The third tone in Mandarin Chinese is one of the most difficult for westerners to pronounce. It is a tone that goes down and then up.
There are two versions of the third tone in everyday speech:
- The “emphatic” version, longer and clearer, often used when the third tone word is pronounced alone.
- The “scratchy” version, which is shorter and often used when the third tone word is within a longer sentence
Also important to note: when two third tone words are pronounced next to each other, the first one will switch to the second tone.
The best way to learn this is through hearing it and hearing it described, the video and audio below do this:
As with all tones in Chinese, while the tone does directly affect the meaning of individual words, the tone that any particular word has in modern Chinese is merely a coincidence of the evolution of the language and has no particular significance.