What is tone in literature? understand sound when writing | Writer. com (2023)

Everything you read has a tone. Blog posts have an engaging and conversational tone; Textbooks often have an informative, factual tone. A satire can have a humorous or ironic tone. The tone of literature encompasses the wide variety of moods, thoughts, and feelings that authors infuse into their work.

But what is clay? Where does it come from? And how do authors use different keys when writing?

Sound can be a slippery concept, so let's explore it methodically. We will first define tone in literature and look at relevant examples, then we will discuss the meaning of tone and how it affects our writing. Finally, we look at tone vs mood, two commonly confused onesliterary devices.


  • What is tone in literature?
  • How to convey tone in writing
  • What is tone in poetry?
  • tones in writing
  • The importance of tone in writing
  • Other examples of tone in literature
  • Tone vs. Mood in Literature

What is tone in literature?

Tone in literature refers to the author's attitude towards a particular subject.

Tone in literature refers to the author's attitude towards a particular subject. through specificchoice of words, the author reveals his feelings and opinions to the reader and conveys the author's intentions behind the text. The tone of a story is always described with an adjective.

Tone often reveals itself through narrative details. For example, read this excerpt from Mark Twain's "a call“:

I handed the applicant the phone and sat down. Then came the strangest of all strange things in this world - a conversation with only one ending. You hear questions asked; you don't hear the answer You hear invitations; You don't hear a thank you. You have listening pauses of dead silence followed by seemingly irrelevant and unwarranted exclamations of elated surprise or sadness or dismay.

Which adjectives describe this excerpt? The narrator could be described as "stunned" or "stunned". The telephone is clearly a recent invention of the author's time, and the use of words such as 'irrelevant', 'unjustifiable' and 'weird' suggest the author's attitude towards telephone calls. So "amazed" or "amazed" are two possible sounds for the excerpt.

What clay is not

Before we proceed, it is important to note here which soundis not. sound writingNotrefer to the following:

  • A particular character's attitude towards something.
  • The narrator's attitude – including the attitudes of fictional first-person narrators.
  • The mood or moods evoked by the piece.

Tonsolelyrefers to the author's attitude towards the subject of a particular text. It does not reflect the attitude of the characters, but only suggests the attitude of the author at that particular point in the text.

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How to convey tone in writing

Overall, tone is conveyed in literature in two ways:

  1. What the author describes to the reader, and
  2. The author's choice of words.

So, in order to understand the author's tone in writing, it is important to analyze both the details the narrator goes into and the words used to describe those details.

The author can use the above two tools to convey his attitude in different ways. In the Mark Twain excerpt above, he uses first-person narration to tell you directly how he feels. But an author can use the third person to convey a tone just as easily in writing, as Kathleen Thompson Norris did in "Bridging the Years“:

Jimmy and Anne Warriner had stumbled upon the Jackson Street cottage five years before, just before their wedding, and after an ecstatic, hasty tour, dashed like children to the estate agent, willingly handing him a deposit for the first month's rent . Anne had never managed a household before, she had no eyes for outdated plumbing, uneven floors, for the dark basement sacred to cats and garbage. She and Jim chatted happily about French windows, about brick garden paths, about what plain little curtains and Anne's big brass bowl full of nasturtiums would look like on the landing of the absurd little staircase that led from the square hall to two useless little chambers above.

One way to describe the author's take on Jimmy and Anne is "mature." The details suggest a sense of seniority: the author clearly believes that Jimmy and Anne are young and a bit immature. The author expresses this using words like "absurd," "useless," and "quick," indicating that the Warriners acted hastily and without planning. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the couple's dreams (French windows, nasturtiums) and their reality (outdated plumbing, dark basement) underscores the Warriners' foolhardiness.

Still, nothing about the passage feels critical - we're just observing the Warriners in this moment in their lives. So we could say that the passage has a tone that is both 'lighthearted' and 'mature'. The author sees these characters as juvenile, but doesn't express that in a holier-than-thou way - rather, the narrative remains amused and observational.

What is tone in poetry?

Tone reveals itself in poetry in much the same way as in prose. By paying close attention to the details and wording of the poem, the reader can gain a deeper understanding of the poet's attitude.

