If two syllables in Mandarin have the same vowels but different tones, can the syllables be said to rhyme according to native speakers?

I was tempted to ask this question about all tone languages, but realized that the criteria for rhyming might vary from language to language for all I know.

I will gladly read answers to this question as it relates to other tone languages.

  • Would this question be better suited to the Chinese Language and Usage StackExchange?
    – acattle
    Jun 20, 2012 at 17:04
  • 1
    In the body of the question, I already explained a) the reason that I asked about Mandarin alone, and b) my interest in analogous findings for other tone languages. Jun 20, 2012 at 17:19
  • My bad. Still, a crosspost might be a good idea.
    – acattle
    Jun 21, 2012 at 2:59

2 Answers 2


As a native speaker, I'd say yes to that; 'BUT' they never have to be in same tone to rhyme

  • I'm willing to accept native speaker intuitions as data. The pop-song data in Stumpy Joe Pete's answer seems consistent with Theo lap's statement. Jun 22, 2012 at 3:05

This depends on the meaning of "can be said to rhyme". Judgments about the acceptability of rhyming really only make sense in a particular artistic context. I'm using classical Chinese poetry and modern Mandarin pop songs as examples.

Classical Chinese Poetry

The rules about rhyming in classical Chinese poetry are complicated. Syllables which rhymed in Middle-Chinese often don't in Mandarin (and vice versa); in order to even assess whether a poem rhymes properly, you need to look up all the characters' Middle-Chinese tones and so forth. Also, since this style of poetry was being written well after the vernacular pronunciation had changed substantially, the writers had to look this stuff up in order to write poems that rhymed.

[Of the 13-yuán rime] As a so-called 险韵 “treacherous rime,” it was often assigned as the required rhyme on official poetry examinations, so that nervous candidates would mistakenly include words in an3b in the rhyme scheme. Or they might include words in an3a in a poem whose rhyme scheme was limited to an3b and an4. In either case, they would be considered to have 出韵 “left the rhyme-scheme”. ... In late Manchu times, 王闓運 (1833-1916) wrote a poem teasing his colleague 高心夔 (1835-1883), who twice received low scores on the official exams when the appearance of 13-yuán caused him to “leave the rhyme-scheme.” Wáng wrote:


[Two fourth-place finishes in one lifetime — to hell with 13-yuán!]

For a more complete exposition of this, read page 29 to 53 of this.

Mandarin Pop Songs

Pop songs rhyme. Mostly. Except when they don't. It's pretty much the same as in English pop songs. I did manage to find a couple of approximate rhymes:


zhuan3 yan3 guo4 qu4 duo1 nian2 shi4 jian1 duo1 shao3 li2 he2 bei1 huan1

曾经志在四方少年 羡慕南飞的雁

ceng2 jing1 zhi4 zai4 si4 fang1 shao4 nian2 xian4 mu4 nan2 fei1 de yan4

各自奔前程的身影 匆匆渐行渐远

ge4 zi4 ben1 qian2 cheng2 de shen1 ying3 cong1 cong1 jian4 xing2 jian4 yuan3

未来在哪里平凡 啊谁给我答案

wei4 lai2 zai4 na3 li3 ping2 fan2 a shui2 gei3 wo3 da2 an4

Note, that despite the pinyin, huan and yuan do not have the same vowel. Also, yan and an don't either.

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