Mandarin Chinese has four pitched tones and a toneless tone.
1. The first tone (Flat or High Level Tone) is represented by a macron (ˉ) added to the pinyin vowel:
2. The second tone (Rising or High-Rising Tone) is denoted by an acute accent (ˊ):
3. The third tone (Falling-Rising or Low Tone) is marked by a caron/háček (ˇ). It is not the rounded breve (˘), though a breve is sometimes substituted due to font limitations.
4. The fourth tone (Falling or High-Falling Tone) is represented by a grave accent (ˋ):
5. The fifth tone (Neutral Tone) is represented by a normal vowel without any accent mark:
When you are learning Mandarin using Pinyin text these tones will be noted by the above accents.
The following four words are spelled the same in Pinyin but each has a different tone and has a different meaning.
媽 ma1 or mā — mother
麻 ma2 or má — hemp
馬 ma3 or mǎ — horse
罵 ma4 or mà — scold
嗎 ma — question particle
Here are the 4 different tones shown in their wave forms.