Consider the first two couplets from the poem "Pappelstrby Chen Chen:

The speaker's tone could be described as both "gentle" and "seeking". Words like "oh" and "sorry" betray the speaker's immediate uneasiness, especially as he describes himself as "affected". Despite this, he attempts to connect with the non-employee by commenting on details one would not normally discuss with a stranger. Imagine a stranger saying these two verses to you: Does he sound confident and confident, or hesitant and confident?

tones in writing

There are countless keys to writing, limited only by the range of human emotions.

There are countless keys to writing, limited only by the range of human emotions. Let's look at some common tones you might encounter, with examples. Each written example of tone of voice conveys the same information, but uses different wording and details to convey the author's attitude.

Ton Wortexample sentence
EnviousHis adorable new pup was happily exploring the backyard and yes he wiggled around on his back like he was making snow angels in July and yes it was an absolutely precious thing that would have opened anyone's heart just to see , and he was very lucky to have the new puppy all to himself.
grumpyHe got a puppy. Why on earth would he want a puppy? The miserable things pee everywhere, damage furniture and always manage to wake their owners up in the middle of pleasant dreams.
CuriousHe got a puppy, which was mostly confusing to people as he openly disliked dogs. What would he want with a pet?
hopefulPerhaps this new pup would open his heart to the world - both things so hurt and things so tender that perhaps with love will heal.
condescendingHe has a puppy, isn't that adorable? Who else does this? So cute, so American, like a rich but horrible father trying to win his child's love before a custody battle.
agitatedHe's got a puppy, but there's no need to talk about that because it's no more exciting than someone getting a new car horn or a bigger stereo, except both are probably a lot quieter than a new puppy, so just bring it on not to the language.
instructiveHe got a puppy, but he made a lot of mistakes along the way. First, he never confirmed that the pup was potty trained; Second, he realized that the leash he thought he owned did not belong to him; and third, he ran out of paper towel while trying to clean up the puppy's mess.
AccusativeHe got a puppy like everyone knew he would because he was hell bent on creating the worst life situation imaginable for everyone around him.
UnsureWell, he just bought a puppy, but he might have a bad habit of putting his dogs up for adoption once they get too big.
IronicHe did what any sane, sane, sane man would do and bought a puppy.
MutlosWhy did he have to get a puppy? There goes my healthy sleep schedule.
ThoughtfulHe got a puppy which, when you think about it, was the best way for him to find motivation and love his life again.
NervousHe got a puppy. Actually a Rough Collie. A pup with lots of germs, really sharp teeth, maybe a tendency towards blood. No need to worry, right?
RelievedOnce he bought a puppy, there was nothing to worry about.
ApatheticUh, he has a puppy. I think it was brown.

The importance of tone in writing

Tone is an integral part of an author's style. The writer must make certain stylistic choices in order to convey a particular tone, including control over word choice, punctuation, sentence length, slang, and the observational details he chooses to include.

Let's examine three other examples of tone in literature. We note the author's stylistic choices and how the tone of the passage affects the way we read it.

Other examples of tone in literature

The following examples of tone in literature are taken from both classical and contemporary works.

Examples of tone in literature: Yiyun Li

Let's start with this excerpt from history"A Thousand Years of Good Prayer" by Yiyun Li:

Mr. Shi begins to look forward to the mornings as he sits in the park and waits for them. He addresses her as "Madam" because he has never asked her name. Madam wears colors he wouldn't imagine on a woman her age or background, red and orange and purple and yellow. She has a pair of metal hair clips, a white elephant and a blue-green peacock. They clutch her thinning hair in a shaky way that reminds him of his daughter when she was a little kid — before her hair grew out, with a plastic butterfly hanging loosely on her forehead. Mr. Shi would like to tell Madam for a brief moment how much he misses the days when his daughter was little and life was full of hope. But he is sure beforehand that his English would fail him. Also, it is never his habit to talk about the past.

Let's break down the tone of this excerpt in three steps. We need to analyze:

  1. The theme of the passage
  2. What details does the author present us with, and
  3. The choice of words that complements these details.

The subject of this passage is the woman, whom Mr. Shi calls "madam". In particular, we read about Mr. Shi's personal relationship with Madam, who he just became friends with at a local park. Identifying this theme allows us to focus on the way she is described and the author's apparent attitude.

