Tone pairs

Revision as of 15:51, 22 April 2020 by WikiSysop (talk | contribs)

Tone pairs are an important unit of pronunciation to focus on as learner's tones gradually improve.

The concept

Most learners can accurately pronounce the tone of a single syllable after enough practice. But they find that once they try to pronounce two tones in a row, it all falls apart: they get the second one totally wrong, or the first, or even both. Stringing tones together is a skill that needs to be practiced, and the foundation for this skill is to practice every combination of tones in the smallest unit possible: tone pairs.

The logic here is pretty clear: if you can string two tones together accurately, you can build on that, stringing more and more together, until you can do whole sentences. This is not a quick process, however. You're going to need quite a bit of practice, and you should expect this practice to take up a good chunk of your pronunciation practice as an elementary (A2) learner.

The 20 pairs

There are 20 tone pairs because there are four main tones and one neutral tone, but a neutral tone can never be the first syllable in a word or phrase.

+ 1st Tone + 2nd Tone + 3rd Tone + 4th Tone + Neutral Tone
1st Tone 1-1 1-2 1-3 1-4 1-0
2nd Tone 2-1 2-2 2-3 2-4 2-0
3rd Tone 3-1 3-2 3-3 3-4 3-0
4th Tone 4-1 4-2 4-3 4-4 4-0

❋ You might be tempted to think that 3-3 doesn't count, because after the tone change it's the same as 2-3. But actually, you really need to practice this tone change as part of a tone pair, so you'll definitely want to practice 3-3 pairs, just like all the others.

Test Yourself

We also have an A2 Tone Pair Check 2 and A2 Tone Pair Check 3, where the tone pairs are in random order with totally different words.

If these A2 tone pair words are too easy for you, then definitely try out our B1 Tone Pair Check.

Sources and further reading