Did you know there was a 5th tone in Mandarin Chinese? Many Chinese learners just refer to this tone as having ‘no tone’ or being ‘neutral’. However, this ‘no tone’ actually has rules that can change the way a character or bigram is spoken. The way the 5th Chinese tone is used in spoken Chinese often comes naturally, but you can get to grips with how to use the ‘neutral’ tone by reading the following.
a. Modal Particles
Modal particles are used in Chinese to reflect a specific mood and often use the 5th Chinese tone.
你喜欢这部电影吗? (nǐ xǐ huan zhè bù diàn yǐng ma?) Did you enjoy the film?
我们上车吧。(wǒ men shàng chē ba) Let’s get on the bus!
学汉语真不容易啊！ (xué hàn yǔ zhēn bù róng yì a!) It’s so difficult to learn Chinese!
你会说英语吗？(nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma) Can you speak English?
会 (huì) Yes, I can.
汉语呢？(hàn yǔ ne) How about Chinese?
不会 (bú huì) No, I can’t.
Learn more modal particles in our article, The Complete Guide to Chinese Modal Particles.
b. Monosyllabic Auxiliary Particles
随着 (suí zhe) following
我吃完了 (wǒ chī wán le) I‘ve finished eating.
这是我的书。(zhè shì wǒ de shū) = This is my book.
他默默地把饭吃完了。(tā mò mò de bǎ fàn chī wán le) He finished the meal quietly.
她高兴得说不出话来了。 (tā gāo xìng de shuō bù chūhuà lái le) She was so happy she was unable to speak.
他们 (tā men) they
朋友们 (péng you men) friends
Read our article, The Complete Guide to Chinese Sentence Particles for more information about these Chinese particles.
2. Noun Suffixes
The fifth tone is used for noun suffixes such as 头 (tou), 儿 (er) and 子 (zi).
头 (tou) is not often used in the fifth tone, but does so when it follows a noun, for example:
甜头 (tián tou) benefit (lit: sweet taste of success)
个头 (gè tóu) height
The 5th tone ‘儿’ is used after a noun to suggest something is small or cute.
点儿 (diǎnr) little bit
花儿 (huār) a flower
The fifth tone is also used when 子 (zi) is added to a noun (which it is, often), for example:
儿子 (ér zi) son
妻子 (qī zi) wife
房子 (fáng zi) house
鼻子 (bí zi) nose
3. Duplication of Nouns and Verbs
Verbs can sometimes be duplicated in Chinese to soften a suggestion or instruction. The second character takes a 5th tone to reflect the sentiment and tone.
看看 (kàn kan) means ‘to take a look’ at something instead of the more harsh sounding, ‘看’.
4. Monosyllabic verbs used after the word describing direction
Verb + 来/去: means the direction of the action
1）Verb + 来 means the action is heading to the speaker and coming closer to the speaker.
欢迎回来 (huān yíng huí lai) Welcome back.
2) Verb + 去 indicates that the action is heading away from the speaker.
时间不早了，你可以回去了。(shí jiān bù zǎo le, nǐ kě yǐ huí qu le) It is late now, you can go back.
You can practise your Chinese tones with our Chinese Tone Trainer.
5. Location words after Nouns
Sometimes when location words, such as 上 (shàng) up,下 (xià) down and 里 (lǐ) in, are used with a noun they take on the 5th tone:
墙上 (qiáng shang) on the wall
外面 (wài mian) outside
心里 (xīn li) in the heart
乡下 (xiāng xia) countryside
6. Pronouns used with a verb as an object
If a pronoun, you, he, it etc, is used after a verb the pronoun becomes a 5th tone:
找你 (zhǎo nǐ) try and find you.
请他 (qǐng tā) invite him.
叫我 (jiào wǒ) call me.
7. “个” used as a measure word
个 is the standard measure word used with nouns in Chinese and uses the 5th tone.
一个 (yī ge) a/an
那个 (nà ge) that (one)
8. “一” or “不” between two duplicated words
看一看 (kàn yi kàn) Have a look
好不好 (hǎo bu hǎo) Is it ok？