Characters that change tone or meaning

Sometimes I think the more I study Chinese, the more confused I get. Realising that some characters change their tone or pronunciation was one of those :exploding_head: moments for me a few months ago.

The reason for me posting this is because I just found another one in 转 (轉 traditional) - this can either be zhuǎn or zhuàn. After constantly thinking my mind was playing tricks on my during my Hack Chinese reviews, I looked up the explanation:

转 (轉) zhuǎn: To change a direction (something, someone, a situation)
Examples: 转身 (轉身) zhuǎn shēn, 右转 (右轉) yòu zhuǎn, 情况好转了 (情況好轉了) qíng kuàng hǎo zhuǎn le

转 (轉) zhuàn- to describe something moves around an axis/centre
Examples: 转圈 (轉圈) zhuàn quān, 旋转 (旋轉) xuán zhuàn

Here is also an article that has been helpful to me as part of my Chinese learning journey… although I must say I’m still a little reluctant to accept that character sound/tone change is a thing!

If anyone has anymore that confused them it would be interesting to hear too!


Yes, I remember that moment too. I was just about getting my head around all these characers and how they work with radicals and then I realized that not only characters are super hard to learn, but some simply have two different pronunciations. For no reason whatsoever.

There is no way around it, you have to accept the fact :smiley: It is not too many though and usually the different pronunciations of a character are quite similar and mean reasonably similar things (though not always). The Mandarin term for them is 多音字 , literally “Many Pronunciation Characters”.

In case you feel like some more pain, check out this list of the most difficult Chinese characters there are Most Complex Chinese Characters - What Are The Top 12?

@Katie do we have some resources for Chinese 多音字 that could help Chloe?

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Funny you say that Chloe because in my daily vocab study I learnt 淹没 today which stumped me because the pinyin is yān mò.

Had to double take because I was certain 没 can only be méi but apparently not.

Four years of learning and you can still get those WTF moments!

For those who don’t know 淹没 means to submerge, flood or drown.


I did not know 淹没… :cold_face:

At the moment we don’t have any graphics related to 多音字 but that’s a great idea for a future blog or PDF!


Already beginners meet those. Examples of yesterday:

gan1, clean, dry, …
gàn, to do, to work, tree trunk,…

zhi3, only
zhi1, measure word for birds (and?)

fà, hair
fa1, to send out

How can we handle those characters on hackchinese? @Hack-Chinese-Daniel
E.g. is it possible that those chars get a * or another colour to show us that there are more possible tones and different meanings?
At first of course I always doubted that I remembered well “my tone and meaning” for a char, or I think, maybe the char has a little difference I haven’t discovered yet. Which happens often enough, btw. :see_no_evil:


Each day a new one from now on?? :face_with_raised_eyebrow:
hái, still, yet, even more, (还是 , háishi, or)
and today
is huán, repay, give back, go back

and half a minute later already the next one.
, dì, earth
I was so proud of knowing words like 地中海,the Mediterranean Sea, 地铁,the Underground, 地方,place, room, 地图,the map,
and now it is a
“de”, some strange linking particle.
I’m not complaining, I’m making progress. :star_struck: :upside_down_face:


Interesting! In traditional, most of these are different :slight_smile: e.g. 发 → 髮 and 發; 只 → 只 and 隻. I hadn’t considered that this will be an even bigger problem for simplified!