Is 等等 pronounced:

deng2deng0 (2nd tone and neutral) like 老子、孔子


deng3 deng0 (3rd tone and neutral) like 椅子、法子


It's pronounced


as in the typical tonal sandhi of two consecutive 3rd tones, like 老板 (lao2ban3).

However I wouldn't outright exclude your first suggestion deng2deng0, as it might be pronounced like that in fast speech, or in the middle of a sentence.

  • So if it's pronounced deng2deng3, then deng2 is higher than deng3, but if it's said like deng2 deng0, is deng2 still higher than deng0? Another good example is 宝宝 I always thought it was bao2bao3 but I always hear it spoken like bao3bao0 (bao3 being lower than bao0) – MuchAppreciated25 Mar 15 at 15:01
  • @MuchAppreciated25 to understand the pitch of the fifth tone you can search "tone contours" graphics. A full explanation is kind of long for a comment. Anyway, yes deng2 is higher than deng0 – blackgreen Mar 15 at 15:18

This is a difficult problem to address, because 等等 apparently fits one of the criteria for neutral tone, but at the same time there is tone sandhi for two conjoint third-tone words. The following attempts to resolve the conflict between the two rules:

The pronunciation of 33 words

  1. In my explanation below, I use 1 through 4 to indicate the first to fourth tones respectively, 0 to indicate the fifth or neutral tone, X > Y to indicate an alteration in tone from pattern X to Y, and tone letters ˩ ˨ ˧ ˦ ˥, five-levelled, arranged from lowest to highest here, to describe the pitch change within a particular tone.

  2. If the second third-tone character is justified to be pronounced in the neutral tone, then the first third-tone character remains pronounced in the third-tone, i.e. 33 > 30. Justifications for neutral tone may be of one of the following types:

  • 寶寶, 姐姐: they are words formed by reduplication (重疊).
  • 椅子, 法子, 影子: they are formed by the suffix (詞綴) ~子, which is arguably diminutive and duly reflected in its pronunciation.
  • 打點: to contrast polysemy, especially in mainland Mandarin. dǎ dian means to organise things or to get ready, but dǎ diǎn > dá diǎn literally means the clock strikes a certain time. In general, figurative meanings are marked by a neutral tone, but not so in literal meanings.
  • 耳朵, 馬虎: by convention, including Taiwanese Mandarin (which is akin to 33 > 31 instead of 33 > 30).
  1. Notable exceptions (i.e. those that still follow tone sandhi 33 > 23 despite apparently fitting the listed criteria for neutral tone)
  • 裊裊 niǎo niǎo, 緊緊, 等等: reduplicated words that are adverbial or adjectival.
  • 每每 (every time), 秒秒 (every second), 種種 (every kind): words that mean 'every sth.' (equivalent to 每~, as in 每秒, 每種). In these words, there is something more than mere character redundancy.
  • 汩汩 gǔ gǔ: reduplicated words that are onomatopoeic.
  • 孔子, 老子: 子 here is not a diminutive suffix but a meaningful character in itself (an honorary title for the philosophical greats).
  • 嘴裏, 手裏: directional complements such as ~裏 are usually a good justification to be pronounced in the neutral tone (e.g., 心裏 xīn lǐ > xīn li, 海上 hǎi shàng > hǎi shang). However, it seems more natural to pronounce 33 ~裏 words as 23 or 20 instead of 30.
  • Most words in 1., but read in Taiwanese Mandarin.
  1. Saying 33 > 23 words are pronounced like 33 > 23 > 20 is a dangerous metaphor. That is because the second third-tone is not toneless (0) per se (unless it is well justified, as in 1.; 等等 is not). Besides, this analogy complicates things. At most, we can only say the 'tail' of the pitch ˨ ˩ ˦ in the third tone is discarded, becoming ˨ ˩, and that is not limited to conjoint third-tone words. Even a word as simple as 我 wǒ ˨ ˩ ˦ > ˨ ˩ can behave like that in a spoken sentence.

  2. A simple explanation of the pitch of the neutral tone is given by the syllabus of Putonghua Proficiency Test (普通話水平測試實施綱要) (p. 35):

  • When the neutral tone follows the third tone, it takes on a slightly higher pitch. (The pitch of the third tone is low enough; one then raises the pitch of the neutral tone that follows to differentiate between the two.)

  • This is in contrast to the neutral tone's taking on a slightly lower pitch when it follows the first (e.g. 媽媽), second (e.g. 玩啊), or fourth tone (e.g. 去吧).

  • 1
    Lots of useful information here! Just a few small comments however. A) in #1, it seems that the 5 folllowing bullet points list some different possible "justifications". Is this an exhaustive list? Rather than "for example", maybe you could put "Justifications may be of one of the following types:", or "Justifications must be of …". B) Point #5 is perhaps a little bit off topic, but for me at least it's a handy reminder. I think it's a better explanation than the other one on SE: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/21395/… – goPlayerJuggler Mar 16 at 10:01
  • 1. Zhang Bennan & Yang Ruowei (2007). [普通話連讀音變]. Hong Kong: Commercial Press. 2. Lu Yunzhong (1995). [普通話的輕聲和兒化]. Hong Kong: Commercial Press. – L Parker Mar 16 at 11:16
  • 1
    A): My list is not absolutely exhaustive. For example: 裁縫 as a noun (tailor) is pronounced cái feng but cái féng as a verb (to sew). Zhang and Yang (2007:86) argues when the verb 避諱 (to taboo) is intransitive, it is pronounced as bì hui, but bì huǐ when transitive. These are not polysemous but are still distinguished by the neutral tone. 33 examples of this category may exist. My approach was instead first referencing the works of Lu (1995:24-28) (cited in section 3.2 of this report: bit.ly/3vtYv0S) - reasonably authoritative - then coming up with just 33 examples. – L Parker Mar 16 at 11:26
  • Two more comments. 1) it's not clear to me why the section #5 is hidden in a "spoiler" section. 2) the tone letters "merge" on my PC but not on my Android phone. But when a space is added between them I seem them as distinct symbols. Eg here I see 3 symbols: ˩ ˨ ˧, where here I see one symbol ˩˨˧, a bit like a "y" upside down. Maybe it would improve your answer to add spaces in between these characters. (I could do that for you as an edit, if you like, it should be fairly easy for me via a regular expression search/replace. Let me know...) – goPlayerJuggler Mar 16 at 13:50
  • 1
    Thanks for your detailed, high quality answer! // Just in case, I would like to point you to another question I asked 6 years ago, that never got a good answer. I've more or less found out my own answer(s) to this topic but I never yet got round to writing them up. (In any case my answers to this question are likely never going to be authoritative.) Perhaps you may have some time to look at it? Thanks. chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/14826/… – goPlayerJuggler Mar 16 at 14:14

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