By: Dr. Tamer Victor
Kinds of Tones and their function
Linguistics are not in complete agreement about the
precise number of tones which are used by speakers of
English some distinguish as many as eight, others work
with four or five. The following tones are the ones most
nRise – fall
nFall – rise
It is regarded as neutral tone and gives the
impression of ‘finality’.
A: Have you attended the class?
(It will be understood that the question is now
answered and that there is nothing more to be
This tone conveys an impression that something more is to follow.
A: (wishing to attract B’S attention.)
(B’S reply is, perhaps, equivalent to what do you
A: Do you know John Smith?
(Inviting A to continue with what she intends to say about
John Smith. The response with a fall would make it difficult
for A to continue).
3. Fall – rise
This tone shows limited agreement,
uncertainty, and doubt.
A: I have heard that it’s a good college.
(B does not completely agree and A would
probably expect B to go on to explain why
he was reluctant to agree).
4. Rise – Fall
This is used to convey rather strong feelings
of approval, disapproval or surprise. This
tone is used rarely in English.
A: You wouldn’t do on awful thing like
that, would you?
A: Isn’t the view lovely!
This tone is neutral and uninterested.
High level Yes No
Low level Yes No
It is used in English language in a restricted
context. It almost always conveys a feeling of
routine, uninteresting or boring.
A teacher calling names of the pupils from a
Uses of Tones
The tone-units and kinds of tone – units
have already been discussed. Now we will
try to establish a correlation between the
various types of sentences (tone – units or
tone groups) and the tones with which they
are generally said. Thus, we will see which
types of tones are used to say which type of
a. Falling Tone (neutral tone& impression of
The following types of sentences are generally said with a
a) Statements which are complete and definite,
e.g. He’s just been promoted.
b) Wh – questions which are matter of fact and intended to be neither
polite nor impolite.
e.g. Where are you going?
What are you doing?
e.g Shut the door.
e.g. Come over for a cup of coffee.
Come and dine with us.
What a fine weather!
f) Tag questions forcing the listner to agree with the speaker.
e.g. You are coming today aren’t you?
He can’t help it / can he?
b. Rising Tone (something more is to follow)
The rising tone is used with the following tone – groups:
i. Yes / No type questions
e.g. Was he present yesterday?
ii. Statements intended to be a questions.
e.g. you won’t come?
He isn’t going.
iii. Non – terminal tone group.
e.g. if you don’t come in time …………. (I’ll have)
iv. Terminal tone group said as an after thought.
e.g. you’re going away/I suppose.
e.g. pass me the dish, please.
iv. Command intended to sound like a request.
e.g. close the door,
Don’t be late.
iv. Wh – questions showing politeness friendliness,
warmth, personal interest.
e.g. How are you?
What is your name, child?
vii. Repetition questions which repeats some one else’s
question or wants him to repeat some information.
e.g. what did I say?
c. Falling-Rising Tone (limited agreement uncertainity
The following tone groups are generally said with the
i. Incomplete statement leading to a following tone group.
ii. Statement intended to be a ‘correction’ of the information
e.g (he has three sons) He has four
iii. Statement intended to be a warning reproach or to express
e.g you, mustn’t go like this (warning)
Be careful (concern)
iv. Imperative meant to be a pleading request.
e.g don’t get on my nerve
v. Statement which shows a kind of reservation on the part of the
He’s good (I can’t trust him)
I can do it tomorrow (but not today)
d. Rising-Falling Tone (strong feelings
of approval, disapproval or
The following tone groups are said with the rising-
i. Statement showing enthusiastic agreement.
e.g Yes, of course
ii. Question showing suspicion, indignation incredulity, or
e.g what has he been doing? (Suspicion)
Will he be able to do it? (Mocking, suspicion)
iii. Imperative expression petulance, haughtiness
e.g Go and break your head (haughtiness)
iv. Exclamation expressing sarcasm, irony.
e.g How good for you (sarcasm)
oh, really (sarcasm)
n No completely satisfactory definition can be given for
this term but give a rough idea J. Sethi defines it as:
n Different pitches of the voice combine to form patterns
of pitch variation, or tones, which together constitute the
intonation of the language.
n The intonation of the language’ thus’ refers to the rise
and fall of the pitch of the voice when we speak. One of
the most important tasks in analyzing intonation is to
listen to speaker’s pitch and recognize the tone.
n Speakers are said select from a choice of tones
according to how they want the utterance to be heard.
n Tone is carried by the tonic syllable whereas intonation
is carried by the tone unit. A tone unit is consisted of
n Pre-head, head, tonic syllable, and a tail.
n (PH) (H) TS (T)
So to conclude the whole discussion the importance of
intonation has been veiled of. A learner who learns a new
language has not only to grasp the grammar of that
language but also the intonation pattern to prove himself a
In the twentieth century, it was for a long time hoped that
scientific study of intonation would make it possible to state
what the function of each different aspect of intonation
was, and that foreign learner could then be taught rules to
enable them to use intonation in the way that native
speakers use it. Few people now believe this to be possible.
But it is certainly possible to produce a few general rules.
However these rules are certainly not adequate as a
complete practical guide to how to use English intonation.
But at least by learning something there must be some
improvement and a better performance.