HSK 1 may be the lowest rung on the Chinese proficiency ladder, but don’t dismiss it as a piece of cake.

One particularly tricky thing about HSK1 (and Chinese in general): there are many words with the same syllable but different tones that could trip you up.

For example, can you tell the difference in pronounciation between the 杯 in 杯子 and the 北 in 北京? Both are written as “bei”, but they have different tones and completely different meanings.

If you don’t speak a tone-based language, you’ll want to pay special attention to these words, and practice their tones.

I’ve combed through the entire list of HSK 1 vocabulary to pick out 19 groups of similar-sounding words. For each group, I’ve included an example sentence so you can learn to hear the difference in tones in context.

Let’s dive in!

1. Ba: 八 vs 爸

八 bā

爸爸 bà ba

Example: 爸爸有八块钱。

Dad has eight dollars.

2. Bei: 杯 vs 北

杯子 bēi zi

北京 běi jīng

Example: 这是我从北京买的杯子。

This is the cup I bought from Beijing.

3. Da: 打 vs 大

打电话 dǎ diàn huà

大 dà

Example: 大家可以打电话给他。

We can call him.

4: 点 vs 电

点 diǎn

电视 diàn shì

Example: 我想看一点电视。

I want to watch a bit of TV.

5. Er: 儿 vs 二

儿子 ér zi

二 èr

Example: 她的儿子今年二十岁。

Her son is twenty years old this year.

6. Hao: 好 vs 号

好 hǎo

号 hào

Example: 给我你的电话号码,好吗?

Give me your phone number, alright?

7. Hui: 回 vs 会

回 huí

会 huì

Example: 你会回家吗?

Will you go back home?

8. Ma: 吗 vs 妈

吗 ma

妈妈 mā ma

Example: 这是妈妈的吗?

Is this mom’s?

9. Ming: 名 vs 明

名字 míng zi

明天 míng tiān

Example: 明天我把名字写给你

I’ll write the name for you tomorrow.

10. Na: 哪 vs 那

哪 nǎ

那 nà

Example: 哪个人?是那个吗?

Which person? That person?

11. Qian: 前 vs 钱

前面 qián miàn

钱 qián

Example: 前面的座位五十块钱。

The seat in front costs fifty dollars.

12. Ren: 人 vs 认

人 rén

认识 rèn shi

Example: 你认识这个人吗?

Do you know this person?

13. Shang: 商 vs 上

商店 shāng diàn

上 shàng

Example: 楼上有商店。

There are shops upstairs.

14. Shi: 十 vs 时 vs 是

十 shí

时候 shí hou

是 shì

Example: 已经十点了,是时候回家了。

It’s already ten o’ clock, it’s time to go back home.

15. Shui: 水 vs 睡

水果 shuǐ guǒ

睡觉 shuì jiào

Example: 你要吃水果还是要睡觉?

Do you want to eat fruit or to sleep?

16. Xian: 先 vs 现

先生 xiān sheng

现在 xiàn zài

Example: 先生,请问现在几点。

Sir, what is the time now?

17. Xie: 些 vs 写 vs 谢

些 xiē

写 xiě

谢谢 xiè xie

Example: 你能写些东西给他吗?谢谢。

Can you write something for him? Thanks.

18. Yi: 一 vs 医 vs 衣 vs 椅

一 yī

医生 yī shēng

衣服 yī fu

椅子 yǐ zi

Example: 一张椅子、一件衣服、一位医生。

A chair, a shirt, a doctor.

19. Zuo: 昨 vs 做 vs 坐

昨天 zuó tiān

做 zuò

坐 zuò

Example: 他昨天坐在椅子上做功课。

He sat on the chair doing his homework yesterday.