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When does 一 change tone?


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The word 一, pronounced yī in isolation, is said to change its tone to yí before a fourth tone syllable and yì before a first, second, or third tone syllable. However, from what I have gathered, there are exceptions to this; cases where 一 is still pronounced yī before another full syllable. My question is: What are these exceptions? I can imagine that some conflict could arise in certain situations with the word 亿, which is always pronounced yì. And when reading a date, such as 1987, should I say "yī jiǔ bā qī" or "yì jiǔ bā qī"?

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From 现代汉语规范词典:

1. 用作序数或用在句尾仍读阴平,如“一、思想好,二、学习好”、“第一”、“十月一日”、“一排二班”、“感情专一”;
2. 用在去声前边为阳平,如“一并”、“一定”、“一望无际”;
3. 用在阳平、阴平、上声前,变为去声,如“一般”、“一回”、“一览无余”。

Rules of tone sandhi for “一” in the middle of a sentence:
1. Used as an ordinal number or at the end of a sentence it stays first tone, for example “一、思想好,二、学习好”, “第一”, “十月一日”, “一排二班”, “感情专一”;
2. Used in front of a fourth tone it changes to a second tone, for example “一并”, “一定”, “一望无际”;
3. Used in front of a first, second or third tone, it changes to a fourth tone, for example “一般”, “一回”, “一览无余”.


Ordinal numbers here includes dates, so “1987年” would be “yī jiǔ bā qī nián”.


As for “亿”, as far as I understand, no particular allowances are made for this: as such, “十一包烟” (11 packs of cigarettes) and “十亿包烟” (a billion packs of cigarettes) are in theory pronounced exactly the same. I guess it's just generally clear from context (I think you'd also tend to stress “亿” more than you would “一”).


Edit: actually, now I think about it, I don't think this ambiguity arises, because “十一包烟” is actually pronounced “shí bāo yān”, and tone sandhi doesn't apply to “一” as a unit at the end of a number, only as the number 1 or as a part of a longer number (so 1111元 “一千一百一十一块钱” would be “qiān bǎi shí kuàiqián”). As for a hundred million, that would always be said as “一亿” (“yíyì”) rather than simply “亿”, hence no ambiguity. I'm not entirely certain about any of this stuff (except the “一亿” thing), so if I'm wrong please correct.

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一 at the end of sentence is first tone, before fourth tone is second tone,before first second and third tone is fourth tone, between verb is light tone

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People normally say 一个亿,两个亿 etc to avoid misheard.

You can check the link here http://pic3.zhimg.com/5e58f3e1cab9364388aa55c404c734ee_r.jpg to see the examples of changing tone and not change tone


As a native speaker, I have been wrong to pronounce 一for a long time. Thank you for bringing this up.

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Very nice chart, thank you! Would this be an accurate English translation of it?


"一" does not change tone:

  • When it is said in isolation. ("一" one)
  • When it is located at the end of a phrase, as in:
    • 第一 (first)
    • 二十一 (twenty-one)
    • 始终如一 (idiom meaning "unswerving from start to finish")
  • When it represents a specific amount or number, as in:
    • 一二三 (one two three)
    • 一九八四 (1984)
  • When it represents an ordinal number or is part of an idiom, as in:
    • 一号 (1 as the first day of a month, as in "January 1")
    • 一五一十 (idiom meaning "count by fives and tens")
    • 一无所知 (idiom meaning "not knowing anything at all")

"一" changes tone:

  • To the second/rising tone before a fourth/falling-tone syllable, as in 一件事 (one matter).
  • To the fourth/falling tone before the following non-fourth/falling-tone syllables:
    • The first/level tone, as in 一封信 (one letter).
    • The second/rising tone, as in 一行人 (one pedestrian).
    • The third/dipping tone, as in 一小会儿 (a little while).
  • To the fifth/neutral tone between reduplicated words, as in:
    • 想一想 (think a little)
    • 听一听 (listen a little)
    • 等一等 (wait a little)
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Yes almost right.



  • 一五一十 (idiom meaning "count by fives and tens")

I am not sure what the meaning of 'count by fives and tens', in my own definition is 'use great detail to describe' for example 你把事情经过一五一十告诉我。 Tell me the story in detail.

  • The second/rising tone, as in 一行人 (one pedestrian) 
  • 行is multiple pronunciation character , 一行(xing 2)人,one pedestrian, but when 一 represents a specific amount or number, 一 should be the first tone, so here 行 should use other pronunciation hang 2, 行(hang 2) means line/row 一行人means a row of people .extended meaning a group of people. For example 一行人站在这里干什么?Why is the group of people standing here?
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OK, thanks. I got most of my definitions (where I didn't already know them, which was in most cases) from MDBG, including the idioms. I saw that 行 had several definitions, and wasn't exactly sure how to translate it, but I see how that definition makes more sense. Come to think of it, is 一行人 as "one pedestrian" even grammatically correct? Wouldn't it have to have a classifier, like 一个行人 (in which case I believe 一 would be in the second tone)?

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No, normally northern Chinese people use 俩and 仨 for example 哥俩 or 哥仨


Written Vernacular Chinese (Chinese白話Chinese白话pinyinbáihuà) refers to forms of written Chinese based on the vernacular language, in contrast to Classical Chinese, the written standard used during imperial China to the early twentieth century.[1] 


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@maomao2014: that chart is perfect :clap


I disagree about “一行人” necessarily being more 白话 than “一个行人”, though. How many classifiers do you see in 文言文?


Omitting classifiers is done in (at least) the following four situations (there are probably more I've forgotten/don't know about):

  • In classical Chinese (“三人行必有我师焉”)
  • Sometimes, but not always, in colloquial speech (“快走到家了,一小孩子大概7-8岁左右,举起一砖头向我扔了过来” link)
  • In newspaper headlines (“济南一女子赤裸上身坐公交” link)
  • Quoting the price per something (“20元一票”)

Even in the above circumstances, if the classifier is strictly speaking a measure word (“一酒”、“千之行”、“100高” etc.), it definitely won't be ommitted.

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“小” is just an adjective there, but “会儿” is actually a classifier itself rather than a noun - you could say “一会儿时间” or “一小会儿时间”. Bear in mind that it's often the noun which gets omitted when it's clear from context what it is.

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Oh, I see. In that case, is there any instance of 一 changing tone when it isn't either a) in front of a classifier or b) in front of a power of ten as part of a number (as in 一百 or 二万一千三百八十六)?


I think that using or not using a classifier in front of a noun makes no difference as to whether tone sandhi applies, so “一位女子” is yí wèi nǚzǐ, whilst “一女子” would be yì nǚzǐ.


Edit: ignore the above, according to maomao2014 it should be first tone (no sandhi) if there's no classifier.



@ Demonic _Duck  No classifier in 文言文. In 白话文,you sometimes can see classifier,sometimes not. That's why I say 一行人is a bit like 白话文.


I might be understanding what 白话文 actually means, then. I always assumed it meant anything from early stuff written in 新青年 right up to what you can read in modern newspapers, essays etc. but it seems what you're referring to is that early period in contrast to written modern standard Chinese. Or am I mixed up? :conf

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