In the name Kongzi, 孔子, it seems to me that people often pronounce Kong with third tone (low-falling form) and zi with no tone, like a lot of final syllables. Officially both syllables are third tone. So is the rule for sandhi with successive third tones inactive when the second of the syllables is pronounced toneless?

The answer to How does tone sandhi apply in people's names? suggests it should be pronounced by the general rule so Kong gets rising tone and zi falling-rising as suits a third tone in final position. Maybe just my ear is bad for tones. It is pretty bad. Or maybe my friends are getting it wrong. So I thought I'd ask here.

2 Answers 2


This rule is not so strict, as in my specification, we never pronounce 甲苯(methylbenzene),乙苯(ethylbenzene), 苯甲酸(acetic acid) in that fashion, though no ambiguity is produced, it is just weird and funny to pronounce so.

However, for familiar words like 奶奶,姐姐, the other extreme is present, which is they are always pronounced as 21-5. (In my opinion, this is an abbreviation of 3rd tones (214) rather than sandhi, as sandhi actually refers to the change of nasal sound between [n] & [m] according to the consonant after it.) This may be due to the level of serenity of words.

For 孔子 and 老子, who are generally regarded 圣贤 and widely respected, it is just improper to do so. (By the way, in the case of 老子, pronouncing it in 21-5 literally means "your father", which is "I" in a very rude way, contrary to 小子, also pronounced 21-5) The only people I have ever know was my professor of classical Chinese, maybe to add some humor to the classroom or just because he himself is "familiar" with them, being old friends in books for him.




  • I must clarify the strict expression of tones in mandarin Chinese here: 1st tone=55=第一声=阴平, 2nd tone=35=第二声=阳平, 3rd tone=214 (also longer in time)=第三声=上声, 4th tone=51=第四声=去声, voiceless tone=5 (half duration)=轻声 Jan 18, 2014 at 6:04
  • Thanks. I like the numerical representation of tones and wish it were more widely used. Most intro books today do not even acknowledge the existence of 21 for the third tone in some contexts. But to be clear, are you saying your professor of classical Chinese did pronounce 孔子 as 21-5? Jan 18, 2014 at 14:24
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    @ColinMcLarty To make sure there is no confusion, this answer is consistent with the other Q/A you've linked in the question, and stated 孔子/老子 should be pronounced with two 3rd tones (sandhi applies to the first character and pronounce like 2nd tone). Pronouncing the second character as neutral tone gives the word a different meaning and is inappropriate (when read like this, 孔子="hole-y" and 老子="who's your daddy").
    – NS.X.
    Jan 18, 2014 at 21:26
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    @ColinMcLarty yes, but he was intentional because it makes him to appear more funny. Jan 18, 2014 at 21:56
  • Tone sandhi does happen in the listed chemical terms. (Sorry to dig up such an old post ...)
    – fefe
    Aug 31, 2017 at 6:15

I have read the original question and the posts. I think they are very good.

I would like to look at the questions from the following aspects, since the original question involved multiple concepts.

(1) Tone change when there are two consecutive tone-3 syllables. It is the first syllable that changes to tone-2.

你好, Ni3 Hao3 -> Ni2 Hao3

孔子, Kong3 Zi3 -> Kong2 Zi3 (古代先师,子=教授)

老子, Lao3 Zi3 -> Lao2 Zi3 (古代先师,子=教授)

(2) Tone change to neutral (tone-5 or tone-0) when there are (a) -Er2, (b) -Zi3, (c) duplication, means the syllable is followed by 儿, 子, or repeating itself, such as 姐姐, 爸爸. In this case, the second syllable becomes (tone-5 or tone-0). The first syllable does not change.

椅子, Yi3 Zi3 -> Yi3 Zi

本子, Ben3 Zi3 -> Ben3 Zi

老子, Lao3 Zi3 -> Lao3 Zi (爸爸,粗话的说法)

*But 孔子, 老子 is not in this category.

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