Languages › Mandarin The Four Mandarin Chinese Tones Share Flipboard Email Print Mandarin Pronunciation Mandarin History and Culture Vocabulary Understanding Chinese Characters By Qiu Gui Su Chinese Language Expert Qiu Gui Su is a native Mandarin speaker who has taught Mandarin Chinese for over 20 years. our editorial process Qiu Gui Su Updated November 04, 2019 Tones are an essential part of proper pronunciation. In Mandarin Chinese, many characters have the same sound. Therefore tones are necessary when speaking Chinese in order to differentiate words from each other. Four Tones There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese, which are: First tone: a level and higher pitch Second tone: rising, start from a lower pitch and end at a slightly higher pitch Third tone: falling rising, start at a neutral tone then dip to a lower pitch before ending at a higher pitch Fourth tone: falling, start the syllable at a slightly higher than neutral pitch then go quickly and strongly downwards Reading and Writing Tones Pinyin uses either numbers or tone marks to indicate the tones. Here is the word ‘ma’ with numbers and then tone marks: First tone: ma1 or mā Second tone: ma2 or má Third tone: ma3 or mǎ Fourth tone: ma4 or mà Note that there is also a neutral tone in Mandarin. It's not considered a separate tone, but it is an unaccented syllable. For example, 嗎 / 吗 (ma) or 麼 / 么 (me). Pronunciation Tips As mentioned earlier, tones are used to determine which Mandarin Chinese word is being implied. For example, the meaning of mǎ (horse) is very different from mā (mother). Thus when learning new vocabulary, it is really important to practice both the pronunciation of the word and its tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences. The following table of tones has sound clips which allow you to hear the tones. Listen to each tone and try to mimic it as closely as possible. Pinyin Chinese Character Meaning Sound Clip mā 媽 (trad) / 妈 (simp) mother audio má 麻 hemp audio mǎ 馬 / 马 horse audio mà 罵 / 骂 scold audio Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Su, Qiu Gui. "The Four Mandarin Chinese Tones." ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/four-tones-of-mandarin-2279480. Su, Qiu Gui. (2020, January 29). The Four Mandarin Chinese Tones. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/four-tones-of-mandarin-2279480 Su, Qiu Gui. "The Four Mandarin Chinese Tones." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/four-tones-of-mandarin-2279480 (accessed June 20, 2021). copy citation How to Pronounce 'Xi Jinping's' Name Understanding Mandarin Chinese Tones How to Say Good Morning and Good Evening in Chinese Pinyin Romanization to Learn Mandarin How to Say "Hello" and Other Greetings in Mandarin Chinese How to Pronounce "Thank You" in Chinese How to Pronounce Deng Xiaoping How to pronounce Li Keqiang, China's premier An Insider's Guide to Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation Daily Mandarin Lesson: "What" in Chinese How to Pronounce the Name of Taiwanese Politician Tsai Ing-wen Learning Mandarin Chinese How to Pronounce "Mao Zedong" How to Say Goodbye in Chinese How to Pronounce Chongqing, One of China's Major Cities How to Pronounce the Chinese City "Shenzhen"