The Four Tones in Chinese

The four tones in Chinese
People who never spoke a tonal language had hard time to understand what the tone is. In fact, English does involve tones, but it is more subtle than Chinese. In English, there is accent, that put emphasize on certain part of a word. Tone is somehow similiar to accent, but more emphasize on how the vowel is pronounced. In chinese there are four different tones, the flat tone is the easiest to understand, basically like in singing, you keep the tone unchanged. The second tone is changing to higher pitch, as in the end of an English question sentence such as in the end of "Do you speak English?". The third tone which is called changing tone is a little hard to understand, I will explain it at thelast. The forth tone is downward tone, it happens in English when you put an accent on the vowel. Like when when you want to emphasize something. Now back to the third tone, a lot of people think there is no corresponding tone in English for the third tone, actually I think it does exist. When you put accent on one syllable, it actually changes the tone before that accent. For example, when you say a girl's name Nicole, that accent is at the second syllable, "cole", while as you accent the "cole" and in effect used chinese forth tone on it, you actually did something more in English, you changed the vowel before it to the third tone. The sound "Ni" in "Ni'cole" is third tone.

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    8 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction Chinese translation site


    13 years ago

    This is good information, but could you go a little further? For example, what is each tone used for? How can I employ this knowledge for the good of mankind?

    3 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm a Chinese. I can answer your questions. The four tones is not used to tell others if you are questioning or making a statement. Actually, it is just used to distinguish different words. So if you pronounce the wrong tone, the meaning of a word will be changed. For example, you will call your mother a horse if you pronounce the 3rd tone rather than 1st tone. My fox address is '' Glad to make aquintance of you!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    thanks for the information! Your response makes me think of another question though: if you don't use tonal clues to indicate that you're asking a question or making a statement, how do you do it? Is it just context, or are there question words that go into your question sentence?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hello there. Regarding your question about questions, as tones are used to differentiate between ordinary words (e.g. in Mandarin, "mai3" and "mai4" mean "buy" and "sell"), Chinese languages tend to mark a question by either adding a particle to the end of a sentence or by combining the statement with its negative form. For example:

    Ni yao chian= you want money
    Ni yao ma? Do you want money? (you want money "ma"?)
    Ni yao bu yao chian? Do you want money? (you "want no want" money? )

    Hope this makes it a little clearer for you.

    Btw, my romanisation of "money" is often spelt "qian" but I used the above spelling as it's easier to pronounce if you haven't learnt the system yet.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry to stick my oar in, but I always feel it a little misleading when I hear people refer to Chinese as a language in the singular as there is an entire family of Chinese languages (the idea of calling languages such as Mandarin and Hokkien "dialects" seems a little inaccurate, seeing as we regard French and Spanish as distinct languages; it's a bit like calling English "European".... not very PC to a Dutch person. Tones, however are a fascinating aspect of Chinese languages, however daunting they may seem when one first comes across tonal sandhi (like when one puts 2 3rd tone words together in Mandarin and the 1st becomes low and flat).


    13 years ago

    true. There are a couple problems with this info though. The first think I can think of is the fact that there are 6-8 major types of Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, Guangdonghua etc). I know that in Cantonese there are nine tones. Mandarin has five really, including the neutral tone. I find that the pinyin visualization of tones ( _ , / , V , \ )

    wiki does have alot of info here:

    other than that, i do like how you draw comparisons between tones and an english equivalent


    13 years ago

    Interesting, but would be better on wikipedia. This isn't really the place for random information bits that don't lead to anything.