I understand how neutral tones are supposed to sound following regular-numbered tones Here is a helpful Wikipedia chart illustrating how the preceding tone impacts the neutral tone

But what about consecutive neutral tones?


真的吗? (Starts at pitch level 55…… then what happens with 的吗?)

你吃了吗? (Starts at pitch level 21, 55…… then what happens with 了吗?)

那还是算了吧。 (…………了吧?)

  • The ending tune of question is the same as in English - raising sound. The third sentence is not a question, the question mark shall be replaced with a "acclamation mark".
    – r13
    Mar 31, 2021 at 18:19
  • When you read the answers here, it's worth keeping in mind that the citation form of a word might be different from how it's realised in specific sentences. Intonation has a big impact on neutral tones, but that's almost never a factor when you look at very short chunks. See @L Parker's comment on questions for an example of what I mean.
    – Olle Linge
    Apr 1, 2021 at 17:46
  • @OlleLinge Are you referring to this link offered by @L Parker describing the differences between tone and intonation: pages.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/cgi-bin/moreabout.pl?tyimuh=intonation Apr 2, 2021 at 17:35
  • I simply meant that his (2) mentions that whether it's a question or statement matters. Questions like this can't be answered without including intonation.
    – Olle Linge
    Apr 2, 2021 at 20:25

3 Answers 3

  1. Zhang and Yang (2007:97) has an interesting remark on consecutive neutral tones within certain three-character words (三字組詞):


    (Translation) Should both of the latter two syllables within a three-character word possess the neutral tone, then the pitch of the neutral tone in the second syllable should change according to the first syllable, much like the case of two-character words; but the pitch of the neutral tone in the third syllable should be read shortly and lowly without exception, with a trend going downwards, like a blurred fourth tone. E.g.:

    拉下來 lā˥˥ xia꜋ lai꜌ 了不得 liǎo˨˩ bu꜉ de꜊

    剩下的 shèng˥˩ xia꜌ de꜌ 爐子裏 lú˧˥ zi꜊ li꜌

    坐下了 zuò˥˩ xia꜌ le꜌ 跑過來 pǎo˨˩ guo꜉ lai꜊

    'The downward trend' to me refers to the pitch change over the consecutive neutral tones (as a whole). In particular, the difference in pitch between the two neutral tones is most obvious when the first non-neutral syllable is in the first, second, or third tone.

  2. Does the downward trend apply to two-character word groups suffixed with a particle too? There is no mentioning in the textbook, but I think mostly yes, albeit with the following observations:

    • As an assertive statement, there is only the inherent downward trend: 忙着呢 máng˧˥ zhe꜊ ne꜌, 算了吧 suàn˥˩ le꜌ ba꜌.

    • Some of the particles mark questions (e.g. 嗎, 呢), so it is important to take into account the effect of final rising on the pitch of neutral tones. Interestingly, for normal characters, there is also a difference in pitch between an assertive statement and a question:

    Statement Question
    坐下了。 zuò˥˩ xia꜌ le꜌ 坐下了? zuò˥˧ xia꜊ le꜊
    我的呢。 wǒ˨˩ de꜉ ne꜊ 我的呢? wǒ˨˩ de꜉ ne꜈
    • The final rising is best observed when the first syllable is in the 'low' half-third tone (i.e. it exceeds the effect of the downward trend): 怎麼了 zěn˨˩ me꜉ le꜈, 好了嗎 hǎo˨˩ le꜉ ma꜈.

    • The final rising may be attenuated when the first syllable is in the first, second, or fourth tone - they have a comparatively higher pitch than the half-third tone and stress is very easily placed on them, out of both semantical and phonological need (他 and 看 in the following examples). The net effect is that the pitch of the neutral tones now becomes roughly the same:

    Statement Question
    他的呢。 tā˥˥ de꜋ ne꜌ 他的呢? tā˥˥ de꜊ ne꜊
    看了嘛。 kàn˥˩ le꜌ ma꜌ 看了嗎? kàn˥˧ le꜊ ma꜊

Reference: Zhang Bennan & Yang Ruowei (2007). [普通話連讀音變]. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.


All neutral tone characters after the first neutral tone character are pronounced as the first neutral tone character.


  • 真的吗 is 55 2 2
  • 忙着呢 is 35 3 3
  • 好了吗 is 21 4 4
  • 算了吧 is 51 1 1
  • That's interesting... may I ask is this primarily from your experience or could you cite anything definitive as well? Apr 1, 2021 at 2:21
  • @MuchAppreciated25 it comes from my old study materials + subsequent experience. I don't have a handy link right now
    – blackgreen
    Apr 1, 2021 at 8:23

When speaking English, you know the importance of placing the accent, similarily the Chinese use 5 tones to dictate the raising and dropping sound in speech. While people are familiar with the tones, seems only a few familiar with the "tone marks", as red symbols shown in the sentences below, and the table follows:

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As shown in the table above, tone marks for the second, third, and fourth tones are shared between bopomofo and pinyin. In bopomofo, the first tone mark is usually omitted but can be included, while a dot above indicates the fifth tone (also known as the neutral tone). In pinyin, a macron (overbar) indicates the first tone and the lack of a marker usually indicates the fifth (light) tone.

Hope this helps.


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