Ep07: Suffix -á 仔

Ep07: Suffix -á 仔
Pronounce it like a Pro

00:00 / 00:22:30

In this episode, we’ve talked about the special tone changes and sound changes of the “” suffix in Taiwanese.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)


The Dog (Káu1-á) & the Monkey (Kâu7-á)

Tsi̍t4 tsiah2 káu1-á, tsi̍t4 tsiah2 kâu7-á.
There once was a dog, there was also a monkey.

Hit8 tsiah2 káu1-á, beh2-1-khì2-1 kâu7in7 tau tshit8-thô,
That dog wanted to go to the monkey’s house to play, 

Kàu2 puànn2-lōo, hit8 tsiah2 káu1-á, pua̍h3-lo̍h3 kau7-á.
Halfway there, that dog, fell into a ditch.

Kâu7-á tsáu1-khì2-1 káu1-á in7 tau,
So, the monkey ran to the dog’s house, 

The̍h3 tsi̍t4 ki7 kau7-á khì2-1 kau7-á kau7 hit8 tsiah2 káu1-á.
Taking a hook to the ditch in order to hook (and pull up) the dog.


The suffix “-á” is very common in Taiwanese. Historically it derives from “kiánn” (child, son) and later takes on the function of “diminutive suffix” to mean the small or little one, or just to add some color to the noun.

For some nouns it’s optional, like the word for “dog”, “káu” or “káu-á” are essentially the same. However, some nouns are always used with it, like "gín-á" (child).

You might also find “-á” at the end of some adverbs, which is a little like the suffix “-ly” in English.

When a word is suffixed by “-á”, the two syllables are closely merged together and a couple peculiarities happen in relation to the pronunciation of the preceding word: 1) special tone change, and 2) carryover of the ending.


For most nouns that are more than one syllable, the last syllable keeps the original tone, and all the syllables before it change tone.

When you add the suffix “-á”, the tone of the preceding syllable also changes. However, it is influenced by the high falling tone of “-á” so it gets changed again.

Some people call this “double tone change”, i.e. after the normal tone change rule applies, the changed tone is further modified to make it easier to pronounce in context. To not confuse it with normal tone change in Taiwanese, some linguists refer to this secondary tone change as “tonal coarticulation”.

The special tone change rule with the suffix “-á” is that falling tones are further modified to flat tones. Imagine that it’s such a big jump to go from a low register to a high register of “-á” so there’s not enough time to realize the whole falling contour of the preceding word. In other words, the irregular changes (marked with “*”) reflect trying to be closer to the high starting point of the suffix “-á”.

Original Tone change Tone change with -á Example
Tone 1 High flat Mid flat → “Mid” flat or T7 ke7-á 仔 (chicken)
Tone 2 High falling High flat → “High” flat or T1 bué1-á / 1-á 仔 (tail, end)
Tone 3 Mid falling High falling → “High” flat or T1 tànn(2→)1-á 仔 (street vendor)
Tone 4-ptk Mid stop High stop → “High” stop or T8 tik8-á 仔 (bamboo)
Tone 4-h Mid stop High falling → “High” flat or T1 toh(2→)1-á 仔 (table)
Tone 5 Low rising Mid flat/falling → “Mid” flat or T7 7-á 仔 (fish)
Tone 7 Mid flat Mid falling → “Mid” flat or T7 biō(3→)7-á 仔 (small temple)
Tone 8-ptk High stop Mid stop → “Mid” stop or T4 lo̍k4-á 鹿仔 (deer, fawn)
Tone 8-h High stop Mid falling → “Mid” flat or T7 hio̍h(3→)7-á 仔 (leaf)


If the preceding syllable changes to a tone that sets off from the middle pitch range under normal tone change, it only keeps the feature of “mid” when suffixed by “-á”. This includes: T1, T5, T7, T8.

On the other hand, if the preceding syllable changes to a high flat or high falling tone under normal tone change, it only keeps the feature of “high” when suffixed by “-á”. This includes: T2, T3, T4.

You can also think of this as “Tone 234 = High” and the rest are just Mid before “-á”.


The other special thing about the pronunciation has to do with how the consonant endings (or “coda”) of the syllable right before the “-á” -suffix carry over into the next syllable.

These would be syllables that end in the stops -p, -t, -k, or also the nasal endings -m, -n, -ng. Since the glottal stop -h is removed when we add the suffix “-á”, we don’t have to worry about it here.

Note that for the stops -p, -t, and -k, the consonant sound is carried over but also adjusts in preparation for the voiced sound by becoming a “voiced consonant”. Therefore, your vocal cords just keep vibrating through.

You might also notice that the voiced version of “t” should be a “d” but in Taiwanese it is similar to an “l” (i.e. [d] and [l] are allophones in Taiwanese but written as “l” by convention).

Ending Examples Actual pronunciation Meaning
-p a̍p-á b4-bá box
-t tsha̍t-á tsha̍l4-lá thief
-k 鹿lok-á log8-gá bag or sack
-m kam-á kam7-má tangerine
-n kin-á / kun-á kin7-ná / kun7-ná napkin, towel
-ng tháng-á tháng1-ngá bucket, barrel 
-nn înn-á înn7-ánn rice dumpling
Word Actual pronunciation Meaning
ê-á ê7-á shoes
soh-á soh(2→)1 rope
liú-á liú1-á button
bue̍h-á bue̍h(3→)7-á socks
niau-á niau7-á cat
鳥鼠niáu-tshí-á niáu1-tshí1-á mouse
bō-á (3→)7-á hat
夜市iā-tshī-á 3-tshī(3→)7-á night market
kuàn- kuàn(2→)1-ná bottle, can
báng-á ng1-ngá mosquito
tuann-á tuann7-ánn list or a slip of paper
kiat-á kial8-lá kumquat
tiàm-á tiàm(2→)1-má small shop, corner store
sok-á sog8-gá band (e.g. rubber band)
kap-á kab8-bá frog
銀角gîn-kak-á gîn7-kag8-gá coins

Music Credit: TeknoAXE



2 replies on “ Ep07: Suffix -á 仔 ”
  1. Does this rule still apply when a 仔-compound is used to form another compound like in 戇仔鯊 gōng-á-sua? Does the 仔 then undergo normal sandhi rules?

    1. Yes, the same special rules apply to á 仔 even when it is part of a compound, and the á 仔 will then undergo normal sandhi rules. So, 戇仔鯊 gōng-á-sua should have the following tones: gōng7-á1-sua1.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *