It looks like authors choose "biān" or "bian" as the pinyin for haphazardly at dict.cn:

东边 = dōng biān
上边 = shàng biān
右边 = yòu bian
左边 = zuǒ biān
旁边 = páng biān
外边 = wài bian
一边 = yī biān
两边 = liǎng biān
那边 = nà biān
这边 = zhè biān
里边 = lǐ biān
天边 = tiān biān

(There's also 海边, 身边, 内边, and 谁边.) It likewise seems haphazard at xiaoma.info.

Question: Can the pinyin for 边 be either "biān" or "bian" in general?

This question basically generalizes How come the first tone in the character of 边 in the word 东边 is not written?. Maybe there's cases where "biān" xor "bian" is the only strictly correct pinyin (or pronunciation).

  • I don't think there is a strict standard. The so-called natural tone is much more kind of oral language and almost every word in your list could pronounce like this. Further more, usually we don't even say dōng bian in daily usage, but retroflexed dōng bianr instead.
    – halfelf
    Nov 14, 2017 at 8:09
  • see comment #4 of chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/27506/… 单纯方位词:东、南、西、北、上、下、前、后、左、右、里、外、内、中、间、 旁 。。。 合成方位词 的构成。单纯方位词前边加上"以"或"之"或者后边加上 "边"、"面"、"头" 就构成合成方位词,表‌​示方位、处所或时间。 "边"、"面"、"头‌​"要读轻声
    – user6065
    Nov 14, 2017 at 8:42
  • anyhow this is an old question that has been asked and answered before
    – user6065
    Nov 14, 2017 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


As I answered in another question you are referring to, those 边s should be pronounced as the first tone biān in standard mandarin except when 边 connotes 'positions' and 'directions', such as 里边 前边 东边 左边 这边 and 那边 in your list. Other than that, the rest are all first tone biān.

However, in spoken or daily usage, lots of people often pronounced it as neutral tone even for those that should be pronounced as first tone as dictionaries indicate.

The best way to get it correct all the time is to look up any authoritative dictionaries, such as 新华字典, 现代汉语词典 and etc. Some on-line dictionaries might not be right all the time because they are not well proofread. Usually, they just copy here and there.


After I looked up in the latest dictionary 现代汉语词典, I have some updates on this answer above accordingly.


In 《现代汉语词典》, the 边 with possible neutral tone has only the following meaning: "方位词后缀" (suffix to location word).

Examples include 里边 前边 东边 左边.

In the words you listed, 旁边 一边 两边 天边 would not use the neutral tone. Not quite sure with 这边 and 那边, but I won't use neutral tone for them.

  • You are right. The latest version of 现代汉语词典 says when 边 connotes 'positions' and 'directions', it should be the neutral tone. I think 这边 and 那边 are also neutral tone, because it denotes directions.
    – dan
    Nov 16, 2017 at 11:59
  • Funnily, the last time I checked in 新华字典, it says first tone. Maybe, I checked with the old version I guess.
    – dan
    Nov 16, 2017 at 12:10

It's a dirty secret, but even with 'Standard Mandarin', there is no universal consensus on this. I checked two standard reference grammars (e.g. Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide and Chinese: An Essential Grammar, both from Routledge), and examples use both tone diacritics and none.

It's a fact that northern Mandarin dialects tend to use more toneless elements in disyllabic compounds (e.g. 北边儿 běibianr) and southern Mandarin varieties tend use pronounce almost all syllables with tone (e.g. 北边 běibiān).

When I was living in Beijing, I mostly encountered toneless locative suffixes: 海滩上面 hǎitān shàngmian "on the beach," and, in Shanghai or Taipei, I encountered locatives suffixes with full tones: 海滩上面 hǎitān shàngmiàn "on the beach." Textbooks used at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei are all inconsistent in usage.

Personally, I prefer the cadence of northern Mandarin.

Note: {r}-suffixation, or 儿化, doesn't seem to affect this.

  • You are right from dialect perspective. For standard mandarin, you should listen to those official medias, like CCTV. Those program hosts or anchors should command a good standard mandarin. So, learn from them if you want to speak standard mandarin.
    – dan
    Nov 14, 2017 at 23:06

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