I'm teaching myself bopomofo/zhuyin keyboard while I'm in Taiwan. My Chinese level is raw beginner too.

I just came across the word for tofu:

  • Hanzi: 豆腐
  • Pinyin: dòufu
  • Zhuyin: ㄉㄡˋㄈㄨ· (or ㄉㄡˋㄈㄨ˙)

We can see that the second syllable is tone 0 a.k.a. tone 5

But if I try to enter it using Microsoft Chinese Traditional New Phonetic IME this way the computer beeps and will not accept the final syllable.

When I look up just the last syllable on its own, it's actually tone 3:

  • Hanzi
  • Pinyin
  • Zhuyin: ㄈㄨˇ

If I type the whole word as ㄉㄡˋㄈㄨˇ in the IME then indeed it does work.

So what's the explanation for this? Is it due to tone sandhi? Or is it a quirk of the IME? Or is it related to some other property of two syllable words and tone 0/5? Is there a name for this and where can I read more about it?

The English Wiktionary and Google Translate both list 豆腐 as having tone 4 + no tone. But I can't be sure whether they are listing pre- or post- tone sandhi rules.

But Baidu dictionary and the book "Chinese for Everyday Scenarios" I've found here in Taiwan lists 豆腐 as having tone 4 + tone 3.

  • Community, I made two tags for the same thing since some people call it zeroth tone and some call it tone five. Please choose whichever is best and make the other a tag synonym. Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 12:08
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    I think it's actually called a neutral tone aswell or 轻声 qīng shēng, literal meaning: "light tone".
    – 50-3
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 21:56
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    I believe most IMEs work like this, whether using pinyin or zhuyin. This is also how you would look up a word in the dictionary based on the pinyin or zhuyin of individual characters.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 2:16
  • @50-3: I consciously avoided calling it neutral tone because in pinyin tone 0/5 is not marked whereas in zhuyin it's tone 1 which is not marked and it seems logical that some people would equate a concept of a neutral tone with a tone that isn't written. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 3:55
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    @QuestionOverflow: In the pinyin IMEs I've used it seems you never type the tone and the number key is used to select a candidate. With the zhuyin IMEs I've used it seems you must type the tone to get the correct candidate list and if you don't type a tone you will only see candidates that have the first tone, which is the default tone in zhuyin and doesn't have a mark so isn't typed. I was really surprised how different they are. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 3:57

1 Answer 1


Yes, you're right. The phenomenon of 豆腐 dòufu is the result of tone sandhi (连续变调 liánxù biàndiào). IME does not support tone sandhi, so you're unable to search for it as a neutral tone. The only accepted tone entry for 腐 is 3rd tone fǔ.

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    @50-3 Well, it's true - you need to type the dictionary reading of each character, regardless of the ones that come before or after.
    – neubau
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 16:26
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    I forgot to mention that IME will have heteronym (破音字 pò yīn zì). The standard accepted change in tones in certain words. It's interesting that sandhi and heteronym are similar (both concerning the change in tone of a character) yet are not regarded as the same thing.
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 21:19
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    Here's a link to a list of 100 common heteronyms chinesewaytogo.org/teachers_corner/phonetic/broke/brokepho.php
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 21:21
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    I've posted a followup question to attempt to figure out what is and what is not tone sandhi: Is there a tone sandhi rule that “4 3” changes to “4 0”? Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 5:31
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    Cool. There's a chat feature? :D Well, I imagine most students don't delve so deep into a language. More power to you for having so much interest in a language. I'm also interested to see if someone can explain more about sandhi rules.
    – amateur
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 5:51

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