What is the correct pronunciation of 要?

I've learned it as yao4 but a video said it is yao3. Then I checked it in an online dictionary and it provides 3 different pronunications: yao4, yao3 ,yao1

Can I just pick one of those tones arbitrarily?

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dictionary : https://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqb=yao4

  • See here for details about the differences. And never heard yao3.
    – user4072
    Mar 9 '17 at 14:46
  • My Chinese is not good enough to understand this site. So, can I just pick one of those (yao1 and yao4) or they have different meanings but the same character?
    – WVrock
    Mar 9 '17 at 14:50
  • 3
    They have different meanings and are not interchangeable. The site give an English word for every meaning. If you still can't determine which one to use you can tell us the context with which you try to use .
    – user4072
    Mar 9 '17 at 14:55
  • 1
    Actually yao1 and yao4 have overlapping meanings, and I too have not heard of yao3. OP is not asking for a translation of the character in some one context, but for a discussion of their comparative meanings. Mar 9 '17 at 15:56
  • "现代汉语词典"(1998) only has yāo and yào
    – user6065
    Mar 9 '17 at 19:14

In most cases, we cannot pick one of different pronunciations arbitrarily. The reason is very simple. If we can, we do not have to pronounce differently. Right?

DICT.TW 線上字典 can give you the commnon definitions in English.

資料來源: MDBG CC-CEDICT Chinese-English Dictionary 漢英字典

要 [ㄧㄠˋ; yao4]

to want
going to (as future auxiliary)
(used in a comparison) must be

資料來源: MDBG CC-CEDICT Chinese-English Dictionary 漢英字典

要 [ㄧㄠ; yao1]

to demand
to request
to coerce

要 [ yǎo | ㄧㄠˇ | yao3]

This pronunciation is used in only one case.

The name of a kind of good horse in ancient times.

褭 [ niǎo | ㄋㄧㄠˇ ]
  • 百度翻譯 can show the common definitions in English too. It also gives you many examples.
    – hinen
    Mar 9 '17 at 21:50
  • "If we can, we do not have to pronounce differently. Right?" Not necessarily. Many differences come from geography, i.e. are dialects.
    – Rodrigo
    Mar 12 '17 at 14:12

First forget about yao3. As a Chinese I never heart yao3.

Second as yao1, maybe it's enough that just remember a few words, 要求(to demand),要挟(to coerce).

I think yao4 is more common. We often use it as the meaning of 'want'. 我要买个大房子(I want to buy a big house). Sometimes it also means important. 重要人物(VIP)

And hinen is right, pronunciation is very important in Chinese, different pronunciation always has different meaning.


Try installing http://www.perapera.org, Firefox/Chrome add-on. In it you can see:

要 yao1 - to demand, to request, to coerce

要 yao4 - important, vital, to want, will, going to (as future auxiliary), may, must, (used in a comparison) must be, probably

That means the first (yao1) is a common verb, followed by a noun (what you demand/request). The second (yao4) is either an adjective, a modal verb (may, must) or a verb followed by another verb (as in SleePy's 我要买个大房子).

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