Tone Lesson 8 – Chinese Tone Change Rule: Half 3rd Tone (1)

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There are three ways to pronounce the Chinese Pinyin Third Tone:

Today we will learn the Half Third Tone. It is also called the Mandarin low Tone. This is another example of Mandarin Chinese Tone rules. And we will practice it along the video.

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Mandarin Chinese Third Tone: Three Pronunciations

So far we've learned the Original Full Third Tone, the Third Tone changed into the Second Tone, and today's lesson is about Half Third Tone. The way to pronounce them is shown in the picture below:

A video on Half Third Tone - Mandarin Low Tone, one of the ways to pronounce Chinese Pinyin Third Tone and one of the major Mandarin Chinese Tone rules.
The Three Ways to Pronounce Chinese Pinyin Third Tone

No.1 - The Original Full Third Tone: starts semi-high, dips down and then goes up again.
No.2 - Third Tone becomes Second Tone: it becomes the Second Tone.
No.3 - Half Third Tone: the second half of the Full Third Tone is not pronounced. It's short and low, but you can still hear a little dipping down.


Why Do We Have the Half Third Tone

Just like all other Mandarin Chinese Tone rules, we have the Half Third Tone to avoid difficult pronunciation. And just like two Third Tones are difficult to pronounce, when the Third Tone goes before other Tones, it is just as challenging. So when the Third Tone goes before the First, the Second or the Fourth Tone, we don't pronounce the second half of the Third Tone. Instead, we start semi-high, and just dip down. When you hear it, the Half Third Tone is very low and short, but not as light or vague as the Neutral Tone. That is why the Half Third Tone is also called the Mandarin Low Tone.

A video on Half Third Tone - Mandarin Low Tone, one of the ways to pronounce Chinese Pinyin Third Tone and one of the major Mandarin Chinese Tone rules.
Half Third Tone: When Chinese Pinyin Third Tone goes before the First, the Second or the Fourth Tone

Mandarin Chinese Tone Rules: Half Third Tone Drills


xǐ huān 喜欢 to like
shǒu jī  手机 cellphone 
jiǎn dān  简单 simple; easy
hǎo chī  好吃 (of food) delicious
xiǎo xīn  小心 careful 
 xǐ huān shǒu jī jiǎn dān
(I) like (my) cellphone simple.


nǚ 'ér 女儿 daughter
lǚ yóu  旅游 to travel
wǎng qiú  网球 tennis 
xuǎn zé  选择 to choose 
kě néng  可能 might 
nǚ 'ér kě néng xuǎn zé wǎng qiú
The daughter might decide to play tennis.


kǎo shì 考试 exam; test
pǎo bù  跑步 to run 
zhǔn bèi  准备 to prepare 
mǎ shàng  马上 right away 
nǔ lì  努力 to work hard
mǎ shàng nǔ lì zhǔn bèi kǎo shì
(I’ll) be working hard to prepare for the exam right away.
Collapse Comments
tenshiPremium Student June 21, 2022 at 2:09 am

That was extremely helpful. Thank you!

David BadePremium Student October 5, 2020 at 1:22 am

I find a bit of beer ( or other drink containing alcohol), helps loosen my tongue for these drills 🙂

Xiao DanPremium Student May 3, 2020 at 1:51 am

So fun discussing these tone lessons with my girlfriend.
If I quiz her about these rules specifically she has no idea what i’m talking about, but if I ask her to read the example you provide she applies the rules instinctively and then says “fine” when she realizes what I was saying is correct 🙂

Great course, I have used so many other resources and they have never taught me all of these important rules.

Haha, I’m glad you were able to speak Chinese with your girlfriend! 😀

Rush3112Premium Student September 6, 2019 at 3:39 am

Hi, I am having difficulties in lesson 8,9,10 and so on. what should i do to improve my tone understanding ?

david.rappoPremium Student February 12, 2019 at 12:57 am


I have a quick question.

In this lesson we saw that if a third tone syllable is followed by a syllable in any other tone then the third tone syllable changes to half third tone e.g. 考试

What about 我的树? Is 我 pronounced using the full third tone, or half third tone?



这什么啊Premium Student July 5, 2018 at 2:18 pm

So then in the example sentence wǒ shàng wǎng kàn hàn yǔ bào zhǐ from lesson 5, only the 3rd tone in zhǐ should be pronounced like a full 3rd tone? Because the other ones are followed by the 4th tone.

So then it’s only pronounced fully if either nothing or a neutral tone comes after? Which is pretty rare I guess.

RC13Premium Student August 24, 2022 at 6:55 pm

I think this is correct!!

Quite interesting.
I am a beginner (still A1/HSK1-Level,though trying for 2 years now to learn chinese).
My chinese wife says, all these tone rules are too complicated.
I should go always for the full third tone, everybody will understand me.

What is your advise here?
Should i use this a help for listeining to chinese people?
Or should I also use the semi 3rd tones from the beginning?

Third tone changing into the second Tone is a rule taught in Elementary schools in China to native speakers. It is very important and if one doesn’t apply it while talking, it wouldn’t sound right.

The half Third Tone is not taught to native speakers because it is not as big of a change, but it is a Linguistically recognized phenomenon, which native speakers apply it naturally, even without realizing it. If not applied, it would sound exaggerated and forced.

Tone change can be tricky both for beginners and advanced learners. It is okay to speak without being 100% standard. A lot of Chinese people don’t even speak 100% standard Mandarin. But trying to do one’s best and speak as standard as we can is always going to help us communicate with people better.

Also there is no hurry in being 100% standard at the very beginning. These practice drills are for beginners as well as advanced learners who’ve been learning Chinese for years.

Fonzie!Premium Student November 16, 2020 at 3:38 pm

So if I understand correctly, the short of this is “Yes, although you will talk with a strong foreign accent if you don’t use this, they’ll understand you”, right?

MoritzPremium Student January 27, 2018 at 8:38 am

This is really helpful! Thank you so much!

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