Which Tone gets the Crown, First or Fourth?

Recently, the new Coronavirus has ravaged the world, and the number of diagnoses globally has reached 3.6 million. But many people misread the “Crown” in “Coronavirus” in Chinese.

Corona entered English around 1555–65. It was borrowed directly from the Latin corōna, meaning “garland, wreath, or crown.” This is where the name “Coronavirus” comes from. The word “ Corona” means “Crown”. “Crown” means “冠 (Guān)” in Chinese, and coronavirus means 冠状病毒 (Guānzhuàng bìngdú).

However, “冠(Guan)” is polyphonic with two pronunciations, with the first tone being “冠 (Guān) ” and the fourth tone being “冠 (Guàn) ”.. Many Chinese people have been pronouncing the word 冠 in 冠状病毒 (Guānzhuàng bìngdú)with the fourth tone, which is a common mistake. In fact, when added different tones, the word 冠 means totally different things.

“冠”:Guān the first tone, used as a noun.

(1) Which means hand-made cloth and other products are added to the head. It is equivalent to a hat.


冠状病毒 (Guānzhuàng bìngdú ) : coronavirus

皇冠 (Huáng guān ) : imperial crown

(2) Which means something like a hat at the top.


鸡冠 (Jī guān) : crest

树冠 (Shù guān) : tree crown

“冠” Guàn the fourth tone, used as a verb.

(1) Which means put on a cap or hat.


冠巾 (Guàn jīn) : headdress

(2) Which means beyond the crowd, ranked first


冠军 (Guàn jūn) : champion

夺冠 (Duó guàn) : win the championship

But how did a virus earn a name that includes the word “crown”? Well, Coronavirus gets its name because its shape looks like the crown of a medieval European emperor. There are many viruses which include the prefix “corona” so it’s nothing new. Yet, you still need to decide which tone you think you should read it as “冠 Guān” or “冠 Guàn”. Take the quiz and let us know what you think in the comments.

HSK 3 quiz

Please choose the best option to fill the blanks.

A. 冠 (Guān)

B. 冠 (Guàn)

(1) Wǒ hěn xǐhuān zhè dǐng wáng ______ .
我很喜欢这顶王 ______ 。

(2) Zhègè jiémù yóu táobǎo ______ míng bō chū.
这个节目由淘宝 ______ 名播出。

(3) Tā méiyǒu gǎnrǎn xīn ______ bìngdú.
他没有感染新 ______ 病毒。

HSK 1 quiz

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