Are there any initial consonants/syllables in modern Chinese dialects which are incompatible with some tones?

Can certain tones occur only in certain syllables (that is, within open or close ones)?

I am referring mainly to 普通话 (or 華語), but any other dialect will do

  • Which Chinese dialect? And it may be better to add some examples.
    – Stan
    Jun 22, 2013 at 9:37
  • Yes, but it entirely depends on the dialect! Jun 22, 2013 at 19:35
  • I removed the "any dialect" requirement because this makes the question overly broad and practically unanswerable by one person.
    – going
    Jun 27, 2013 at 0:06
  • @xiaohouzi79 You have also deleted the reference to two dialects as well, which made the question no less broad and unanswerable by a.n.y. person. Besides, I don't suppose we have an excessive number of dialect speakers here.
    – Manjusri
    Jun 27, 2013 at 11:25

2 Answers 2


Here's an example of this sort of phenomenon:

Syllables that begin with unaspirated stops b, d, g, or affricates j, zh, z, and end in a nasal n or ng, as a rule don’t have second-tone forms.

Here's a more extensive explanation of how this came about

  • Are there more like this?
    – juckele
    Jun 25, 2013 at 18:13
  • Most chinese dialects have a different set of tones for "checked" or "closed" syllables. E.g., in Cantonese, tones 7, 8, and 9 only exist in syllables ending in -p, -t, and -k. Jun 25, 2013 at 19:00
  • @StumpyJoePete: While Cantonese checked-tone syllables can be numbered separately (7/8/9) for historical reasons, in practice, they are pronounced the same as tones 1/3/6, respectively. In addition, due to 變音, they may even be pronounced in tone 2.
    – Claw
    Jun 27, 2013 at 2:59
  • @Claw So they are! Thanks for the info. Anyhow, it's easy to find other examples: In Shanghainese, all of the tones in words with a voiced initial are lower than (although the same "shape" as) the corresponding tones in words with unvoiced initials. Jun 27, 2013 at 4:50
  • 1
    @Claw Thanks for fixing my example. Checked tones really work as a pretty broad class of these. Since middle chinese had 8 tone categories (阴平,阳平,阴上,阳上,阴去,阳去,阴入,阳入) and only 2 of them were "checked" (the two 入 categories), the checked tones will be in complementary distribution with something. Of course it depends on how the particular language's tone categories (and syllable structure--e.g., Mandarin has no -p,-t,-k syllables) have changed over time. Jun 27, 2013 at 7:38

The way I understand your question is:

When two characters have similar tones, like a third tone followed by a third tone, such as:

你好 Nǐ hǎo

Mandarin speakers tend to find it easier to say if they pronounce the first character as second tone, like:

Ní hǎo

Or two fourth tones will sound too harsh, like:

不对 Bùduì

The fourth tone on 不 will change to second tone for easier pronunciation.

Let me know if I misunderstood your question.

  • Thank you for your answer, but I think that of Stumpy Joe Pete is closer to the initial intention of it.
    – Manjusri
    Jun 23, 2013 at 22:00
  • 不 and 一 were initially 入 tone syllables as 意大利 demonstrates fourth tone can follow fourth tone
    – iopq
    Feb 25, 2021 at 3:44

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.