21. Tones in Disyllabic Words

Although learners of Chinese often feel that it is more difficult to identify tones in words with more than one syllable, we just need to practice various combinations of these tones and get used to them.

Words starting with First Tone

1st tone followed by 1st tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
coffee
move
pacesetter, example
colorful

1st tone followed by 2nd tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
drink tea
park
cheap,low
shame

1st tone followed by 4th tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
in and out; discrepancy
low price
atmosphere
coriander; cilantro

Listening Quiz 1

Listen to the audio and give the tone for the second syllable you hear in each disyllabic word.  Enter 1 for first tone, 2 for second tone, or 4 for fourth tone.

Words starting with Second Tone

2nd tone followed by 1st tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
success
cucumber
among which, among them
article

2nd tone followed by 2nd tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
kitchen
classmate
people
Yunnan, a province in China

2nd tone followed by 4th tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
condition
celery
purity
finances (public)

Listening Quiz 2

Listen to the audio and give the tone for the second syllable you hear in each disyllabic word.  Enter 1 for first tone, 2 for second tone, or 4 for fourth tone.

Words starting with Fourth Tone

4th tone followed by 1st tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
air temperature
living room
garrison
trauma

4th tone followed by 2nd tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
last year
pineapple
guest
balloon

4th tone followed by 4th tone

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
trace
send; send; deliver
to create
dreamland

Listening Quiz 3

Listen to the audio and give the tone for the second syllable you hear in each disyllabic word.  Enter 1 for first tone, 2 for second tone, or 4 for fourth tone.

Neutral Tones

The neutral tone, or qingsheng (light sound) never appears at the beginning of a word. It usually occurs in the second syllable of a disyllabic word, between two stressed syllables, or when part of a phrase. Neutral-toned syllables are short and light and are written without tone markings. The pitch height of a neutral tone is influenced by the tone of the syllable immediately proceeding it.

Neutral Tone following 1st tone

In general, a neutral tone is pronounced as a half-low tone after a 1st tone syllable (around 2 in the scale 1-5 where 1 is low and 5 high), for example:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
mom
can understand
let’s go

Neutral Tone following 2nd tone

A neutral tone is pronounced as a middle tone after a 2nd tone syllable (around 3), for example:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
grandpa
much more difficult’
one whose surname is Wu

Neutral Tone following 3rd tone

A neutral tone is pronounced as a half-high tone after a 3rd tone syllable, for example:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
grandma’
cannot get away
have come late

Neutral Tone following 4th tone

A neutral tone is pronounced as a low tone after a 4th tone syllable (around 1), for example:

Character and PinyinEnglish Equivalent
dad
unable to see’
And then?

Listening Quiz 4

Listen to the audio and give the tone for the first syllable you hear in each disyllabic word.  Enter 1 for first tone, 2 for second tone, or 4 for fourth tone.

Listening Quiz 5

Listen to the audio and give the tone for each syllables in the disyllabic words. Enter1 for the 1st tone, 2 for the 2nd tone, 3 for the 3rd tone, 4 for the 4th tone and 5 for the neutral tone. Please use “/” to separate the two tones. For example, if you hear hóng huā, please enter  2/1.

Dictation Quiz

Listen to the audio and provide the complete Pinyin of what you hear using numbers to indicate the tone.  So if you hear chuàng shōu, type chuang4 shou1.