I have noticed discrepancies in how native Mandarin speakers spell certain words in Pinyin reflecting differences in pronunciation, for instance, pángbiān vs. pángbian and zǎoshang vs. zǎoshàng. I've been told that these reflect differences across dialects. I even find these discrepancies across dictionaries, so I'm wondering if anyone knows of a source for standard Pinyin spellings.

  • 1
    It is hard to standardize language. Wouldn't quoting a specific dictionary be reference enough? Just choose one of the bigger ones.
    – cburgmer
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 18:30

2 Answers 2


Note that sometimes the transcription reflects the actual reading rather than the "single-character-pinyin".

For example, 你好 is sometimes transcribed as ní hăo, even if the "actual" transcription per-character would actually be nǐ hăo. This happens because when two third tones are next to each other, the first one becomes a second tone (when reading/pronouncing the characters, not when writing).

In other cases there is a totall loss of the tone, such as in 窗户 (window) transcribed — and read — as chuāng hu1, rather than chuāng hù.

1: The source is the CEDICT dictionary.

  • Representing tone-changes triggered by neighboring tones is pretty consistent actually. I believe the standard is to write the underlying "original" tone. The discrepancies I'm referring to are not triggered by context; they are dialectal (I think.)
    – user103
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 16:29
  • Can you provide some actual examples of such discrepancies you're referring to?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 16:32
  • The measure word 个 in èrshí gè nánrén or èrshí ge nánrén 上 as in zǎoshang or zǎoshàng 候 as in shénme shíhou or shénme shíhòu 边 as in shàngbian or shàngbiān As you can see, it has something to do with optionally using a neutral tone in place of another tone.
    – user103
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 17:17
  • I think it's the same phenomenon I described in the second part of my answer, where some characters lose their tones, and not just for a matter of transcription.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 18:01

When the tone that's written doesn't match what tone you'd expect to see that indicates that the transcription is meant to match the pronunciation. For example, the book "Modern Chinese Grammar" by Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma writes third tones as second tones when tone sandhi occurs. Other references do not necessarily do this.

What is more consistently done is omitting the tone mark when that syllable loses its tone in common use. Here, you will run into differences between regions; for example in Taiwan Mandarin speakers often keep the tone on a word's second syllable whereas in mainland China Mandarin speakers more often omit that tone.

Considering that the point of Pinyin is to show the pronunciation, it makes sense to leave off tones that are not pronounced. As for "standard pinyin spelling", looking up an individual character should give you its pronunciations with tone(s).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.