Igbo Tones and Tone Markings



Igbo is a tonal language. One word could mean more than one thing, depending on the tones. A statement and a question could also have the same wordings, so tones are used to differentiate them. There are three tones in Igbo language; high tone (acute accent), low tone (grave accent), and midtone (macron). The midtone is usually left unmarked. The tones are carried by the vowels sounds, therefore, the tone markings are applied to vowels and pseudo-vowels (a, e, i, ị, o, ọ, u, ụ, m, n).

In general, tone marks are only used where there is likelihood for confusion. If the reader can read a text in context, without ambiguity, then there is no need for tone marks for that word, sentence, or text.

Tone Markings
Small LettersCapital LettersTones
high
low
mid
high
low
mid
high
low
mid
ị́Ị́high
ị̀Ị̀low
ị̄Ị̄mid
high
low
mid
ọ́Ọ́high
ọ̀Ọ̀low
ọ̄Ọ̄mid
high
low
mid
ụ́Ụ́high
ụ̀Ụ̀low
ụ̄Ụ̄mid
high
low
mid
high
low
mid

Examples
íré - tongue
ìrè - effective/efficacious
írē - to sell
írè - to prescribe/to tax

éké - python
ékè - creator (Chineke - God the creator)
èké - one of the days of the Igbo week
èkē - to tie

ísí - head
ìsì - blindess
ísī - to cook
ísì - smell

ázụ̀ - fish
àzụ́ - back

óké - male
ókè - boundary
òkè - share/potion
òké - rat

àkwá - egg
àkwà - bed/bridge
ákwà - cloth
ákwá - cry

ọ́kụ́ - fire
ọ́kụ̀ - wealth
ọ̀kụ̀ - food bowl

ọ́ ǹa-àkwā ákwá - she is crying
ọ́ ǹa-àkwā ákwà - she is sewing cloth/she sews cloth

ọ̀ ńa-àkwá ákwá - is she crying?
ọ̀ ńa-àkwá ákwà - is she sewing cloth/does she sew cloth?