I am sorry that this question doesn't answer to the case of four consecutive third tones, especially in what Wenlin dictionary calls "Fixed Expression"?

How should I apply what is written in one of the answers to the above question:

It depends on how you separate the words, to determine which rule should be applied.

The fixed expression used in a sentence shouln't be pronunced regardless of the said sentence?

So how to pronounce "小打小闹" in 我的一点成就 不过是小打小闹?

  • 小打小(all 3rd tune), 闹(4th tune).
    – r13
    Commented Aug 28, 2021 at 15:51
  • yes this fixed expression is not made of 4 third tones :-) are there any fixed expression or chengyu made of 4 third tones ? surely yes... but the answer below is clear for me : need to parse the expression and apply the rule of user4072 and L Parker
    – faure
    Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 7:49

1 Answer 1


As r13 duly mentioned, the expression 小打小鬧 is not an idiom with four consecutive third tones as you asserted. Only the first three (小打小) possess the third tone, while 鬧 is definitely in the fourth tone.

I would say when it comes to tone sandhi, correct parsing is way more important than considering if the expression is "fixed" or not. You need to divide the phrase/expression/sentence according to meaning.

So you would parse 小打小鬧 into "小打" and "小鬧" first. "小打" obviously changes from 33 to 23. "小鬧" does not require sandhi, i.e. it is still 34 on its own.

However, when we combine the two chunks together, you get 2334. There are still adjacent third tones, which is undesirable. You therefore change the first one to the second tone, i.e. 2234.

(Why is it important to divide the expression according to meaning? Had you divided 小打小鬧 into 小/打小/鬧, you would get 3234, which sounds funny to the native ear.)

  • Thank you L Parker, this is clearer :-) Then i would pronunce 矮杆品种 3333 and 吵吵嚷嚷 3333 both as 2323 ! finally the most difficult remains 3 consecutive third tones. Concerning 北美短尾鼩鼱屬 3333213 it would become also 2323 213 ! i do not want to imagine the case where 鼩 is also third tone...
    – faure
    Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 8:43

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