Tone Lesson 7 – The Third Tone – Three Third Tones in a Row

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There are three ways to pronounce the Chinese Third Tone:

We already know that when there are two Third Tones in a row, the first one changes into the Second Tone. This type of Tone change is called Chinese Tone Sandhi. What if there are three Third Tones in a row? To decide its pronunciation, we need to know the meaning and structure of the phrase. But if you are a beginner, you can also practice with the video to get used to the Chinese Tone change rules

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Chinese Tone Sandhi: Mandarin Three Third Tones in A Row

Chinese Tone Sandhi refers to the situation where the Tone of a syllable gets changed or modified because of its neighboring syllables. So in Chinese Tone Sandhi are basically the commonly shared Chinese Tone change rules. However, the Tone only changes when speaking, we will still write it as the original Tone.

Mandarin Three Third Tones in a row is one of the many Chinese Tone change rules, and probably deserves the most attention. It is crucial if you want to sound native.


How to Pronounce "Mandarin Three Tones in A Row"

Two Chinese Tone Change Rules

There are only two ways to pronounce Mandarin Three Tones in A Row. The two pictures below display the two Chinese Tone change rules:

Mandarin three Third Tones in a row is one of the most important Chinese Tone change rules. Learn how to pronounce this Chinese Tone Sandhi in this video!
Mandarin Three Third Tones in A Row: Tone Sandhi No.1

Mandarin three Third Tones in a row is one of the most important Chinese Tone change rules. Learn how to pronounce this Chinese Tone Sandhi in this video!
Mandarin Three Third Tones in A Row: Tone Sandhi No.2

Three Types of Three Third Tones Structure

There are three different ways for three Third-Tone syllables to be put together, as shown in the chart below. We need some vocabulary and grammar skills to analyze the structure and decide the Chinese Tone change rules here. But nothing too advanced.

A B C (A B) + C A + (B C)
jiǔ jiǔ jiǔ yǎn jiǎng gǎo xiǎo lǎo hǔ
九九九 演讲稿 老虎
nine nine nine speech paper little tiger
jiú jiú jiǔ yán jiáng gǎo xiǎo láo

In Situation I, three number "nine" are equally put together, the first two syllables both change into the Second Tone.
In Situation II, (syllable A + B) is a word, and it modifies syllable C. Both (syllable A + B) change into the Second Tone.
In Situation III, syllable A is a word, and it modifies (syllable B + C). Only syllable B changes into the Second Tone. Also, syllable A in this situation is actually pronounced in the Half Third Tone, which we'll discuss in the next lesson.

Mandarin Three Third Tones in A Row – ChineseTone Sandhi Drills


A + B + C
shuǐ huǒ tǔ 水火土 water, fire, earth shuí huó
jiǎ yǐ bǐng  甲乙丙 A,B,C; 1,2,3; I, II, III jiá yí bǐng
mǎ gǒu hǔ 马狗虎 horse, dog, tiger má góu
wěn zhǔn hěn  稳准狠 steady, accurate, firm wén zhún hěn


(A B) + C
guǎn lǐ 管理 management team guán lí
zhǎn lǎn guǎn 展览 exhibition hall zhán lán guǎn
yǒng yuǎn hǎo 永远 always good yóng yuán hǎo
shǒu xiě 手写 handwriting form shóu xié


A + (B C)
hěn yǒng gǎn 勇敢 very brave hěn yóng gǎn
lǎo shǔ  老鼠 Mickey Mouse láo shǔ
mǎi shǒu biǎo 手表 to buy watch mǎi shóu biǎo
hǎo yǐng xiǎng 影响 good influence hǎo yíng xiǎng
Collapse Comments

老板打游戏 ???

ra_schmiPremium Student November 7, 2020 at 3:40 pm

Hello, I find your pronunciation of A + (B C) pretty confusing.
You say that it should 3rd tone + (2nd tone 3rd tone), but your pronunciation of A never sounds like 3rd tone like it does with C. Why is this?

ChineseFor.UsAcademic Team November 23, 2020 at 1:24 pm

I’m glad and impressed that you noticed the difference between A and C. In this lesson we focused on 3rd Tone changing into 2nd Tone. Here A is actually pronounced in the Half 3rd Tone. The Half 3rd Tone will be explained in details in the next two lessons.

RC13Premium Student August 22, 2022 at 9:34 pm

I thought this too… the first syllable in that example didn’t even sound like the third tone.
Then I kept reading the notes and notice that the first syllable actually turns into the “Half 3rd Tone”, which will be discussed in the next lessons.

sofia_bPremium Student March 22, 2020 at 5:01 am

Hi Lili, do you think it makes sense to start memorizing the words that come up in the tone lessons at this stage, or would it just cause too much confusion? 🙂 I have a feeling that it would be better for me to start with some basic vocabulary and then proceed with “paper tiger” and the like.. 🙂

By the way, really enjoying the lessons, I find the videos and notes very comprehensive and helpful.
Thanks a lot!

Hi Sofia,

For beginners it’s unnecessary to memorize these vocabulary.

david.rappoPremium Student January 29, 2019 at 2:36 am

I wish that I had found this site earlier. I purchased a text book that covered HSK Level 1. It explained the tone rules covered in lesson six (two third syllable’s in a row). However, it did not explain how to pronounce three or even four third tone syllable’s in a row (e.g. 我也想走) Listening to the recorded conversions (with Chinese speakers) did not help because I could never be sure if the speaker used second or third tone to pronounce a syllable or if I imagined it.

I also like that each video is accompanied by notes so I can watch the video, read the notes, then maybe watch the video again.

Rush3112Premium Student August 24, 2019 at 6:28 am

really nice tip to go through script first and then video!!

warriors_guyStudent September 4, 2018 at 9:31 am

Hi! So for the three types of three 3rd tone structures, in the third structure, xiao remains a 3rd tone because it is its own word, right? If so, then in the first structure, why doesn’t the first jiu remain a third tone, since jiu is its own word too? Shouldn’t it be jiu(3rd tone)+jiu(2nd tone)+jiu(3rd tone)?

JanoPremium Student March 2, 2018 at 8:36 pm

Hi Lili,

I and also many others beginners have a lot of trouble with long sequences of 3rd tones.
I got already some hints from teachers/chinese persons, you can separate some chunks according to grammatical structure and speak them separately.
You made the point that we should do the tone sandhi separate for each (description particle plus word). So i don’t need to transfer the tone Sandhi for example between Subject and Predicate?

Example for my question: 我有很多事情要做。

I appreciate further details on this topic!

Kind Regards

For the Third Tone, just remember that unless there is a pause in-between, two full third Tones are never spoken together. The rules of [(AB) + C] and [A + (BC)] applies for [Subject + Predicate] as well. The number of characters decide whether to apply [(AB) + C] or [A + (BC)]. For your example, would be “Wǒ yóu(/yǒu) hěnduō shìqing yào zuò”.

JanoPremium Student March 19, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Thanks Lili for the explanation.

Where to make breaks in chinese sentences is another difficult question for me. Maybe you could explore this topic in the future.

Rush3112Premium Student August 24, 2019 at 6:26 am

what if there is (AB) + (CD) situation?

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