The details presented by the author reveal Madam's unique personality. She wears colors unexpected for "a woman her age" with hair clips appropriate for "a small child." The author also reveals that Mr. Shi has the impulse to tell Madam about his life, although it is not his habit.

Some words the author uses to describe Madam are color words: red, orange, purple and yellow, with "a white elephant and a teal peacock". She also has "thin hair" and her outfit hangs "wobbly".

Obviously, Madam is a woman of odd juxtapositions, with a child's soul that persists into old age. Nonetheless, she is described truthfully for us as the author is careful not only to mention her dress and age, but also the effect she has on Mr. Shi.

Knowing this, we can best describe the tone of this passage as "nuanced." The author wants us to learn about Madam's complexities without revealing any secrets, so the passage paints a portrait as the characters reveal themselves.

Examples of Tone in Literature: William Shakespeare</h3> Here is another example from theprologue fromRomeo and Juliet:

Two households, both equal in dignity,
In beautiful Verona, where we lay our stage,
From old rancor to new mutiny,
Where civilian blood defiles civilian hands.
Hence the deadly loins of these two foes
A pair of lovers with star crosses take their own lives;
Whose wayward pathetic falls
Do with their death to bury the quarrel of their parents.
The dreadful passage of her death-stained love,
And the continuation of her parents' anger,
What nothing could erase but the end of her children,
Is now the two-hour traffic of our stage;
Which, if you attend with patient ears,
What will be missing here, we should try to repair.

The tone of this passage as well as a recurring tone throughoutRomeo and Juliet, is a sympathy for the play's unfortunate protagonists. The narrator specifically emphasizes the situation of Romeo and Juliet: they are both "star-crossed lovers" who stem from an "old grudge" whose death is the only cure for their "parents' quarrel". The unfortunate fates of the two lovers were in the stars.

Also, the words "unhappy" and "pathetic" precede this notion that the lovers must die to resolve their family conflict. These words reveal the author's attitude towards Romeo and Juliet, and they also appear in thetime of the sonnet, which signifies both the dramatic irony of the piece and the sympathetic tone with which we should perceive it.

Why this tone? Shakespeare tries to emphasize the tragedy of this play. When young love is pure and holy, anything that interrupts that love is a human failure, and while Romeo and Juliet's romance was impulsive, it deserved a fair shot at life.

Examples of tone in literature: Neil Gaiman

Finally, let's analyze the tone of the introductory paragraphNeil Gaimans „We Can Get Them For You Wholesale“:

Peter Pinter had never heard of Aristippus of Cyrenaics, a lesser-known follower of Socrates, who claimed that avoiding trouble was the highest good attainable; however, he had lived his uneventful life according to that ordinance. In every respect but one (the inability to renounce a bargain, and who among us is entirely free from that?) he was a very moderate man. He didn't go to extremes. His speech was correct and restrained; he rarely exaggerates; he drank enough to be social and no more; he was anything but rich and by no means poor. He liked people and people liked him. With all this in mind, would you expect to find him in a low-life pub on the shabbier side of London's East End, striking what is colloquially referred to as a 'deal' with someone he barely knew? You would not. You wouldn't even expect to find him in the pub.

The author's tone in this passage is certainly ironic. Peter Pinter has a very humorous duality: despite being an immensely moderate man, he suddenly gets involved in suspicious activity in a suspicious part of town.

The author's description of Peter Pinter underscores thisIrony. Peter is described as Aristippus of Cyrenaic, whom you will probably never hear about unless you study ancient Greek philosophers. The author also draws on Peter's penchant for bargains, his "right" behavior and his real middle-class existence.

When these objects are juxtaposed with Peter's suddenly derelict surroundings, they betray the author's playful sense of irony. Not only is Peter's story filled with situational irony, but the details Gaiman focuses on reinforce that irony, creating a performance that is both humorous and confusing. The fact that Peter Pinter would "not" be expected to be in this situation is revealed by the author's ironic attitude, as well as the attitude one might expect from Peter's close relatives.

Tone vs. Mood in Literature

What is the difference between tone and mood?

The tone refers to the attitude of the author. Mood refers to the emotion the author wants to evoke in the reader.

Tone in literature, as we have already mentioned, refers to the author's attitude towards the subject of his writing. An author can express any number of attitudes through the words he uses and the details he shares.

