The new book 汉语国际教育用词语声调组合及轻重音格式实用手册 ("A Practical Manual of Tone Patterns and Formats of Stressed and Unstressed Syllables in Mandarin Words for the Application of Teaching Chinese to the Speakers of Other Languages") apparently discusses this, according to this answer by Becky:


To learn Chinese phonetics, it is not enough to pronounce the syllables (consonants, vowels, and tones) correctly. In language-flow (?) communication, authentic pronunciation with the flavor of standard Chinese requires following the pattern of Chinese intonation and stress.

This is the first time that I've heard any attention given to intonation and stress in Chinese. What guidelines are there on proper intonation and stress? Of course, the neutral tone is often less stressed or shorter. Aside from that, Wikipedia's Standard Chinese phonology article doesn't seem to say anything definitive. Wikipedia's Intonation article says:

In the Beijing dialect, they are intentionally distinguished for the average speaker as follows, using a pitch scale from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest):

  • Declarative sentences go from pitch level 3 to 5 and then down to 2 and 1.
  • A-not-A questions go from 6 to 9 to 2 to 1.
  • Yes–no ma questions go from 6 to 9 to 4 to 5.
  • Unmarked questions go from 6 to 9 to 4 to 6.

I'm not exactly sure what kind of intonation pattern Wikipedia has in mind here – audio examples might be helpful. Besides that, what other intonation patterns are good to know?

  • Ah the problems of notating intonation! The pitch levels Wikipedia is using: 9 - highest; 1- lowest.
    – Michaelyus
    Sep 24, 2020 at 8:42

3 Answers 3


(I'm a native Chinese user.)

Any language has its own pattern of intonation and stress variations over a single sentence or many sentences - this is not exclusive to Chinese. Think about English for example (or any other language you know). I don't think such intonation and stress variations (except for the tones of each Chinese character) should be learned by learning the rules that these variations satisfy (in various contexts), because I think it is incredibly unnatural and inefficient for people to remember these rules, and that these rules are in fact very difficult for people to follow. I think it is [very misleading] to suggest to anyone that they learn these variations through remembering and following such rules, unless the person somehow doesn't have the resources which would allow them to listen to properly spoken Chinese.

My suggestion is, ignore these rules and simply listen to native users (who speak Chinese well - not all of them do in fact) speak and imitate them. The way you learn such intonation and stress variations in Chinese should not be different in any notable way from how you learn such variations in any other language, e.g. English.


As far as I am know there are no pitch pattern, only tones that matter. Maybe some specific area in China has specific pitch pattern due to effect of their their dialect, but for general Mandarin, as long as you can get the tones right, it should be good enough.


May I offer my personal thoughts? Comparing to English, both as foreign languages, one has to spend 7 times of time to reach the same level of English. Under such circumstance, isn't it to use your time economically and effectively to reach the fundamental purpose of learning a foreign language: to communicate with other people.

Alas, I am not the first teacher, and won't be the last one, who can not speak Mandarin with perfect/standard pronunciation and intonation, very often even with accent. I am not shameful at all because 1. I don't intend to work for CCTV, 2. I don't want to teach phonetics anywhere, and 3. I teach Chinese/Mandarin as a "language" not as a "Academic Course". I would prefer my students use the same amount of time to learn 100 sentences with accent, as long as people can understand, rather than 10 sentences with perfect pronunciation and intonation because they have to spend time to practice again and again.

The most popular areas using Mandarin outside China are: Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand ... etc, ALL with different accents. Chinese tourists are very happy to visit these areas, simply because they can communicate with local Chinese ethnics.

Just for your consideration, possibly not exactly the answer you are looking for. My apology.

  • Even within China itself there are accentual differences, without considering the various dialect groups. Sep 25, 2020 at 6:08

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