Tones (声调)

The tone marks are used to indicate the pitch as well as the change of tone in the entire syllable. Syllables comprised of the same set of initial and final sound differently in different tones.

In Chinese, there are four basic tones, which can be annotated by using different tone marks.

Let’s use the syllables ma as example, so you can feel the difference between the four tones.

The First Tone features a steady high sound. It is denoted by a macron “-”.
Example:

The Second Tone features a sound that rises from mid-level to high. It is denoted by an acute accent “/”.
Example:

The Third Tone features a sound that starts with a mid-low to low descent which is followed by a rising pitch to high. It is denoted by a hacek “V”.
Example:

The Fourth Tone features a sound that falls sharply from high to low. It is denoted by a grave accent “\”.
Example:

Apart from the four tones, some syllables are pronounced light and short. They are said to have “neutral tone”. Neutral tone has no accent mark at all.
Example: ma

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Where are the tone marks placed?

    Please note the following three points:

  • It shall be added above a vowel.
  • It shall be added above the vowel that has the highest “priority”. The vowels are ordered in the following priority (from the highest to the lowest):
    a o e i u ü
  • When a syllable has both “i” and “u” in it, it shall be added on the one that comes latter. For example: huì

If you would like more practice on the tones, you may practise them in characters, phrases and sentences.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 7th, 2010 at 9:50 pm and is filed under Audio, Lessons, Pinyin. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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