The Four Tones of the Chinese Language

Mandarin Chinese is a very tonal language. A single word with the same syllable can take on a different meaning when read in different tones.

These tones gives Mandarin Chinese its unique quality, but also contributes to miscommunication if not given attention.


The first tone in the Mandarin Chinese language is a high and flat sound. It is represented by a single line or the number “1”.

When reading a syllable on the first tone, it is important to keep an even voice.


The second tone is often associated with a sudden rise in pitch. It is represented by a rising diagonal line or the number “2”.


The third tone is a very distinctive sound that falls and rises again. It is represented by a curved line that resembles the letter “v”. It can also be represented by the number “3”.


The fourth tone is read with a sudden drop to the bottom of the tonal range. Many readers often say it sounds like an angry command. It is represented by a downward diagonal line or the number “4”.


The fifth tone does not have a defined sound or pitch. The neutral tone is pronounced quickly, without regard to the pitch. The tone is not represented with a tone mark, but can sometimes be marked with “5” or “0”

Watch Little Fox Chinese’s video to hear how the tones sound: