Tones

Tones are really the most difficult aspect of Cantonese at the outset.  For all practical purposes, there are 7 tones in Cantonese (and only 6 of them really need to be mastered).  Each word or phrase must be spoken at the right pitch or it is wrong and probably will be misunderstood.  An easy way of thinking of it is as musical notes (like putting a little "soul" in a song.)  Among the tones, there are three main starting levels:  High, Middle and Low. 

High Level     Middle Level     Low Level

The other tones are created by moving between the tone levels.   Unfortunately, programming constraints make it difficult to use the Yale system of marking tones.  So the tone marks used in this website are an adaptation of the Yale system.

Pay particular attention to the silent "H" which is used to denote low tones.  Also note that there is no middle falling tone, so a sound with no "h" and falling marks is pronounced as High Falling.

The table below illustrates how Cantonese tones are marked throughout this website. 

Level

High Falling

High Level

Middle Rising

Middle Level

Low Rising

Low Falling

Low Level

Website
Symbol

\tone\

-tone-

/tone/

tone

/tohne/

\tohne\

tohne

Yale
Symbol

tone

tohne

* The High Falling tone is now commonly pronounced as a simple high tone and is generally understood if pronounced as the High Tone.  There are, however, some exceptions.


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