Tone Marks

Vietnamese is a tonal language. Accents or diacritical marks are used to denote six distinctive tones. In writing, one tone is represented as unmarked (a), four are indicated with diacritics marked on a vowel (á, à, , and ã), and one is marked with a dot under a vowel (). Let’s break down these individual tone marks.

Unmarked

An unmarked tone (ngang) has no accent. Its pitch ranges from mid to high-mid.

Sang ngang (Traverse)

Acute

Acute (dấu sắc) is a tone mark that resembles a tiny forward slash placed on vowels: á é í ó ú ý. The acute, which starts from a narrowed bottom and ends with a wide top, denotes a high rising pitch. The acute mark ( ´ ) should rise slightly toward the right of the base character ( á ) without falling off. If applied to a letter with an existing diacritical mark, the acute should be positioned so as to be clearly distinguished from the other mark: ắ ấ ế ố ớ ứ.

Chiếc lá thu phai (The withering autumn leaf)

Grave

Grave (dấu huyền) is a tone mark that resembles a tiny backward slash placed on vowels: à è ì ò ù ỳ. The grave, which starts from a wide top and ends with a narrowed bottom, denotes a low pitch. The grave mark ( ` ) should rise slightly toward the left of the base character ( à ) without falling off. If applied to a letter with an existing diacritical mark, the grave should be positioned so as to be clearly distinguished from the other mark: ằ ầ ề ồ ờ ừ.

Tình su (Sorrowful love)

Hook above

Hook above (dấu hỏi) is a tone mark that resembles a question mark without a dot placed on vowels: ả ẻ ỉ ỏ ủ ỷ. The hook above (   ̉ ) denotes a mid-low dropping pitch. If applied to a letter with an existing diacritical mark, the hook above should be positioned so as to be clearly distinguished from the other mark: ẳ ẩ ể ổ ở ử.

o nh (Illusion)

Tilde

Tilde (dấu ngã) is a tone mark placed only on vowels: ã ẽ ĩ õ ũ ỹ. The tilde ( ~ ) denotes a high rising pitch; therefore, it should be clear and distinguishable. If applied to a letter with an existing diacritical mark, the tilde should be positioned so as to be clearly distinguished from the other mark: ẵ ẫ ễ ỗ ỡ ữ.

Cũng s chìm trôi (Eventual sinking)

Underdot

Underdot (dấu nặng) is a dot placed under vowels: ạ ẹ ị ọ ụ ỵ. The underdot (     ̣) denotes a low dropping pitch; therefore, it should be positioned clearly below the baseline.

Git l thiên thu (A tear of eternity)