In Mandarin, sometimes 質 is pronounced with the 2nd tone (e.g., 質地, 特質) and other times it's pronounced with the 4th tone (e.g., 質疑, 質量, 品質).

Here are two words pronounced with the 2nd tone:

There doesn't appear to be a clear pattern.

Does anyone know any rules for when to pronounce 質 with 2nd tone vs. 4th tone?


質(quality/ hostage) has only one pinyin /zhi4 / in Mandarin. the link http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/characters/1028/ you posted also confirmed this fact.

In Cantonese:

  • 質(quality) is read as /jan4/ as in '品質'

  • 質(hostage) is read as /zi3/ as in '人質'

In Mandarin:

  • '質' in both '品質' and '人質' are pronounced /zhi4 /

The Taiwan dictionary listed /zhi2/ as the pinyin for noun and /zhi4/ as the pinyin for verb seem to be an archaic practice. Apparently, the two different readings of verb and noun for 質 had been consolidated into only one in modern Mandarin.

My conclusion is, modern Mandarin only read '質' as /zhi4/ ; The /zhi2/ pinyin is either archaic or limited in regional use in Taiwan


  • When the meanings of 質 are related to Jyutping ‘zat1’ (quality), both zhi4 (China) and zhi2 (Taiwan) are standard readings;

  • When the meanings of 質 are related to Jyutping 'zi3 ' (hostage) , 'zhi4' is the standard in both China and Taiwan

  • The Cantonese site references some words with zhi2, hence the confusion. The question is updated with two of these words with zhi2 instead of zhi4. Thanks! – Crashalot Oct 2 '17 at 4:48
  • Thanks for answering so far, looking forward to what you say after seeing the new links in the question. – Crashalot Oct 2 '17 at 4:50
  • hi tang, did you get to see the links in the question which show 質 in the second tone on the cantonese dictionary? thanks again for your help! – Crashalot Oct 6 '17 at 23:43
  • CantoDict made a mistake. I will notify the editor – Tang Ho Oct 6 '17 at 23:53
  • @Crashalot -- After consulting the editor of CantoDict, it is confirmed the /zhi2/ pinyin is unique to Taiwan, a regional variant of / zhi4/. That means you can use it, but people would think you are from Taiwan -reference: cantonese.sheik.co.uk/phorum/… – Tang Ho Oct 7 '17 at 3:55

You should always pronounce the 4th tone in the standard mandarin.

Sometimes, I heard people wrongly pronounced the 2nd tone in the words of 质量,质地, which is probably acceptable to a native ear. But again that's wrong pronunciation.

But if you pronounce the 2nd tone for 质疑,品质, it's really bad (at least to me).

An interesting observation, in a online dictionary, I search for 质地, and it's marked the 4th tone for simplified and 2th tone for traditional one. So, I doubt this could be regional thing as fefe suggested in his/her answer.


In Mainland China, 质 is always zhi4, the 4th tone.

In the words listed in cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/characters/1028/?full=true , you can see same [TW] marks (like the following) :

神經質 san4 ging1 zat1 shen2 jing1 [TW] zhi2 [PRC] zhi4

That may be where the zhi2 sound comes from (although some of the words do not have the mark). But I do not have a dictionary from Taiwan to check how it is regulated there.

As for Google translate, it is not a great source for this kind research, and I want to report a bug if I can.


Found an online dictionary in Taiwan, and 质 has two pronunciations there:

zhi2 :
1 事物的根本、特性。如:「特質」、「流質」。《論語.衛靈公》:「君子義以為質,禮以行之。」《史記.卷二四.樂書》:「中正無邪,禮之質也。」
2 人的天性稟賦。如:「資質」。
3 樸實的本性。如:「文質彬彬」。《論語.雍也》:「質勝文則野,文勝質則史。」《韓非子.解老》:「夫君子取情而去貌,好質而惡飾。」
4 形軀、形體。三國魏.曹植〈愍志賦〉:「豈良時之難俟,痛余質之日虧。」
5 箭靶、標的。《荀子.勸學》:「是故質的張而弓矢至焉。」《後漢書.卷六十上.馬融》:「流矢雨墜,各指所質。」
6 古代的一種刑具。《史記.卷九六.張丞相傳》:「蒼坐法當斬,解衣伏質。」


  • +1, as you point out it could be regional. 2nd tone may be inherited from classical Chinese I guess. In modern mandarin, we always stay the 4th tone. But sometime, we might apply 2nd tone in the word 质量 I think. It's considered to be wrong. – dan Sep 16 '17 at 0:12
  • Thanks, it could definitely be Taiwanese but even Google varies here and there. Perhaps Google is not reliable as you said. Would you kindly mind translating the meaning of the Taiwanese dictionary? Thanks again! – Crashalot Sep 16 '17 at 1:00
  • @Crashalot the translation might be too hard for me ... basicly it is only zhi4 when it means gift or pledge. – fefe Sep 16 '17 at 1:31
  • @fefe so what you are saying is 質 is pronounced zhi2 in Taiwan (with few exceptions) and zhi4 in Mainland China? Thanks again! – Crashalot Sep 16 '17 at 1:40

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