Student Reader

Mandarin tones

There are four tones: the first-tone (high), second-tone (rising), third-tone (dipping) and fourth-tone (falling). There is also a neutral tone.

The tones are pronounced as depicted, except in the case of the third-tone. The third-tone is not always said in full. It is always said in full at the end of a word. When in the middle of a word, it is cut in half. However, in this case it does not merely sound like a falling tone. Since it starts at a higher pitch, when it falls it does not fall as far as a genuine falling tone (which starts at a neutral pitch).

If there is a sequence of consecutive third-tones at the end of a word, then the last is pronounced fully and every other third-tone before it (in the sequence) is pronounced like a second-tone. For example, māmǎmāmǎmǎmǎmǎ would be pronounced like māmǎmāámǎámǎ with the first third-tone (between the two first-tones) being cut in half.

First tone (阴平)( ˉ ), high level.
Second tone (阳平)(ˊ), middle rising.
Third tone (上声)( ˇ ), low dipping.
Fourth tone (去声)(ˋ), high falling.
Tone of unstressed syllable (轻声)(without any marks), low level.

First-tone (high tone)
陰平 阴平 yīnpíng
Pīnyīn: ¯ [example: mā] High like how you recite A, B, C or 1, 2, 3.
Second-tone (rising tone)
陽平 阳平 yángpíng
Pīnyīn: ´ [example: má] Rises like a question -- Ma? Me?
Third-tone (dipping tone)
上 shǎng
Pīnyīn: ˇ [example: mǎ]
Fourth-tone (falling tone)
去 qù
Pīnyīn: ` [example: mà]
Mandarin tonesComments