Intonation: Intonation is variation of spoken pitch that is not used to distinguish words; instead it is used for a range of functions such as indicating the attitudes and emotions of the speaker, signalling the difference between statements and questions, and between different types of questions, focusing .

  • The definition of intonation is the way the pitch of your voice goes up and down as you talk or reciting something by singing it.
  • An example of intonation is the way your voice raises in pitch at the end of a question. An example of intonation is given below..


  • Thus intonation can be done.
  • Two people just walked by you, speaking in a foreign language.
  • You didn’t understand a word, but you still somehow know what language they were speaking.


How can that be?

  • All languages have their own distinct melody, or music. To know what I mean, take a look at this video.
  • The girl in the video is not actually speaking any of the languages, she’s just using sounds with the right speed, tone and stresses.
  • This music of languages is called intonation, and it’s something you probably don’t even think about when speaking your native language.
  • Intonation is the rise and fall of your voice when you speak. Many times, it’s just as important as your words in expressing what you want to say.

That’s why when you’re learning English, you shouldn’t just learn what to say, you should also learn how to say it.

So to help, I’m going to show you seven situations where intonation matters in English, with examples of each type.


How Intonation Changes Meaning

  • Using the right intonation can actually change the meaning of your words.
  • Think of your voice as a musical instrument. As you speak, your voice gets louder and softer, places emphasis on certain parts, and goes up and down the notes.
  • The notes of your voice are called its pitch, and the change in pitch is what we call intonation.

For example, say this sentence out loud:

“How you doin’?”

  • This looks like a simple, very informal way to ask someone how they’re doing. It’s not grammatically correct (it should say “How are you doing?”), but it’s easy to understand.
  • When you said it out loud, you probably started on a low note and rose up to a higher note on the “doin’.”
  • Now listen to Joey from the TV show “Friends” say it in this video. He stresses the word “you” instead, which gives the phrase a completely different meaning.
  • His version of this simple greeting is suggestive(hinting at something sexual) and a bit flirtatious (he’s flirting). (Of course, his facial expression doesn’t help!).
  • And it doesn’t stop there! Something as simple as the word “really” can have many different meanings depending on your pitch.
  • A rising pitch shows surprise, a falling pitch shows disbelief.
  • Not changing your pitch at all can sound sarcastic (when you say one thing but mean the opposite).


So imagine that your friend just told you he won the lottery. How you say the word “really” will influence how he thinks you feel about this (and might influence whether he shares his prize money!).

It can also explain why sometimes people don’t seem to understand you even when you use the right words and grammar.

The Main English Intonation Patterns

There are two main American English intonation patterns:

  • Falling:This is when your voice lowers its pitch at the end of the sentence, and it’s the most common pattern in American English. Use this for most regular statements and questions that are not yes or no questions.
  • Rising:This is when your voice raises its pitch at the end of the sentence. Use this when you’re asking a yes or no question or to show disbelief or anger. This is a simplified explanation, and there are a number of other different ways you can change your pitch to change your meaning. But if you can learn these two main patterns well, the rest will follow! You’ll find out more about them in a bit, but first it’s important to learn how to study intonation.

Pronunciation Exercises

Tips on Practicing English Intonation

  • To improve your intonation, you will first need to become aware of it.
  • So before you do anything, record yourself speaking. Choose a paragraph that has different kinds of sentences, like the first few sentences in a book you’re reading (here’s one you can see online, just click on the book cover on the left to “look inside”).

Now that you have a recording of yourself speaking, you can listen to it and hear what needs work. Does your voice sound flat? Does it rise and fall in a way that sounds natural? Do you “sound” like a native speaker?

Group discussions