What does the word pronounced as "ma" in Cantonese Chinese mean in English? I understand that this syllable has five different meanings according to how it is inflected. What are the five different meanings of this syllable?

  • Which character? Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 21:53

1 Answer 1


Since ma in Jyutping isn't a valid syllable according to Cantonese phonotactics, I assume you mean Jyutping maa.

Modern Hong Kong Cantonese has six tones, of which five are indeed valid contours for the syllable maa. I'll use the Jyutping tone numbers below, giving an example word for each.

  • First tone (high level): maa1 媽 (mother), 孖 (twin)
  • Second tone: not possible
  • Third tone (mid level): maa3 嗎 (question particle)
  • Fourth tone (low falling): maa4 麻 (hemp)
  • Fifth tone (low rising): maa5 馬 (horse)
  • Sixth tone (low level): maa6 罵 (scold, abuse)
  • 2
    FYI, ma is a valid representation of /maː/ if you're using Yale Romanization.
    – Claw
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 19:54
  • Actually maa2 is possibly in tone sandhi configurations, like 麻麻地 maa4 maa4*2 dei6*2.
    – dda
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 16:40

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