In an intermediate level class (B1 or B2 level perhaps / around HSK 5 or 6), several example sentences were used to illustrate some vocabulary. The teacher, a native speaker with fairly standard pronunciation as far as I can tell, was not concentrating on pronunciation or tones. I do not remember them exactly, but they all had a structure similar to:


X could be 品味, or 才能, or 办法 or some other words.

In any case I was struck by hearing 很有 read in these sentences as if the 有 was like a fourth tone. Also I am pretty sure that 很 was quite low; nothing like the second tone that would be expected by consecutive third tones. Which surprised me a bit.

Using tone letter notation, 很有 sounded like this:

  • hen (꜐ or ꜑ / 2 or 1 ); short; rather like a neutral tone (轻声).
  • you (꜏꜑ / 31 or ꜎꜑ / 41); stressed perceptibly more than 很

I do not think I have seen anything describing this intonation/pronunciation. I would like to know if it has been described anywhere / if it is a commonly observed phenomenon. For 很, perhaps it could be a case of "Quasi-neutral tones in speech to contrast intonation." as mentioned in this answer? But for 有 sounding like a fourth tone, I never saw that described anywhere.

So my question is: what is going on with the intonation/tones for 很有 in this sort of sentence?

  • There are several pitches for neutral tone, depending on the tone before. Neutral tone can be rather high-sounding (e.g. 椅子 曲子 嫂子). 很有 is generally pronounced with rising tone (tone 2) and a low tone (tone 3) because of tone sandhi.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 15:13

1 Answer 1

  1. The obligate tone sandhi for consecutive third-tones are rendered as follows:

    Phrase Before After
    很有品味 3334 2234
    很有才能 3322 2322
    很有辦法 3343 2343

    In particular, the 333 -> 223 change in 很有品味 is explained here.

  2. Possible facultative tone sandhi in 很有 in quick speech include:

    • For all 很有XX examples: blurring of tones (quasi-neutral, as explained here; to avoid confusion, let us not use the dotted tone letters normally reserved for real neutral tones, and let the one-lettered pitches reflect their brevity) in the presence of stress on XX out of contextual need (as explained here).
    • For 很有品味: a blurry rising trend for consecutive de facto second-tones, as explained in the 葡萄牙 example here (perhaps something like ˦ ˥).
    • For 很有才能 and 很有辦法: a blurry dropping trend (perhaps something like ˧ ˩).
  3. What you seem to be implying is that the teacher pronounced 很有, in quick speech, with a go-up-and-down pitch change, i.e. ˨ ˧˩. Now, is this possible? If you are absolutely sure there is no mishearing or mislabelling on your part, then I think the teacher did not conform to standardised Putonghua well (i.e., this is a mispronunciation on their part). However, I am not entirely sure about your labelling with two tone letters – is it worth that many, especially when it is expected to be blurred over? After all, we are treading on very thin ice here – it is very hard to capture every nuance of facultative tone sandhi. Unless I hear the teacher's audio, or an audio from an online source (e.g. YouTube) that you believe is close enough to the teacher's, I cannot provide a definite answer.


Now that we have made clear this was normal-paced, I am starting to suspect this is similar to the case of 比較, where some people say it as (bǐ jiǎo ->) bí jiǎo instead of the conventional bǐ jiào (see here for more examples). The link contains examples of non-dictionary readings.

I also found evidence where may be pronounced as yòu: see here. Its use is relatively limited, i.e., when acting as a loan word (通假) for in classical Chinese*, or when denoting numerical remainders (e.g. 七十有七人), both of which are not the applicable to 很有. However, 教育部重編國語辭典修訂本 claims yòu and yǒu are interchangeable (I for one think this is rarely practised in real life). At any rate, the teacher's choice of pronunciation is not mainstream. I also believe this is caused more by the polyphony of than facultative tone sandhi during quick speech.

* Also supported by 余培英(2012)《多音字學習手冊》。北京:商務。 scan

  • 1
    It was normal-paced or perhaps slightly leisurely speech; neither especially fast nor especially slow. I think I heard ˨ ˧˩ (2 31) or ˨ ˦˩ (2 41), in several example sentences. The stress was on the second part, the 有; the first part, the 很, was short and unstressed. // I do not have any audio for this - it may just be one of life's mysteries... Thank you for your help. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 15:52
  • Another possible explanation is dialectal influence - do you know the background of the teacher? I really cannot think of any justification why it should be pronounced like so in standard Putonghua. If that be the case, I am not too familiar with dialects, unfortunately.
    – L Parker
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 15:59
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    I do not know the teacher's background. // I was not aware of the distinction between dotted tone letters (꜍꜎꜏꜐꜑) and the "linked" ones (˥ ˦ ˧ ˨ ˩). I was using the dotted tone letters as replacements for the undotted ones as I find the way the adjacent linked tone letters combine together on my PC confusing. It appears this was a mistake. I think I should perhaps edit my question to use linked tone letters; I can learn to read the adjacent "linked" tone letters. Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 16:08
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    I edited my answer which contains the suggestion that maybe this has nothing to do with tonal changes.
    – L Parker
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 16:41
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    Could it be just a bit of overemphasis by the speaker on the slight drop that is inherent to the third tone? That is, as far as I can recall, the semi-third tone is not truly flat, but does drop slightly (21?). The speaker could have been just emphasizing the 有 in the example sentences or doing something that emphasizes/separates out the word right after 有 (equivalent to a slight pause in English). Could something like this make the semi-third tone come out with a stronger drop than normal? Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 17:25

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