screenshot of Pleco's "sentence" page for 欸

Above is a screenshot of Pleco's "sentence" page for which displays 5 different pronunciations. This puzzles me.

Question: Why does Pleco give so many pronunciations of 欸?

My impression is that 欸 is some kind of noise made to express surprise, so maybe it could have multiple pronunciations, but 5 is a lot.

  • 1
    I get thirteen pronunciations in my copy. KEY & PLC give very detailed definitions of most of the pronunciations.
    – Mou某
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 10:20
  • It is something called 语气词,people generally use it with their intuition. So you do not really need to care too much about the pronunciations, just use it however you like.
    – zyy
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 17:00
  • It's the same with 啊. You can find it with all the tones in dictionaries. But that's just talking about tones, if you really want to get mesmerized by how many diferent pronunciations a character can have, look for the pronunciations of 着 and 和. Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


Many single characters in Mandarin Chinese will alter their pronunciation based on the tones of the following, more meaningful characters/words.

For instance, 一 is pronounced yi1 (first tone), but when placed before a fourth tone character, its pronunciation changes to yi2 (second tone). These pronunciation changes help facilitate smooth tonal lines in the production of sentences. (Fun fact, if you ever take a class in harmony/melody and form, you'll start appreciating what "good" vocal lines are vs "bad" ones (in the traditional sense) and it lines up a lot with how tone-changes work in Mandarin).

This is essentially what is happening here, BUT in addition to this, the tone is an indication of the emotional aspect of the character 欸, which is merely a sound indicating some kind of latent emotion. Ei1 to call somebody, Ei2 to ask a question in surprise, Ei3 to indicate some kind of indignation, Ei4 to indicate some kind of affirmation. Essentially, this is the kind of tone that would help emphasize precisely how the speaker is feeling to the listener.

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