The Difference Between Tone and Intonation

Linguistics is a fascinating subject that can often be confusing, especially as language rules can often contradict each other. That being said, tone and intonation are two concepts that are often confused with one another.

Today, we will be pointing out some of the key differences so that you can easily differentiate between these two confusingly similar concepts. However, before we begin, if you are interested in developing your language skills, look at some of these apps and tools.

At a Glance

The confusion between these two concepts primarily comes from how complicated linguistics can be as a subject. There are many linguistics concepts, semantics, and phonetics, such as the volume and stress of words.

Intonation deals explicitly with your words’ fluctuation, which is the upward and downward movement of your voice in your speech. Tone, however, deals with how something is being explicitly said at that moment. For clarification – intonation pertains more towards your speech pattern, while tone refers more towards the attitude with which you speak your words.

The Tone Of One’s Voice

Tone deals with how someone communicates their words. You can speak with someone and identify their tone as happy or upset. Your tone conveys your mood, so we can say that it is a more pragmatic part of communication because your emotions significantly affect your tone.

Changing one’s tone can change the entire meaning of a sentence. This can be most obvious when someone is upset or annoyed. Perhaps they are being sarcastic, and you can quickly identify their tone as mocking or otherwise. Tone is essential in practical communication as it helps define your meaning. It is important to remember to keep the right tone when speaking.

Intonation Denoting Communication

This is where it can become confusing. Tone helps convey the meaning of a sentence through a sprinkling of emotion. Tone is the conveying of emotion behind our words. Intonation is instead directly linked to how we speak and helps define the intent behind what we say. The correct intonation can also help with communication skills.

For example, when someone asks a question, their voice often ends the sentence on a higher note. We use a higher intonation throughout our sentences and various stress points to denote this positive affirmation for congratulations or other positive sentences. On the flip side, negative statements will use a lower or “falling” intonation to properly resonate with the negative subject.

Concluding Thoughts

The confusion comes from the fact that both these subjects deal with conveying meaning in one’s sentences. However, the difference is in their conveyance. Tone refers to the emotion and attitude one puts behind their words. 

In contrast, intonation refers to the fluctuation of one’s voice as they speak. Tone is how you feel and the feeling you put in your words. Intonation is how you use your voice to direct your sentence’s flow to convey a message.

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