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 mā
- Second tone: ma2 or má
- Third tone: ma3 or mǎ
- Fourth tone: ma4 or mà
The tones are used to determine the meaning of a Mandarin word. So mǎ (horse) is very different from mā (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|