Tone Lesson 6 – The Third Tone – Two Third Tones Together

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There are three ways to pronounce the Chinese Third Tone:

In today's lesson we will focus on No.2 - Mandarin two Third Tones together. In this situation, the first Third Tone changes into the Second Tone. This is one of the Chinese Tone changes we have in this course and we will practice it with Pinyin Tone Pairs.

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How to Pronounce "Two Third Tones Together"

In this video lesson, we will try to practice Chinese Two Third Tones Together with Pinyin Tone pairs and some sentences. When there are two Third Tones together, the first one changes into the Second Tone. This is probably one of the most important Chinese Tone changes, and also the first one we will learn. But one thing to be careful is that, Chinese Tone changes only happens while speaking. When we write the Pinyin for Mandarin two Third Tones, we will still write both of them in the Third Tone.

Chinese two Third Tones together is one of the most important Chinese Tone changes. In this video lesson we'll practice it with some fun Pinyin Tone Pairs.
Mandarin Chinese Two Third Tones Together



Why Do We Have Chinese Tone Changes

When people talk in real-life, they tend to talk fast and relaxed. It is difficult and not realistic to pronounce each Tone in the 100% standard way. This is why we have Chinese Tone changes. The Third Tone takes the longest time to pronounce out of all four Tones. To pronounce it, we need to dip down and then go up again. So when there are two Third Tones together, people tend to avoid the difficulty and change the first one into the Second Tone. This is also why it's better to practice with Pinyin Tone pairs, groups and sentences, instead of individual syllables. Because when Tones are together, they compromise and compensate for each other.


How to Master Mandarin Two Third Tones Pronunciation?

Basically, Mandarin two Third Tones sounds nothing different than "Second Tone + Third Tone". To pronounce the sound is easy. But we need to know when and where to apply this Tone change. Here are some tips to master two Third Tones pronunciation.

  1. Remember the Tones of each new word that you learn
  2. Be aware of the words that have two Third Tones together
  3. Do extra pronunciation practice for these words

Practice Chinese Two Third Tones with Pinyin Tone Pairs


shǒu biǎo 手表 wristwatch
lǎo shǔ 老鼠 mouse
xǐ shǒu 洗手 to wash hands
yǒng gǎn 勇敢 brave
yǐng xiǎng 影响 influence


biǎo jué 表决 biǎo jiě 表姐
lǐ yóu 理由 lǐ xiǎng 理想
yǔ xié 雨鞋 yǔ sǎn 雨伞
bǎo quán 保全 bǎo shǒu 保守
jiǔ xí 酒席 jiǔ guǎn 酒馆
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WiseKouichiGuest May 15, 2021 at 5:23 am

OMG, I’m of Chinese descent and never realized I would usually do this. Sometimes when I think about how to pronounce two third tones I dont tone change and have always wondered why it sounded so unnatural.

LaokePremium Student April 27, 2018 at 1:55 pm

How do you distinguish between: 2nd tone + 3rd tone VS. 3rd tone + 3rd tone?
How can you know if it’s a 2nd tone and not a double 3rd tone?

Sound wise, they are the same. Each individual character has its original pronunciation and tone that determines whether it’s 2nd tone + 3rd tone or 3rd tone + 3rd tone. You learn this the first time you study a new word. If you don’t know the word, you’ll have to look it up in a dictionary first.

mzhendricksPremium Student July 9, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Lili, I want to second Laoke’s questions above. Can you provide some examples of words that have the same syllables but with 2-3 and 3-3 tones? I’d be interested to understand the nuance in the pronunciation.

Also, I think another resource I am using (BRAND CROSSED OUT) changes words that have a 3-3 combination into a 2-3 combination, both when pronouncing but also when writing pin yin. For example ni3-hao3 is written as ni2-hao3. Based on your video for this lesson, would you say that this other resource is incorrect? I want to avoid confusion during self-study.

Thanks for your help. I’m really enjoying your lessons so far! I started with the Pin Yin pronunciation set and now am working on tones.

2-2 and 2-3 are pronounced the same. The reason why we can say that 3-3 is pronounced as 2-3 is because the first 3rd Tone is already changed into a standard 2nd Tone. One example 雨水yǔshuǐ and 鱼水yúshuǐ

About the Pinyin marking for 3rd Tone changed into 2nd Tone. All legit Chinese textbooks, dictionaries including textbooks used by native speakers (for example Chinese elementary school kids learning Pinyin and characters) do not mark a 3rd Tone into 2nd Tone just because it’s pronounced that way. The reason is that: the character itself is pronounced in the 3rd Tone everywhere else. If a 3rd-tone character is marked as the 2nd Tone and that happens to be the first time you learn that character, you would think that character is pronounced in the 2nd Tone, which will lead to mistakes in pronouncing other words and phrases. But if you know the 3rd Tone Rule, you can remind yourself to pronounce it in the adjusted way.

wohengaoxingPremium Student August 2, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Would be nice to see the English as well on the text above the Quizz

Thanks for the suggestion!
I didn’t include the English translation because for words in this group, it can be very difficult to explain them in a tiny table cell. I would prefer not to put a direct translation without giving information about how to use them or how to differentiate them from their synonyms. It might lead to improper usage of these words.

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