Tone: Definition and Useful Examples of Tone in Speech and Literature

Last Updated on May 9, 2020

Have you ever heard someone referring to tone when talking about the English language? If you have, you might have considered what this is and how it is used. In this article, we are going to look further into the meaning of tone and how it can be used. We will do this by taking a look at some examples of how it can be used in both a conversational context as well as when it has been used in written works.


Tone Definition

What is tone?

Tone is used in order to convey how the speaker or author is feeling and to put across their opinion and thought on the situation which is being discussed. Tone is a way to show the attitude of the writer or the speaker.

When used as a literary device, tone can have a variety of themes, it could be formal, serious, humorous, sad and many others and this is an excellent way for the writer to convey their thoughts on the situation, or indeed, the thoughts of the character which they are writing.

Tone Examples

Examples Of Tone In Speech

When listening to the spoken conversation, you are likely to hear a variety of tones being used, and it is important to be able to differentiate between these different tones in order to understand them. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how tone can be used in day to day conversation as well as seeing a short explanation of each one.

  • In a conversation between a mother and daughter, the mother says “I’m sorry but we cannot afford to go on vacation this year.” the daughter replies “What a surprise!” – The tone of the daughter is sarcastic in this situation.
  • Two friends are chatting and one says to the other “I have brought you a gift.” the second friend replies “Wow, that’s so lovely” – The tone of the second friend is cheerful and grateful.
  • My son has spent his whole life not taking things seriously, and now he expects to pass this exam. He has no hope at all.” – The tone of this statement is pessimistic.
  • What the hell has happened here? Is this your idea of a joke?“- The tone in this example is angry and urgent.
  • It is a pleasure to meet your Mrs Smith, in what way can I help you?” – The tone of this question is formal.
  • Hey! It’s been a while. How’re you doing?” – The tone of this question is informal.
  • When I see her, I am going to kill her.” – The tone of this statement is threatening and sinister.
  • Two friends are talking, the first one says “It isn’t long now until we go to the concert, are you looking forward to it?” The second friend replies “You have no idea how excited I am, I have been waiting to see this singer for my whole life, I could burst!” – The tone of the reply is excitable and joyful.
  • The way I see it is that if something isn’t done about this crime wave, the whole city will be up in arms before long.” The tone of this statement is casual.

Examples Of Tone In Literature

As we mentioned earlier on, tone is used as a literary device in order to convey the opinions of the writer or the character which they are speaking on behalf of. The tone of a story or piece of writing is not what is being said but more how it is being said. There are many good examples throughout the years of how tone can be used in the written word. We are now going to take a look at some of these examples to further understand the concept.

  • In Rudyard Kipling’s essay, writes the words “I am at the Yellowstone National Park today, and I wish that I was dead.” – In this example, the author is displaying his opinion of the national park, readers may not agree with it but he sets the tone of the rest of the essay as being disdainful and miserable.
  • In the novel, Catcher in the rye, written by J D Salinger, we are able to pick up on the personality of the writer through the tone of his comments throughout the book. Some of these comments are “It is understood that morons do not like it when you call them a moron.” Another example from this piece is “Catholics are forever attempting to work out if you are also a Catholic.” And finally, he says “If a girl looks pretty, who is bothered whether she is late? No one!” His tone is straight to the point, sarcastic and dry.
  • Robert Frost uses a sad tone in his poem The road not taken, we can see an example of this by reading the following passage; “I’ll be saying this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages ago, there were two roads which diverged in the wood, I chose the one which was less travelled, and that made a great difference.” By using the word sigh at the beginning, this sets the sad tone that we mentioned.
  • In The tell-tale heart written by Edgar Allen Poe, we see that the tone which is set by the writer is one of guilt and perhaps insanity. We can get this by looking at the following example from the piece: “There was a dull, quick, low sound-just like the sound that is made by a watch when it is wrapped in cotton. What can I do?
  • Ernest Hemingway sets a peaceful tone in his piece A clean, well-lit place. We can see this when we read this short excerpt from the piece – “It was late and all the people had left the cafe apart from an elderly man who was sitting in the shadows made by the leaves in the electric light. During the day the street was filled with dust but when it was night, the dew had settled and the elderly man liked to sit here until late because he could not hear and at night when all was quiet, he noticed a difference.

Learn more with the list of tone words in English with examples.


Tone is a very important part of the English language and can be used in more than one way – during spoken conversation and also as a literary device. Being able to pick up on the tone of the writer or speaker will enable you to grasp a greater understanding of the situation which is being discussed or written about.

Tone Infographic

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