Tone changes for multiple consecutive third tones

Also known as: tone sandhi and 变调规则 (biàndiào guīzé).

This page is about what happens when there are a bunch of 3rd tones in a row. How is the tone change rule for third tone applied? Unfortunately, the answer is "it's complicated."

This is also not an aspect of tone changes that is 100% necessary for every serious learner to master. There's a bit of subjectivity to it, and definitely some wiggle room.

Theory vs. Practice

In theory, all third tones would become second tone except for the very last one. In practice, such a "string" of third tones doesn't usually go beyond three in a row. This is because in natural speech multiple third tones in a row will usually broken up by pauses. In this case, the last word/character in each "group" will be pronounced as a third tone.

So, in theory, it would go like this:

  • 3-3-3-3-3-3 → 2-2-2-2-2-3

In practice, it usually goes something like this:

  • 3-3-3-3-3-3 → 2-2-3, 2-2-3



Sources and further reading