The guy immediately after that also says the first "欢," in the same manner.) But when I looked up the pronunciation of the kanji, it had the first tone mark, which was flat.

Is this happening because this is an interrogative sentence? Does this always happen?

At 0:42 in the same video (second link probably plays from that point) on the other hand, the final kanji doesn't put on the rising second tone. Instead it seems to maintain its original third tone (Or it doesn't?). It seems to be a similar interrogative sentence but why doesn't the same phenomenon happen on this one?



  • 4
    I think you heard wrongly. It is definitely the first tone
    – user13501
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:34
  • @帅气型男, are you sure? It might not the second tone as I guessed but it doesn't sound like the first tone at least. I mean if you try to pronounce 餐 in the exact same pitch as the preceding two flat tone kanji (吃 and 中), the whole sentence sounds really different than how it sounds in the video. The girl in this video is saying 餐 in an obviously lower pitch compared to the pitch in which she said 吃 and 中 in the same sentence.
    – key_asdfg
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:41
  • @asdfg I listened to the track, and I also perceived it as having the right tone. (It definitely wasn't a rising tone for me.)
    – user5714
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:43
  • @Maroon, now it kind of sounds like a toneless tone, like "么" in "什么," rather than the second tone. It just sounds different from the first tone. Did you try pronouncing 餐 the same way as the preceding kanji, 中 and you get the same result as how the girl said the whole sentence tone-wise?
    – key_asdfg
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:45
  • @帅气型男 Doesn't the girl say 餐 there in the same pitch as the guy immediately after that said 欢, which is a toneless tone?
    – key_asdfg
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 7:54

4 Answers 4


It's not a question of being an interrogative sentence. The problem is that Chinese tones in connected speech often sound different from their textbook forms. This is something most native speakers are unaware of, and even in the specialized literature it's hard to find detailed information about it. (The third tone rules below are well-known in the literature.)

I'm going to use Yuen Ren Chao's notation for tones: the scale goes from 1 (low) to 5 (high). So 55 is a high level tone, 51 is a falling tone, etc.

The third tone (textbook 214 or 215) undergoes two well-known changes (search for "third tone sandhi" or "half third tone"). First, if two third tones happen in a row (你好、我想、友好), the first of the words changes to second tone: ni35 hao214, wo35 xiang214, you35 hao214.

Second, all other third tones are pronounced as 21, not 214, in connected speech: low dipping, with no rise after. Only very rarely will you hear the full falling-rising contour -- usually for emphasis on the last word in a phrase.

Now we get into tones which are less talked about:

The first tone (textbook 55) is always level, but how high it is depends on the level of emphasis. It will be exceptionally high if you want to stress the word: 你喜不喜欢吃..中..餐 "Do you like Chinese food" -- instead of some other option. It will often sound quite low as the second syllable in a two-syllable word (亚洲 "Asia" ya51 zhou22) and in other contexts where it doesn't need emphasis.

The second tone (textbook 25 or 35) often comes out sounding mid-level (33) or dipping-rising (434) -- this seems to be especially common at the end of a sentence. (I struggled with this for a long time: I would hear second tones as third tones all over the place.)

I've discussed the third tone above; the fourth tone (51) is pretty straightforward.

Now, to answer your question: 你喜不喜欢吃中餐? I clearly hear 欢 as a first tone -- it's medium level (33) because it's "light" or "lessed stressed" but it's quite clearly a first tone. As for 中餐, I hear it as 中 being emphasized, as if the guy had just suggested pizza, and she was saying "how about something Chinese"? There's a natural tendency for pitch to fall over the course of the sentence, so in principle it's not surprising to hear 餐 be lower than 吃. But this voice does sound unnatural to me, probably because it's machine-generated speech.


As mentioned in Tips on Learning Chinese Interrogative Sentences, there are several methods to post a question in Chinese, such as:

  1. Adding question particles at the end of a sentence, for example: 嗎, 呢, 吧
  2. Using question words to indicate a more specific question: “what”(什麼), “how”(如何), “where”(哪裡), “Who”(誰) and “why”(為什麼)
  3. While asking how much or how many about something, adopt: 幾, 多少
  4. Transforming a sentence with a common question construction, the “ Verb-不-Verb” format
  5. Combining two or more associated statements, like “(是)...還是...”

When someone uses a sentence constructed in any of these ways, we will know immediately that she/he is asking a question. Most of the time, people don't use tones to differentiate a question from a statement.

Finally, in the video you brought up, she applies the common question construction, the “ Verb-不-Verb” format, for her two questions. There is no actual need to change the tone at the end of sentences, and that is also not a clear way to express a question.


The shared clip are make from computer generated voice. When learning mandarn, hearing is not enough, you need to practice the exact tonal usage. Sometime is better to find verb that goes with the character.

Because there is a trap of tonal changes for some character when put together, that will cause hearing problem. I.e., First tone zhōng 中 together with first tone 餐 cān, your brain will tought it "doesn't sound right", and try to correct it and cause you to assume it as another tone. To grab the correct tone, just practice to speak out different verb using the character, to make your brain to get use to that word and tones.

早餐 zǎo cān

午餐 wǔ cān

晚餐 wǎn cān

Then you can move on and try

cān tīng 餐 廳

Speak it out for a few time, then try the clip again, see whether you still think hear it as second tones.

Also practice the tonal changes, to help your hearing.

餐 1 cān

殘 2 cán

慘 3 cǎn

灿 4 càn

Do take note that, bad speaker or microphone may also cause mishearing


I couldn't hear anything different. They are pronounced without noticeable variation.

One thing people might do to ask a question, is to say a statement and end with a high pitch after they finish the tone of the last syllable (if it has any). The high pitch for me is higher than that of my first tone, so I can still tell. But neither of them does that in the video.

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