I was wondering whether anyone could help me distinguish how to pronounce tone 4 (mostly low flat) and tone 3 (mid flat).

I read in tone 4, you should feel your throat vibrate. Honestly, I have my finger touch my adam's apple and try to feel the difference but I don't feel it between 3rd and 4th. Is there any way to better work out my tones alone? The only thing I do about my 4th tone is shorten my 3rd tone. Thus, 4th tone to me = 3rd tone, but in a shorter burst.

How can I distinguish them?

  • Please also note that vowel length is independent (and meaningful) from the tone. You can have a long and a short syllable with the same tone, and they are different sounds.
    – dda
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 12:38
  • 1
    @dda: Independent of the distinction between a and aa, tone 3 has longer duration.
    – jogloran
    Commented Mar 7, 2013 at 10:19

3 Answers 3


The fourth tone is usually considered low-falling, rather than low-flat.

The fourth tone begins just a little lower than where the sixth tone begins. Just start by producing the sixth tone, and then bring the pitch down as low as you can.

In terms of tone numbers (a 1-5 scale, with 1 the lowest), fourth tone is usually transcribed as 21, third tone as 33, and sixth tone as 22.

That's the reason for the advice about hearing your throat vibrate: the pitch you make should be low-frequency. I'd be happy to follow up on this for you if you have any more questions.

  • Yes! I would love to follow more on this. It's more about how I can practice distinguishing them. So referring to your tone numbers, how do you train your voice to tones 1,2,3? I feel my throat vibrate at the same amount between all of them...
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 4:45
  • I've recorded the six tones in an audio file here: cl.ly/420Z2n1y2u1c -- Ultimately, the tone numbers are only a rough indication. You can listen to recordings of native speakers, but every speaker has a different dynamic range.
    – jogloran
    Commented Mar 6, 2013 at 9:57

The 4th tone is the low-falling tone. You are probably referring to the 6th tone. The difference with the 3rd tone is the frequency (in hertz). The 6th tone is about 30 Hz lower than the 3rd.


I’ve been told to pronounce the fourth tone low enough to make a perceptible voice crack. In a study, the voice crack was one of the indicators to the Cantonese ear that the speaker was using the fourth tone,

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