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The Four Tones of Mandarin


Mandarin uses four tones to clarify the meanings of words. Since many characters have the same sound, tones are used to differentiate words from each other.

The four tones in Mandarin are:

  • high level – first tone
  • rising – second tone
  • falling rising – third tone
  • falling – fourth tone

Pinyin uses either numbers or tone marks to indicate the tones. Here is the word ‘ma’ with tone marks:

  • First tone: ma1 or
  • Second tone: ma2 or
  • Third tone: ma3 or
  • Fourth tone: ma4 or

The tones are used to determine the meaning of a Mandarin word. So (horse) is very different from (mother).

When learning new vocabulary you must practice both the pronunciation of the word and its tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences.

The following table has sound clips which allow you to hear the tones. Listen to each tone and try to mimic it as closely as possible.

The Four Tones of Mandarin

Pinyin Chinese Character Meaning Sound Clip
mother audio
hemp audio
horse audio
scold audio
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