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In Chinese it is always very important to pronounce characters and words with correct tone. In transliterated Chinese, tone markings are written over the central vowels in most syllables. Some syllables have no specific tone, and then no sign is put above any vowel, or called neutral tone. In Mandarin Chinese there are four tones and a neutral tone.

Tones Marks

  • The 1st tone, flat tone is marked with a line over a vowel such as "a" + "-" = "ā".
  • The 2nd tone, rising tone is marked with a rising line over a vowel such as "a" + "´" = "á".
  • The 3rd tone, falling-rising tone is marked with a hook over a vowel such as "a" + "v" = "ă".
  • The 4th tone, falling tone is marked with a falling line over a vowel such as "a" + "`" = "à".
  • For neutral tone also called toneless tone (called “light tone” in Chinese), no marking is put above any vowel. For example, "a" + " " = "a".

Rules of Tones Marks

As a general rule, you should always put tone marks over finals such as, a, o, e, i, u, ü; not over initials.

Tone Mark Placement

1. The tone mark is placed over the vowel if there is only one vowel letter.
tù, là, dè

If there is more than one vowel:
2. If there is an ”a”, the tone will be always put over “a”.
kǎi, chuán, zhuāng

3. If there is no “a”, he tone will be put over “o” or “e”. The tone will be put over the second vowel in other cases.
qióng, hēi, Qiú, tuī

4. When the tone mark is place on i, the small dot is removed.
yí, bín, guī

Sequences of Tones

When we pronounce a sequence of tones, the tones will not always remain the same. The most common ones are as the following:

  • The Chinese character, “一”, " yī " (English translation: one) is usually pronounced as 1st tone. However it will be pronounced with 2nd tone when directly preceding a 4th tone. Example: “一个” is pronounced as " yí gè ". It will be pronounced with 4th tone when directly preceding a 2nd tone or 3rd tone.
    Example: “一本” is pronounced as " yì běn ".
  • The Chinese character, “不” " bù " (English translation: not) is usually pronounced as 4th tone. However it will be pronounced with 2nd tone when directly preceding a 4th tone.
    Example: "不是" (English translation: is not) is pronounced as " bú shì ".
  • When a syllable that is usually pronounced with 3rd tone, will turn into 2nd tone when directly preceding another 3rd tone. This rule will apply for entire sequences of words!
    Example: “两”( liǎng ), "两本书" (English translation: two books) is pronounced as "liáng běn shū ".

Quiz:

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