Vietnamese Tones

Vietnamese Tones

Vietnamese is a tonal language, which means that the sounds made by the Vietnamese tones are used to distinguish between words that are often visually similar. Have a look at the list of words below. Notice how they all have the same beginning consonant and vowel. They are different words based on the Vietnamese tones. So, the ups and the downs in your voice (or the lack thereof) are what produce different words in the Vietnamese Language. And what is more, the Vietnamese tones are what make the Vietnamese Language intelligible from one regional dialect to another. So, if you are trying to master speaking Vietnamese, you can start learning the tones in our Online Vietnamese Language Course.

Ma (ghost) (mother) (which) Mả (tomb) (horse) Mạ (seedling)

Vietnamese Tones

How Many Tones In Vietnamese Language

There are six tones in the Vietnamese language. However, the Vietnamese tones differ in use and sound across the Northern, Central, and Southern regions of Vietnam. The Vietnamese tones may also differ in use and sound across the different subregions of Vietnam.

Northern Vietnamese speakers speak with all six tones. While Southern Vietnamese speakers typically speak with only five, nearly four tones. Central Vietnamese speakers reduce their use of tones to five in the Quảng Trị[1] and Huế [2] accent regions and only four tones in Hà Tĩnh[3] , Nghệ An[4] and Quảng Bình[5] accent regions[6].

Tones in Vietnamese

The tones in Vietnamese may look the same, but they result in different sounds being produced in different regions and subregions of Vietnam. Therefore, it is important to learn the tones for the region of interest. The Hanoi (Northern Vietnamese Dialect) and Saigon (Southern Vietnamese Dialect) are the two most understood dialects in Vietnam. However, Southern Vietnamese is also the most common dialect among Vietnamese communities living outside Vietnam. You can learn how to use the Vietnamese tones in our Southern Vietnamese for Beginners Online Course or with the Course Textbooks.

In the Northern Vietnamese dialect, all six tones are consistently used in a certain way. In the Southern Vietnamese dialect, the tones are not all used. Some tones will sound remarkably different when compared to the same Northern Vietnamese tones. The Central Vietnamese dialect is highly diverse throughout the regions of central Vietnam, so it is a bit more challenging to define. However, the tones will still be used to make different sounds based on the region.

Vietnamese Tones


Unless you are moving to a region in Central Vietnam or living near Central Vietnamese speakers, learning either the Southern Vietnamese Dialect or the Northern Vietnamese Dialect is ideal. While learning the Northern Vietnamese Dialect is the easiest, the Southern Vietnamese DIalect is spoken and understood by a larger number of Vietnamese speakers in the USA and VIetnam.