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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!

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  • 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. Aug 13 '19 at 0:20
  • Most third tones at the end of sentences are also low tones (see Duanmu San's The Phonology of Standard Chinese). They can be pronounced either way (i.e. a full tone or just a low tone are both acceptable), but it's much more common as just a low tone. Teachers and people who record learning content often use full tones at the end of sentences, though. :)
    – Olle Linge
    Aug 4 at 5:26
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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]

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  • 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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 3:05
  • Though I pronounce 剪指甲 in 3-2-3, I have heard people say it in 2-3-1.
    – joehua
    Aug 1 at 0:51
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NoobTW has answered your question. The important thing, in his term, is segmentation or, in my term, word boundary. You want to spend 10 minutes studying his example of 展覽館小老鼠很口渴只好找井水洗水果 and see how the sentence is segmented. He has shown you how.

In your example, 使馆里 is 2-2-3 and 大使馆里 is 4-2-2-3. However, 大使館裏外都有人 is 4-2-3-3-4-1-3-2 because it is segmented as (大使館4-2-3)(裏外3-4)(都有人1-3-2). So, just taking words out of a sentence doesn't really help. You need to analyze the whole sentence.

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Just to be clear from the very beginning:

3rd-3rd is a no-no in Standard Mandarin Chinese

The following are the values to be expected in a pitch analysis:

  • full 3rd tone: 214.
  • half 3rd tone: 21.
  • 3rd tone before another 3rd tone: 35 or, as I prefer to clarify, 14, that is close to a 2nd tone, (see Note 1 below).

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?

A 3rd tone followed by a 1st, 2nd, or 4th tone changes into half 3rd. If it is followed by another character, it means that it is not at the end of the word (spelled alone), phrase, or sentence.

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)?

  • 使馆里: shíguán lǐ
  • 大使馆里: dàshíguán lǐ
  • 地铁里: dìtié lǐ

About the longer sentence, there is more than one possibility.

方法一: Fast reading (see Note 2 below).

  • 米老鼠我不太喜欢: míláoshúwǒbútàixǐhuān (我 and 喜 are half 3rd)
  • or, as many would prefer, mǐláoshúwǒbútàixǐhuān

方法二: 以停顿为分界线 (see Note 3 below).

  • 米老鼠我不太喜欢: mǐláoshǔ/wǒbútàixǐhuān ("/" indicates 停顿)

And your last example:

  • 我们随时都可以组团: wǒmen suíshí dōu kéyí zǔtuán (我 and 组 are half 3rd)
    Variation: since 以 in 可以 is often pronounced toneless, the sentence can also be read:
    wǒmen suíshí dōu kéyi zǔtuán

P.s.: In general, some little variations (as, for example, 3-2-3 instead of 2-2-3) are possible, but never, never should two 3rd tones stay together.

Note 1: As explained by Professor 赵兵 a 3rd tone before another 3rd tone "只升不降了,换句话说,21没有了,只升一下14了,往上升了,有点近似阳平声。"

Note 2: According to the article 上声的变调 "(3) 多个上声相连时,“化整为零”,再依上述规律变调。在快读时也可以只保留最后一个字读上声原调,前面的上声字一律变成阳平。 例如: “我找/小组长。 可读为” “wózhǎo/xiǎozǔzhǎng.”也可读为“wózháoxiáozúzhǎng.”。"

Note 3: As explained at https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E5%81%9C%E9%A1%BF/8832419 "停顿,一般指说话中话语的短暂停歇。(或声音的断和连)。朗读停顿有两种:一是句间停顿,就是根据标点符号来确定句与句之间停顿的长短,语调的抑扬;一是句中短暂停顿,它是以词或词组为单位,根据句子成分之间的内在关系来划分的语气停顿。"

About 以停顿为分界线, here is a fantastically well read example: 绕口令练习视频

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  • Sorry, but I have never heard any native speaker pronounce 米老鼠 as míláoshú. 2-2-2? Maybe foreigners but not native speakers. It should be 3-2-3. Also, NoobTW's pronunciation of "展覽館小老鼠很口渴只好找井水洗水果 " as [2,2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3 / 3 / 2,3] is exactly the way I'd pronounce. As you can see, there are more than one 3-3 but all in different word boundaries.
    – joehua
    Aug 1 at 1:02
  • "but never, never should two 3rd tones stay together"?? I don't know why you insist on this. The pitch file I sent you has 一桶柳橙 in 4-3h-3h-2. This one single example is enough to prove 3h-3h exists. No one can beat a pitch analysis.
    – joehua
    Aug 1 at 1:17
  • @joehua 2-2-3 for 米老鼠 is not too rare, but might be older/dialectal. 2-2-2 is still unacceptable though.
    – xngtng
    Aug 1 at 12:05
  • @xngtng The context was the sentence 米老鼠我不太喜欢. Aug 1 at 12:25

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