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 pitchSecond tone: rising, start from a lower pitch and end at a slightly higher pitchThird tone: falling rising, start at a neutral tone then dip to a lower pitch before ending at a higher pitchFourth 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 māSecond tone: ma2 or máThird tone: ma3 or mǎFourth 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 Understanding Mandarin Chinese Tones How to Pronounce 'Xi Jinping's' Name How to Say Good Morning and Good Evening in Chinese Did You Know You Can Learn Mandarin Chinese with Pinyin Romanization? How to pronounce Li Keqiang, China's premier How to Say "Hello" in Mandarin Chinese Here's How to Say 'Thank You' in Chinese How to pronounce Ma Ying-jeou (Ma Ying-jiu) Here's How to Say Deng Xiaoping - Even if You Can't Speak Chinese Beginner's Tips on Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation How to Pronounce and Use 什么 Shenme Learning the Mandarin Chinese Tone System How to Pronounce Tsai Ing-wen (Cai Ying-wen) Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Chinese How Do You Use Mandarin Numbers? How Do You Pronounce "Mao Zedong"?