January 5, 2012


My Chinese tones pronunciation guide

I decided to put together a small training for those Chinese learners like me, who are still insecure, when it comes to the pronunciation of the 4 main tones of the standard Mandarin language (the 5th is neutral). Most common Chinese words consist of 2 syllables, which are always written with two Han characters. To get all the possible tonal combinations, one gets 16 different groups. But because of the so called tone sandhi, two 3rd tones in a row make the first syllable become 2nd tone, for example: xiǎng + xiǎng turns into xiángxiǎng. That's why we have 15 different groups, which I have listed below with 5 examples for each. My wife has pronounced them for us, all we need to do is listen to it over and over again. To learn the basics, as well as some additional observations about Chinese tones, check an excellent article at Sinosplice.

1. Úp-Úp

yín háng 銀行 bank
hé píng 和平 peace
lóng tóu 龍頭 faucet
nioú pái 牛排 beef steak
wán pí 頑皮 naughty

2. Úp-Dòwn

nioú ròu 牛肉 beef
yóu xì 遊戲 game
chá yè 茶葉 tea leaf
bú shì 不是 not
rán hòu 然後 after that

3. Úp-Dǒwnup

tái běi 台北 Taipei
nín hǎo 您好 hello
rén tǐ 人體 human body
cái nǚ 才女 talented girl
hueí xiǎng 回想 to think back

4. Úp-Flāt

tái wān 臺灣 Taiwan
fáng jiēn 房間 room
guó jiā 國家 country
tái dōng 臺東 Taitung
hóng bāo 紅包 red envelope

5. Dòwn-Úp

xiào róng 笑容 smile
tài yáng 太陽 sun
dà guó 大國 powerful country
ào mén 澳門 Macau
wàn huá 萬華 Wanhua

6. Dòwn-Dòwn

shueì jiào 睡覺 sleep
dièn shì 電視 TV
dào lù 道路 road
kè hù 客戶 customer
jièn shè 建設 contruction

7. Dòwn-Dǒwnup

bàn fǎ 辦法 way, method
qì shueǐ 汽水 soda
dièn yǐng 電影 movie
rì běn 日本 Japan
dà kǒu 大口 gulping

8. Dòwn-Flāt

mì shū 秘書 secretary
zhè biān 這邊 this side
mièn bāo 麵包 bread
bièn dāng 便當 lunch box
qì chē 汽車 car

9. Dǒwnup-Úp

nǎi chá 奶茶 milk tea
měi shí 美食 delicacy
kě lién 可憐 pitiful
nǚ hái 女孩 girl
bǎn qiáo 板橋 Banqiao

10. Dǒwnup-Dòwn

kě lè 可樂 cola
hǎo xiào 好笑 funny
měi lì 美麗 beautiful
xiǎo mèi 小妹 little sister
shueǐ qì 水氣 steam

11. Dǒwnup-Dǒwnup -> Úp-Dǒwnup

lǎo bǎn -> láo bǎn 老闆 boss
lǎo shǔ -> láo shǔ 老鼠 mouse
zǒng tǒng -> zóng tǒng 總統 president
xiǎng fǎ -> xiáng fǎ 想法 idea
hěn hǎo -> hén hǎo 很好 very good

12. Dǒwnup-Flāt

yěn jīng 眼睛 eyes
shǒu jī 手機 cell phone
lǎo shī 老師 doctor
huǒ chē 火車 train
mǔ qīn 母親 mother

13. Flāt-Úp

yīng táo 櫻桃 cherry
dāng rán 當然 of course
gāo xióng 高雄 Kaohsiung
gē cí 歌詞 lyrics
zhōng guó 中國 China

14. Flāt-Dòwn

shēng rì 生日 birthday
jī dàn 雞蛋 hen's egg
xī wàng 希望 to hope
shēng qì 生氣 angry
ān jìng 安靜 quiet

15. Flāt-Dǒwnup

shēn tǐ 身體 body
xīn kǔ 辛苦 hard
shā shǒu 殺手 killer
dēng huǒ 燈火 lights
fān shǔ 番薯 yam potato

16. Flāt-Flāt

guō tiē 鍋貼 fried dumpling
yī shēng 醫生 doctor
gōng sī 公司 company
xiāng jiāo 香蕉 banana
kā fēi 咖啡 coffee

I hope that this was useful to you. I will post more articles related to pronunciation of standard Chinese, because it's one of the main obstacles Chinese learners face. Share your thoughts below. Photo above: Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai.


  1. Happy new year! I love ur blog and I love Taiwan. Been there only once hope to go back again. Actually do you know any tea plantation in Taiwan open for tourist? I love tea and really wanna go for a deeper tea experience. I couldn't find much info online. Are you aware of any? Thanks so much!!

  2. Very useful! I will use it for sure. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Thanks a lot MKL, this is great. I'm about to go to Taiwan for the first time in two weeks and though my spoken Chinese is decent, my grammar is quite poor and reading/writing is very bad as I've only been learning though osmosis. Do you have a language book which teaches tradtional chinese characters? It's been a nightmare trying to find one, everyone seems to want to learn simplified chinese.

    Thanks once again, these resources are excellent

  4. Tones are absolutely the most difficult part about learning to speak Chinese. 20+ years into learning Chinese and I still need constant reminders and "tune-us". Thanks for creating this resource.

    @mimika: I was just in Taipei and went up the Maokong Cable Car. It's a short walk from the zoo stop on the subway system. There are a bunch of tea shops/farms at the top stop. That's the easiest one to get to from Taipei and it's a fun ride.


  5. Thanks so much for this! I am still slowly struggling along with my Rosetta Stone Chinese course and now have the vocabulary of about a nine month old baby. This should be very helpful. I enjoy your blog!

  6. I like the voice more than the learning part - can I have the number please? *_* *_*

    Actually I failed my chinese pronunciation too - if I were to have conversation with your darling I guess half the time she would laugh so loud.

    But I likes it - people laugh at me and they remember me! hahahaha

    Okay - lets learn the right pronunciation now.

    I still have to say the voice is sexy!

  7. Hello friend,
    Very informative. When learning new vocabulary you must practice both the pronunciation of the word and its tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences. Thanks to share it..

  8. Thanks everybody. I'll force my wife to make more voice files, I think I can learn a lot. And other people as well :)

  9. where are the examples for 5th tone?

  10. Anonymous: I said the tone was neutral, which means it's not really a tone. Few examples:

    我們 - Wǒmen -> men
    你好嗎 - Nǐ hǎo ma -> ma
    喜歡 - Xǐhuan -> huan

    Syllables without the tone marks are put in the 5th group, but the group is small. There are more examples than what I have listed.


Please read my comment policy, before you comment.