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Chinese Tones - Different Tones Different Meanings

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, meaning that the pitch or intonation used when pronouncing a syllable can change its meaning entirely.


Mandarin has four primary tones: the first tone is high and level, the second tone rises like asking a question, the third tone falls then rises, and the fourth tone is sharp and falling. For example, the syllable "ma" can mean "mother" (mā, 妈) with the first tone, "ant" (má, ) with the second tone, "horse" (mǎ, 马) with the third tone, and "scold" (mà, 骂) with the fourth tone.


Here are six pairs of Chinese phrases or words that have different meanings with different tones. Can you tell their Pinyin apart with the tones?


1.飞机 (fēi jī, airplane) vs 肥鸡 (féi jī, fat chicken)

2. 杯子 (bēi zi, cup) vs 被子 (bèi zi, blanket)


3. 买 (mǎi, buy) vs 卖 (mài, sell)


4. 鞋子 (xié zi, shoes) vs 蝎子 (xiē zi, scorpion)

5. 衣服 (yī fu, clothes) vs 一副 ( , classifier of a painting)


6. 抱 (bào, hug) vs 饱 (bǎo, full)


As with tones in many languages, Chinese words and phrases can change meaning with a slight pitch shift and incorrect tones can lead to misunderstandings. Thus, mastering the tones is an essential aspect of learning Mandarin, emphasizing the language's rich and nuanced nature.


Can you think of any? Share yours in the comments and let's explore the power of tone together!

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