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9.2: Tone

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    Tone refers to the overall emotional attitude or stance an author has toward his or her subject. We know intuitively what “tone of voice” means when we’re describing a conversation. What emotions did we detect in the sound of the voice? What was the overall attitude of the speaker? These emotions and attitudes come across in many ways and are conveyed by word choice and choice of examples. However, an author's tone may also be conveyed in many other ways, both subtle and overt, including sentence structure, use of questions, emphasis, and of course, by the attitude the words themselves declare.

    An author's tone in relation to its subject affects the relationship with the reader. If the reader has a similar attitude, they will feel more trust or affinity for the what the author is saying. If their attitude toward the subject is radically different, they may be so alienated that they reject the author's words.


    Tone words

    Contrasting tone words

    Degree of seriousness

    conversational, flippant, glib, childish, frivolous, facetious, humorous, sarcastic, comic, satiric, amused, ironic, mocking, irreverent casual, lighthearted, playful, cheerful, ridiculous, giddy, dreamy

    vs. serious, earnest, solemn, grave, intense, impassioned, prayerful, reverent, idealistic

    Degree of approval of the subject

    elated, enthusiastic, ecstatic, celebratory, euphoric, joyous, jubilant, zestful, exuberant, blissful, happy, delighted, awestruck, appreciative, approving

    vs. disapproving, disappointed, concerned, alarmed, critical, caustic, appalled

    Degree of aggression

    aggressive, caustic, explosive, violent, critical, disapproving, harsh, embattled

    vs. peaceable, peaceful, gentle, mild, meek

    Attitude to another's success

    envious, jealous

    vs. admiring, congratulatory, celebratory, enthusiastic

    Degree of anger (at another's failing)

    critical, annoyed, angry, frustrated, impatient, disappointed, resentful, hurt, aggravated, outraged, appalled, indignant, disgusted, impotent, vindictive, vengeful, furious

    vs. forgiving, indulgent, understanding, accepting, tolerant

    Attitude to one's own failing

    defensive, self-indulgent

    apologetic, remorseful

    Positive or negative intentions toward others

    benevolent, kind, loving, affectionate, amiable, genial, agreeable, friendly, jovial, encouraging

    vs mean-spirited, mean, malicious, spiteful, cruel, hateful, hating, vengeful

    Degree of emotional connection

    concerned, compassionate, tender, consoling, comforting, sympathetic, empathetic

    vs. apathetic, indifferent, detached, aloof, callous, emotionless

    Degree of calm

    calm, tranquil, serene, unworried, contemplative, meditative, reflective, thoughtful

    vs. agitated, excited, sensational, alarmed, nervous, anxious, obsessive, worried, fearful, frightened, paranoid, frantic, frazzled, desperate, dramatic, disturbed, perturbed

    Degree of hesitation

    cautious, hesitating, reticent, evasive

    vs. bold, audacious, straightforward, direct, outspoken, authoritative

    Degree of certainty

    conflicted, uncertain, reluctant, contradictory, confused, ambivalent, uneasy, apologetic, regretful, pensive

    vs. confident, sure, definite, unapologetic, righteous, self-righteous, determined, persuasive, hypnotic

    Degree of respect for others

    dismissive, patronizing, condescending, arrogant, haughty, chauvinistic, macho, domineering

    vs. humble, respectful, reverent, overpowered, intimidated, obsequious, submissive, complimentary, fulsome, flattering, simpering

    Degree of self-regard

    condescending, arrogant, patronizing, proud, majestic, haughty, obnoxious

    vs. modest, humble, self-effacing

    Attitude to the future / positive or negative affect

    despairing, tragic, defeated, discouraged, resigned, overwhelmed, disheartened, dismal, foreboding, dejected, depressed, bitter, bleak, bewildered, pessimistic, distressed, cynical, pathetic, melancholy, nostalgic, saddened, miserable, morbid, morose, mournful, sorrowful, somber, lamenting, grave, grim

    vs. hopeful, sanguine, optimistic, content, excited, enthusiastic

    Degree of interest in the topic

    wondering, curious, inquisitive, fascinated

    vs. bored, apathetic, removed, indifferent, wooden, world-weary, dull, bland, banal

    Degree of distance

    formal, impersonal, objective, neutral, journalistic, informative, professional, businesslike, intellectual, detached, numb, distant, disinterested

    vs. intimate, impassioned, passionate, ardent, personal

    Degree of formality

    formal, businesslike, professional, professorial, esoteric

    vs. irreverent, informal, coarse, vulgar, casual, conversational, improvisational, exploratory

    Degree of surprise

    unbelieving, incredulous, skeptical, surprised, innocent, naive, disbelieving

    vs. knowing, jaded

    Pace and attention to detail

    abrupt, hurried, hasty

    vs. patient, gradual, unhurried, lethargic, languid, pensive, scrupulous

    Warmth of feeling toward the subject

    warm, flirtatious, seductive

    vs. cold, disgusted

    Degree orientation toward action

    active, determined, forceful

    vs. passive, hesitant, reluctant

    Desire to communicate

    talkative, eager

    vs. laconic, taciturn

    Attitude to powerful forces like spirit, country, religion

    patriotic, pious, religious, reverent, mystical, spiritual, obedient

    vs. irreverent, scoffing, impious


    open, direct

    vs. secretive, sneaky, sly

    License and Attributions:



    CC licensed content, Previously shared:



    How Arguments Work: A Guide to Writing and Analyzing Texts in College. Authored by: Anna Mills. Located at:
    License: CC BY NC 4.0: Attribution Noncommercial.



    Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.




    9.2: Tone is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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