Mandarin grammar: Tones
How many tones are there in Mandarin?
There are four tones in Mandarin, plus a neutral tone:
The first tone (-) is flat
The second tone (´) rises
The third tone (v) goes down then up
The fourth tone (`) falls
The neutral tone is light
The use of tones makes more sounds available in Mandarin, which has fewer than many other languages.
They are an essential part of how you say a word in Mandarin, and if you use the wrong tone you end up saying a completely different word from the one you meant.
妈mā (mother) 麻má (linen cloth) 马mǎ (horse) 骂mà (tell off) 吗ma (question particle)
Exception rules for Mandarin tones
There are only three exceptions for how tones are said in Mandarin.
These help make the sounds flow better:
If there are two third tones in a row, the first third tone becomes a second tone, for example:
This change of tone only affects the pronunciation of the words, not how they are written down.
For example, you would write ‘你好 nǐ hǎo’, but you would say