tone in Chinese

In Chinese, the pitch and the way the pitch changes while a syllable is being spoken affects the syllable's meaning. In current day Mandarin Chinese, a syllable pronounced by itself, not as part of a word or phrase, has one of four tones.

1.  high, level pitch. Called “first tone” or “high tone”.

2.  starts at a medium pitch and rises. Called “second tone” or “rising tone” or “high rising tone”.

3.  starts somewhat low, quickly gets even lower, and then rises. Called “third tone” or “low tone”.

4. starts high and quickly drops to the bottom. Called “fourth tone” or “falling tone”.

The modern system for writing Chinese using the roman alphabet is called hanyu pinyin. lt is the system promulgated, endorsed, and used by the government of China. To specify what tone a syllable is, a numeral may be added to the romanization. So, for example, da1 means “to hang over something”; da2 means “to answer”; da3 means “to hit”; and da4 means “big”.

Alternatively, tone may be specified by diacritical marks (“accents”). For example, dā dá dǎ dà. Online utilities for converting pinyin with tone numbers to pinyin with tone marks is available at,, and elsewhere. sometimes uses the tone numerals because they are clearer to readers who do not know Chinese and because some internet users do not have the fonts needed to display the diacritical marks.


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