Bite 2 - Tones

October 01, 2020


We thought it would be nice to just learn phrases without teaching the basics when we made the first bite.

It’d still be nice to make a reference for the somewhat sophisicated tones of Cantonese though. A place to anchor ourselves when we feel unsure.

Today it will be 6 characters, which arguably could count as 3 phrases (in length).

They have the same consonant and final - maa.

2020-12-04 Update: We’ve added a more accurate and in-depth explanation on Cantonese tones at the end. Biters who want to know more, scroll down!

Tone 1




Tone 2


Not used any more, used to mean maids (who took care of households).


Tone 3


Interjection, used at the end of a sentence to remind people of certain points / things they miss.


Tone 4

嫲 / 嬤

Father's mom. Often used in repetition to express endearment / intimacy.
e.g. 嫲嫲 / 嬤嬤
but not 嫲嬤 / 嬤嫲


Tone 5




Tone 6


To scold. To curse. We don't use this as a verb though. 
We have another one for everyday life: 鬧. Not gonna expand on this. It's long enough.


Tones too relative?

All tones in Cantonese are pretty flat. It is hard to know which tone it is if you only say / listen to 1 tone.

So here you are, 6 tones at once to feel the difference. Also an excellent way to practice!

2020-12-04 Update: New addition! In-depth discussion on Cantonese tones

Cantonese tones: the complete picture

So far we have only introduced the 6 tones. Some of us might have heard someone saying there were actually 9 tones.

It sounds confusing - are there 6 tones or 9 tones? Turns out tones are not the whole picture. There is what people call “9 Sounds and 6 Tones” (九聲六調). 6 tones expand to 9 sounds when we add the entering sounds.

The entering sounds are found in characters that end with entering finals. Their romanization end with “t” / “k” / “p”. It is like how we say “cat”, “kick”, “clap” in English.

The first 6 sounds includes all characters that doesn’t end with entering finals (“t” / “k” / “p”). The last 3 sounds includes all characters that ends with entering finals. They can only be in tone 1, 3 and 6.

Written by hulloanson#2533, HongKonger
Let's talk about everything Cantonese on Discord

You can find us by email or through discord.