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I know of the commonly cited rules for third tones, which are the following (copied from somewhere else, so excuse the grammatical errors):

"When word with the 3rd tone is used alone, or used at the end of the expression, it's pronounced as the original tone, i.e. the 3rd tone. e.g. 雪, 滑雪.

When two words with the 3rd tone are used together, the 1st one is pronounced as the 2nd tone. e.g. 老虎, 海岛.

When word with the 3rd tone is used before other words with the 1st/2nd/4th tone, it's pronounced as the 半三声 (only the first half of the 3rd tone, without the rising tone part). e.g. 卡车, 草莓.

When three words with the 3rd tone are used together; If the first two words are closely linked, i.e. 2+1 construction, then the first two words are pronounced as the 2nd tone. e.g. 草稿纸, 古典美. If the last two words are closely linked, i.e. 1+2 construction, then the 1st word is pronounced as 半三声, the 2nd word is pronounced as the 2nd tone. e.g. 米老鼠, 老领导."

What I'd like to know is:

  1. A third tone should generally be pronounced as a full third tone whenever it is the last syllable in a word/expression. Is that true even when speaking quickly, meaning the final third tone of a word is quickly followed by a non-third tone? Or should it be a half third tone in that case?

  2. What about the following examples of multiple third tones: 使馆里,大使馆里,地铁里? or 米老鼠我不太喜欢? These don't quite fit any of the categories above. How should the tones be altered (if at all)? Does anyone know the rules? None of my Chinese friends are certain so I hope someone here does.

Thanks a lot!

  • 2
    I don't have the right resources to provide a proper answer, but here's a half-assed one. 1. I'd say 3rd tones are only "full" when at the end of an expression. So most of the time they're only "half third tone[s]". 2. First, you group adjacent 3rd tones into runs of "closely linked" ones. Each run has sandhi applied to it, but the runs are treated separately. For instance, I (warning: non native), would pronounce 老领导 as lao3 ling2dao3, with the 老 being treated separately from 领导. I don't think there are hard and fast rules for what counts as closely linked. – Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 13 at 0:20
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To the first question, I think 3rd tones are only full when its in the end of the sentences.

To the second question, I think it depends on how you do the segmentations. The last character in every parts will be 3rd tone while other are 2nd tones.

Let's say 米老鼠 would be segged as 米 / 老鼠, so the tones would be [3, 2, 3].

Some other examples: 剪指甲 would be segged as 剪 / 指甲, so the tones would be [3, 2, 3].

"我有好幾本火影忍者的漫畫" is a sentence, and the first nine characters are 3rd tones. It can be segged as 我有 / 好幾本 / 火影 / 忍者 , and the tone is

[2,3 / 2,2,3 / 2,3 / 2,3 ].

"展覽館小老鼠很口渴只好找井水洗水果 " is another sentence, and all the characters are 3rd tones. It can be segged as 展覽館 / 小 / 老鼠 / 很 / 口渴 / 只好 / 找 / 井水 / 洗 / 水果, and the tones is

[2,2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3]

  • Thanks a lot for you answer! However, I am still not certain how to properly pronounce my examples. I assume it would be: 使馆里 = shi2guan3 li3, 大使馆里 = da4shi2guan3 li3, 地铁里 = di4tie3 li3, 米老鼠我不太喜欢?mi3 lao2shu3 wo3 ....? Are these correct? As you can see I am asking specifically about examples where a single third tone follows characters which belong together, so I assume the 223 rule doesn't apply in this case and it should be pronounced as 233? Another example: 我们随时都可以组团。Should that be ke2yi3 zu3tuan2 or ke2yi2 zu3tuan2? I assume the former. – Hfds J Sep 21 at 16:55
  • To clarify more, I know all of the rules, but they don't help in cases where there are three third tones in a row spread across two or three words. 米老鼠 or 展览馆 for example don't tell me anything about how to pronounce 地铁里 where the first two words belong together and the third one doesn't, unlike 米老鼠 where the first is alone and the following two belong together or 展览馆 where all three belong together. I used to pronounce such expressions 223, like di4tie2 li3, da2shi2guan2 li3, ke2yi2 zu3tuan2, etc. but am not certain anymore if that's correct. I hope this explanation is understandable. – Hfds J Sep 21 at 17:58
  • First of all, I'm a native speaker. I didn't learn any rules about this, and I just speak this way, so I'm telling my experience. As I said, I pronounce them as how I do the segementation. But not everyone do the segmentation in the same way. For example, I think both ke2yi2zu3tuan2 and ke2yi3zu3tuan2 are aceeptable. (but I personally prefer ke2yi2zu3tuan2.) – NoobTW Sep 22 at 3:05

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