Mood, on the other hand, refers to the emotion the author wants to evoke in the reader. In comparison to the tone, the mood of a text is far more intentional as the author wants to convey a certain feeling to the reader.

Sometimes the tone and mood of a passage are the same. The previous example from Neil Gaiman's short story is ironic in both tone and mood: the author thinks Peter's situation is full of irony, and he also wants the reader to find Peter ironic as well.

However, consider the excerpt we shared from Shakespeare'sRomeo and Juliet. The author's tone is deeply compassionate, but the actual mood of the passage is somber. Shakespeare wants the author to be saddened by the events of the play, because the needless death of a young love is a tragedy for which everyone is responsible.

Tuning differs from tone in three ways:

  • The mood can be influenced by the setting of a piece; sound can not be.
  • The author creates a mood to evoke certain emotions in the reader; Tone is a matter of the author's writing style.
  • Literary resources help to develop mood; Sound relies on dialogue and description.

For more information on sentiment, see our article on sentiment in literature.

What is mood in literature? Create mood while writing

Tone vs Mood Venn Chart

What is tone and how is it different from mood? This Venn diagram summarizes their differences.

Discover tone in literature at Writers.com

The tone is a by-product of the author's style and point of view. Nonetheless, it is possible for a text to have a counterintuitive tone - the author may express one emotion but suggest another with his choice of words.

Looking for honest feedback on the tone of your work? The online writing courses at Writers.com are designed to give you the feedback you need on your work. Check out oursupcoming course calendar, and check outour facebook groupto join our creative writing community. We hope to see you there!


What is tone in literary writing? ›

In literature, tone is, simply put, the attitude that a character or narrator or author takes towards a given subject.

What are the 3 types of tones? ›

Types of Tone in Writing

but here are the basic ones: Formal. Informal. Optimistic.

What are the 4 types of tone? ›

The tone of any piece of content can be analyzed along 4 dimensions: humor, formality, respectfulness, and enthusiasm.

What determines the tone when writing? ›

The way an author uses sentence structure, choice of words, and literary devices such as figurative language can all convey the tone of a piece of writing.

What are examples of tones in writing? ›

18 Examples of Tone Words in Writing
  • Cheerful.
  • Dry.
  • Assertive.
  • Lighthearted.
  • Regretful.
  • Humorous.
  • Pessimistic.
  • Nostalgic.
Jun 7, 2021

What is an example of a literary tone? ›

Some other examples of literary tone are: airy, comic, condescending, facetious, funny, heavy, intimate, ironic, light, modest, playful, sad, serious, sinister, solemn, somber, and threatening.

What are the 5 types of tones? ›

The many different types of tone of voice

Formal. Informal. Humorous. Serious.

What are the 5 elements of tone? ›

The 12 Elements of Tone
  • Word Length. If you want all readers to understand you clearly, it's best to use short words. ...
  • Sentence Length. Shorter sentences give a concise style, while longer ones are more rambling. ...
  • Tempo. ...
  • Pronouns. ...
  • Conciseness. ...
  • Clarity. ...
  • Jargon and Obscure Words. ...
  • Buzzwords and Clichés.
Mar 5, 2021

What is an example of tone in a sentence? ›

Examples from Collins dictionaries

I still didn't like his tone of voice. Suddenly he laughed again, this time with a cold, sharp tone. Her tone implied that her patience was limited. The spokesperson said the tone of the letter was very friendly.

What are the 10 tones? ›

10 different types of tones
  • 1 Formal.
  • 2 Informal.
  • 3 Optimistic.
  • 4 Worried.
  • 5 Friendly.
  • 6 Curious.
  • 7 Assertive.
  • 8 Encouraging.
Feb 9, 2021

How many tones are there in writing? ›

Generally, there are three categories of tones in writing: positive, negative, and neutral. Within these categories are varying intensities of emotion that writers may want to evoke.

What are the five tones in English? ›

Helping students to use intonation effectively to convey attitude in English will involve helping students to make the five tones (falls or rises in pitch): fall, rise, slight rise, fall followed by a rise, rise followed by a fall, through awareness raising and modelling of the common intonation patterns in context.

Why is tone important in writing? ›

Tone refers to the attitude a writer conveys toward the subject matter and the reader. The tone of a document can affect how the reader perceives the writer's intentions. These perceptions, in turn, can influence the reader's attitude toward the text and the writer.

