I've been practicing tone perception but am having trouble processing tone on the final syllable in some cases. In the video https://youtu.be/2aveJrbSjAk?t=9, I can hear most of the tones no problem. However for the sentence in the linked time stamp, 都穿着防护服, if I ignore context on only try to perceive tone, the 服 sounds neutralized to me.

Praat seems to confirm that their isn't really much of a rise in pitch here, and the voicing is quite short. enter image description here

I realize that a given tone may have many realizations different from the textbook. But to any native speakers or advanced learners out there, does this sound like a tone 2 (without relying on metalinguistic information from context)? Here is the sample in isolation. https://vocaroo.com/14whbuaHJUxa

  • The speaker said with 3rd tone, which is a mistake.
    – r13
    Commented Apr 24 at 13:52
  • I agree with @r13 in fact it may not be an error in general since some chinese accents change tones, but it is an error by standard mandarin chinese. that makes it a bad learning material source :)
    – zagrycha
    Commented Apr 25 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


It sounds like the teacher in the video just read “服” softly(fú to fu).

It was common when people in northern China(especially those in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and Northeast China) use a tone with that characters pronounced softly which called neutral tone, such as the 服 in 衣服(yī fu). By the way, Mandarin is based on Beijing dialect, so it may not be a wrong tone, because there were a lot of neutral tones in Beijing dialect.

So in Mandarin, neutral tones are very common to be used, for example: 椅子(yǐ zi), 月亮(yuè liang), 上面(shàng mian), etc. The second character in these words is pronounced in neutral tones. Some neutral tone words have a pattern, but some don't. that is a difficult part of learning Mandarin.

You can take a look at these articles from Chinese web forums for a brief overview about neutral tones:

And you could find the book or the essays that these authors referenced if you want got a deeper understanding of the neutral tone.

As for the tone fù summer7 mentioned, I need to add something, it is hardly ever used nowadays, maybe it would be used when someone went to a Chinese medicine doctor and the doctor prescribed him a medicine and said "我给你开了一药" that the 服 was a classifier and equal to 副.

  • Ah so is 防护服 a word in this case. I see. Commented Apr 25 at 8:18
  • Yeah, 防护服 is a word, so the teacher in video said 服 with a neutral tone is basically reasonable. In Chinese daily life, due to the dialects, most Chinese people don't speak Mandarin very well either, so if you heard some strange tones from Chinese in some daily videos, just needn't too confuse about it.
    – A Lod
    Commented Apr 25 at 8:54
  • Great answer, but I want to add that her way of pronouncing 防护服 sounds weird to native ears and to isolate her pronunciation of 防护服 could be incomprehensible . To analyze it, the head word shouldn't be neutralized. The above examples all have the other character as the head word. So theoretically I also think it is not reasonable to pronounce it that way. A guess is that in the speech flow there was a lack of breath there. Another guess is the influence of dialect. Many dialects pronounce tone 2 in the falling manner.
    – lilysirius
    Commented May 25 at 12:17
  • Isn't this sort of neutralization common for Northerners for words perceived as lexical items? Couldn't she just be perceiving 防护服 as a unit? I think the length of the tone is as relevant as the contour, and her clipped pronunciation seems to indicate a neutral tone subject to its own sandhi rules given the previous tone and the sentence intonation. Commented May 29 at 20:25

I'm stuck on what tone she is using (I initially thought it was 4 but listening repeatedly I'm no longer positive), but whatever the case it is definitely not a second tone pronunciation.

服 in terms of clothing should always be second tone, however, I have heard many native speakers say 衣服 with fourth tone for 服 (incorrectly of course).

Note that 服 does in fact have a valid fourth tone pronunciation which could also be the cause of this particular incident.

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