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Lesson Transcript

Hi everyone.
Welcome to The Ultimate Cantonese Pronunciation Guide.
In this lesson, you'll learn about tone changes in Cantonese.
You'll need to be familiar with Cantonese tones before starting this lesson. If you haven't mastered them yet, go back to our previous lesson to learn about the tones in Cantonese.
When two or more characters are next to each other, the original tonal pronunciation of some characters may change.
Jyutping is quite useful for transcribing Cantonese, but it isn't a perfect system. Jyutping only reflects the original tone of a character, so it normally doesn't account for any tone changes. Keep in mind that we'll represent the tone change in Jyutping, but only for demonstration purposes.
Are you ready? Then let's get started!
This rule applies to two-syllable compound words, and is by far the most common of all tone change rules.
First, consider these two examples.
角落 (gok3 lok6)
The first character is pronounced with the third tone, a mid tone,
角 (gok3)
while the second is pronounced with the sixth tone, a low tone.
落 (lok6)
These two characters can form a two-syllable compound word, so let's put them together.
角落 (pronounce incorrectly - gok3 lok6)
Unfortunately, this pronunciation is incorrect. If the second character in a two-syllable compound word is a low tone, it will typically be uplifted to one of the higher tones, either tone 1 or 2.
In this scenario, the correct pronunciation for this compound word requires us to change the tone of the second character, from a low tone, tone 6, to a higher tone, tone 1.
角落 (pronounce correctly - gok3 lok1)
What about these two characters?
荷蘭 (ho4 laan1)
Together, they form a compound word.
荷蘭 (incorrectly - ho4 laan4)
Factoring in the tone change rule will give us the correct pronunciation for the word "Holland" in Cantonese.
荷蘭 (pronounce correctly - ho4 laan1)
Tone changes are sometimes made to modify the meaning of concepts that are alike.
咁大 (gam3 daai6)
Changing a low tone to tone 1, can add an inferior quality to the original concept
咁大 (gam3 daai1)
Or sometimes a trivial quality...
靚仔 (leng3 jai2) "handsome guy"
靚仔 (leng1 jai2) "(naughty) teenage boy"
Changing a low tone to a tone 2, will alter the meaning of the original concept slightly.
糖 (tong4) "sugar"
糖 (tong2) "candy"
皮 (pei4) "skin"
皮 (pei2) "leather"
頭 (tau4) "head"
頭 (tau2) "chief"
Familial nouns
Tone changes also occur to familial nouns.
Familial nouns require you to change the tone of both characters.
The first syllable dips to tone 4, while the second syllable is lifted to either tone 1 or 2.
爸爸 (incorrectly - baa1 baa1)
爸爸 (baa4 baa1)
哥哥 (incorrectly - go1 go1)
哥哥 (go4 go1)
弟弟 (incorrectly - dai6 dai6)
弟弟 (dai4 dai2)
妹妹 (incorrectly - mui6 mui6)
妹妹 (mui4 mui2)
And here's the final tone change you'll learn in this lesson.
For many verbs and a few adjectives and classifiers, changing to tone 2 will change the word into a noun.
話 (wa6) - to tell
話 (wa2) - speech
掃 (sou3) - to sweep
掃 (sou2) - broom
犯 (faan6) - to commit a crime
犯 (faan2) - criminal
In this lesson, you learned about tone changes in Cantonese.
In the next lesson, we'll review by testing you on the material that we covered in this series.
Which tone change is the most difficult for you? Please comment and share your thoughts!
See you in the next Ultimate Cantonese Pronunciation Guide lesson!


Please to leave a comment.
😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Friday at 06:30 PM
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Which tone change is the most difficult for you?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Sunday at 06:07 PM
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Hi Cecilia,

There are exceptions! A rule of thumb will be, do not dip the tone when it's a name. Another example will be 珍珍 (Jack 'n Jill chips) which is just called “zan1 zan1“ without dipping.

No. 詩詩 do not mean poem. One word 詩 does. In Cantonese (Chinese generally) every word contains a meaning. Since there is no vocabulary that correspond to two repeated words that mean poem, it is evidently clear that 詩詩 is a name. People will not be mistaken for poems.

They might have been calling your friend by English names such as Ceci? Or they might have pronounced it slightly wrong, because it is odd that people dip the tone for this particular name. 😳


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Thursday at 05:53 PM
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ive heard my friend be called “si1 si4” by other chinese friends, are they pronouncing her name wrong then?

Thursday at 05:50 PM
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i’m curious, why does the tone for the name 詩詩 not dip like it does for words like 爸爸(ba4ba1). I thought repeating characters make the tone change. Also, is it true that 詩詩 means poem?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Thursday at 12:13 AM
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Hi Cecilia,

Yes, you're so smart! 詩詩 would be pronounced as si1 si1. That's a beautiful name too! 😆


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Sunday at 08:14 PM
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hi! what about if it’s the same double character? such as the name “ 詩詩”. how would the tone change? as i’m aware, 詩 is the first tone. so would it be pronounced “si1si1” ?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Friday at 05:49 PM
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Hello Tim,

Thank you for your question.

There are always exceptions to the Cantonese tone changing rules. The lesson below introduces the habitual usages and the exception. Hope you find it useful.

Cantonese Tone Change Rules



Team CantoneseClass101.com

Tuesday at 03:34 PM
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Hi. Are there any strict rules of tone changing, like in Putonghua?

Or need to remember each case?

Saturday at 06:22 PM
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Hello Jess,

The tone change rules apply to certain word only.


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Saturday at 12:02 AM
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Hello Ken,

Thank you for your question.

Both 爸爸( baa1 baa1) and 爸爸(baa4 baa1) are correct pronunciation. People pronounce 爸爸( baa1 baa1) usually when they are reading this word in the article. 爸爸(baa4 baa1) is more like a colloquial form of speaking. Sometimes the rule of the changing tone is quite random and you have to just memorize the different pronunciation.


Team CantoneseClass101.com

Sunday at 12:51 AM
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Hi! Do these tone change rules apply to all words or only to specific ones such as the ones used as examples?