What is tone and mood examples? ›

Tone often describes the writing overall, but the mood of a piece of writing can change throughout it. For example, at the death of a character the mood could be depressed or sad, but at the discovery of a long lost friend, the mood could be upbeat and joyful.

How do you analyze tone in literature? ›

To infer the tone of a piece of literature, we will need to recognize and explain how the author uses each of the following elements: diction, imagery, details, language, and syntax. These elements are known, for short, as DIDLS. Diction refers to the author's choice of words and phrases.

What are different kinds of tones? ›

Here are ten basic types of tone like It can be serious, humorous, sad, Tense, threatening, formal, Cooperative, informal, pessimistic, or optimistic. Your tone in writing will be reflective of your mood as you are writing.

What are the three elements of tone? ›

Tone has three elements that should be considered. Number one, the purpose of the message, and number two, the audience of the message, and number three, the words used to convey the tone.

What are the four tones of English? ›

That is, the first tone is high and flat pitch, the second is rising pitch, the third is a low falling-rising pitch, and the fourth is falling pitch. We'll discuss this further below. These tones can be seen on a tone chart like the one below.

How many English tones are there? ›

Helping students to use intonation effectively to convey attitude in English will involve helping students to make the five tones (falls or rises in pitch): fall, rise, slight rise, fall followed by a rise, rise followed by a fall, through awareness raising and modelling of the common intonation patterns in context.

What are the two types of tone? ›

The domain of the tones is usually the syllable. There are two main types of tone languages: register-tone, or level-tone, languages and contour-tone languages.

What does tone consist of? ›

What does tone mean? Tone reveals the author's attitude about a subject or topic to their reader. It can be delivered in different ways, like through word choice, punctuation, and sentence structure. It's similar to when you're engaging with someone in person.

What is tone in simple words? ›

The word tone often refers to sound, as in music, or the feeling conveyed by the way someone speaks: "His tone of voice told me I was in trouble." It can also be used to describe the atmosphere of a place — its flavor or spirit — or the shades of meaning in a work that might reveal the larger intentions of an author.

How many tones are used? ›

No music, except modern experimental pieces, uses all 12 tones. Most music uses the 7-tone or diatonic scale to divide octaves, and much of folk music uses five tones. These preferences correspond to the most prevalent formant ratios in speech.

How many sound tones are there? ›

The twelve-tone system is not a global standard; many non-Western cultures use different tonal systems. However, some intervals – namely the octave – are present in all musical cultures.

Is tone part of writing style? ›

Style includes diction and tone. The main goal in considering style is to present your information in a manner appropriate for both the audience and the purpose of the writing. Consistency is vital. Switching styles can distract the reader and diminish the believability of the paper's argument.

What is serious tone in writing? ›

Serious: This tone in writing creates a level of suspense within the reader. It increases their focus because the concepts being offered are important.

How do you identify tone in English? ›

Tone is the author's attitude toward a subject. The tone can be identified by looking at word choices and phrases. Take time to look at the language. An author uses words to create meaning.

What is literary tone and mood? ›

Vocabulary. Tone | (n.) The attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience conveyed through word choice and the style of the writing. Mood | (n.) The overall feeling, or atmosphere, of a text often created by the author's use of imagery and word choice.

What is tone vs mood? ›

Mood shows the particular scenes that direct us toward the subject of a story, but tone tells what each character actually thinks of that subject.

What is tone vs mood examples? ›

Tone often describes the writing overall, but the mood of a piece of writing can change throughout it. For example, at the death of a character the mood could be depressed or sad, but at the discovery of a long lost friend, the mood could be upbeat and joyful.

How does tone affect readers? ›

Tone refers to the attitude a writer conveys toward the subject matter and the reader. The tone of a document can affect how the reader perceives the writer's intentions. These perceptions, in turn, can influence the reader's attitude toward the text and the writer.

Does tone show emotion? ›

The tone in writing is the emotional response that is invoked among readers while reading a text.

Is tone A emotion? ›

Tone means the emotional state of a person. This can be over a very short or a very long period of time.

Is tone the same as feeling? ›

While tone signifies an author's point of view, the mood of a piece of writing is the atmosphere of a piece and the overall feeling it conveys to the reader.


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