What is intonation?

Intonation is like a ‘tune’ or ‘melody’ in the voice, used to express different shades of meaning.

Intonation patterns are the ways speakers adjust the pitch of their voice in order to convey meaning. 

Why is intonation important?

Intonation is very important in communication as it gives information beyond just the basic meaning of the words.

It can express the speaker’s attitude or feeling about something,

as well as giving grammatical information (such as distinguishing between a statement and a question).

For example: "You’re seeing the doctor tomorrow." 

Even within a question, intonation can indicate if the speaker is confirming information or seeking additional information. 

Why is intonation difficult?

The rules for intonation patterns are complex, as they can be used in different ways to mean different things.

Being aware of some of the main patterns and how they are used can help you be understood better and to understand others better.

There are some common intonation patterns used in English, focusing on the direction of the voice at the end of the phrase:

  • where the voice goes down at the end of the phrase – this is called a FALL
  • where the voice goes up at the end of the phrase – this is called a RISE
  • and there are variations on these, like level, fall-rise, rise-fall

Each of these can have different meanings depending on the context.

Using an inappropriate intonation pattern may confuse your listener, so it’s important to think of how he or she might be interpreting what you’re saying.

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