Tone shapes the work as a whole, indicating if the piece should be read as serious, funny, dramatic or upsetting.

Tone gives shape and life to a story. Through tone, the attitude and mood of a literary work are created and presented. It gives voice to the characters, both literally and figuratively.

Tone also allows the reader to learn about a character’s personality and disposition. But, beyond all this, tone shapes the work as a whole, indicating if the piece should be read as serious, funny, dramatic or upsetting.

Hello, my name is Fidel Andrada

Tone word examples are present everywhere in the media and real life. Let’s take a look at it, from an ordinary sense and a literary viewpoint.

Tone Word List

A good way to uncover the depths of tone is to try writing in different mediums. Even if your dream is to be published in an anthology of short stories, practice writing in other formats too. Write a news story; write a poem; write an opinion piece. This will help you adopt different tones and allow you to move gracefully through all of your creations.

Let’s explore the various tones words can take on:

Words with a Funny Tone

Absurd

Meaning — — So impossible, it’s funny

Amused

Meaning — — Watching or hearing something funny

Animated

Meaning — — To be lively

Blithe

Meaning — — Cheerful; carefree

Entertaining

Meaning — — Agreeable; amusing

Enthusiastic

Meaning — — Great excitement

Farcical

Meaning — — Exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous

Hilarious

Meaning — — Someone or something very funny

Hysterical

Meaning — — Extremely funny

Incredulous

Meaning — — Something hard to believe

Jocular

Meaning — — Prone to joking

Joyful

Meaning — — Expressing delight or happiness

Laughable

Meaning — — Deserving of laughter

Merry

Meaning — — Festive; full of fun

Playful

Meaning — — Something said or done in a joking way

Riotous

Meaning — — Boisterous; uproarious

Satirical

Meaning — — Humor or irony that’s sarcastic

Silly

Meaning — — Absurdity; foolishness

Witty

Meaning — — Funny; clever

Words with a Serious Tone

Apathetic

Meaning — — A lack of feeling or emotion

Austere

Meaning — — Something very somber

Businesslike

Meaning — — Practical; unemotional

Compliant

Meaning — — Obedient

Condescending

Meaning — — Acting with a superior attitude

Contemplative

Meaning — — Deep in thought or meditation

Contemptuous

Meaning — — Full of hatred

Critical

Meaning — — Careful analysis and judgment

Demeaning

Meaning — — To out someone down

Depressing

Meaning — — Gloom; dejection

Grave

Meaning — — Serious; solemn; sedate

Grim

Meaning — — Stern; unmoving

Pensive

Meaning — — Deep in thought

Philosophical

Meaning — — Calm; rational

Pragmatic

Meaning — — Practical; logical

Sedate

Meaning — — Calm; reserved

Solemn

Meaning — — Serious; sincere

Stern

Meaning — — Very serious; strict

Tragic

Meaning — — Sad

Words with a Sad Tone

Bleak

Meaning — — Gloomy; somber

Demoralizing

Meaning — — Discouraging; disheartening

Depressing

Meaning — — Causing sadness or dejection

Disparaging

Meaning — — Insulting; ridiculing

Disgruntled

Meaning — — Unhappy; dissatisfied; angry

Dismal

Meaning — — Gloomy; sad

Egotistical

Meaning — — Conceited; vain

Facetious

Meaning — — Joking at an inappropriate time

Haughty

Meaning — — An arrogant person

Hostile

Meaning — — Aggressive; angry; unfriendly

Inane

Meaning — — Dumb; pointless; silly

Indignant

Meaning — — Showing anger over something unjust

Lugubrious

Meaning — — Sad; depressed

Melancholy

Meaning — — Sad; gloomy

Menacing

Meaning — — Threatening; dangerous

Morbid

Meaning — — Gruesome; grisly

Resentful

Meaning — — Holding a grudge

Sinister

Meaning — — Threat or harm

Words with an Upbeat Tone

Affable

Meaning — — Friendly; easy to talk to

Benevolent

Meaning — — Kind; charitable

Carefree

Meaning — — Without worry

Compassion

Meaning — — Sympathy; an urge to help

Conciliatory

Meaning — — Trying to make someone feel better

Dignified

Meaning — — Worth; nobility; self-respect

Docile

Meaning — — Passive; easily teachable

Exhilarated

Meaning — — Energized; excited; happy

Exuberant

Meaning — — Great excitement; enthusiasm

Festive

Meaning — — Cheerful; celebratory

Humorous

Meaning — — Funny; comical

Jovial

Meaning — — Happiness; cheerfulness

Lighthearted

Meaning — — Without trouble or worry

Optimistic

Meaning — — Being positive or hopeful about the future

Reverent

Meaning — — Awe; respect

Sanguine

Meaning — — Cheerful; confident; optimistic

Serene

Meaning — — Untroubled

Sympathetic

Meaning — — Feeling compassion

Whimsical

Meaning — — Playful; out of the ordinary

Examples of Tone

Let’s explore various examples of tone from literary masterpieces.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

“If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.”

One of the most well-known characters in all of literature, Holden Caulfield, has an undeniable tone in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. He’s sarcastic, tough, and inquisitive. That’s exactly what Salinger’s purpose was. He wanted to write a coming of age narrative about a boy navigating through life alone and observing and criticizing the world around him.

Frankenstein, John Lauritsen

“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”

Victor speaks these words at the very beginning of the novel, setting an ominous mood for the rest of the tale.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

In a different context, this quotation would be full of woe and misery. However, although Lysander is making comments about troubles with love, the reality is the words are spoken by a comic character indicating the play is sure to be full of perplexing yet light trials of love. This is William Shakespeare at his best.

The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

In this one line by W.B. Yeats, the words anarchy loosed upon the world create a sense of fear and foreboding.

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

“I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

This sums up the poem and the effect of tone in general. Robert Frost is commonly interpreted as looking back on his experience with joy. However, in this instance, Frost isn’t thrilled with some choice he made in the past.

What’s the Difference Between Tone, Mood, and Voice?

Each of these elements of a story are shades of the same color, but there are differences. When discussing various literary elements, it’s advantageous to be precise with terminology.

Tone is the writer’s attitude. The tone will set up a suspenseful novel, a hopeful opinion piece, or a melancholy poem.

While tone stems from the author, mood can be attributed to the reader. The writer’s tone will illustrate various feelings or emotions, and the reader will develop those emotions and process them in the form of their own mood. Typically, of course, it’ll line up with the author’s tone. If the author is writing a piece on hope and everlasting love, the reader’s mood will align accordingly. If the author’s tone is melancholy and dreary as the main character scrapes by in matters of love and war, the reader’s mood will shift accordingly.

Voice is harder to pinpoint. Every writer has their own voice. That is, you can pick up on common catch phrases or repeated themes in their works. In a way, voice is the umbrella under which tone and mood develop. A writer’s specific voice will connotate a somber tone or an upbeat tone in a way that will allow the reader to experience a dismal mood or a hopeful mood.

Never Be Tone Deaf Again

Conversations in everyday life and much of what we read has a tone. Sometimes, as in the Frost example, tone isn’t always easy to decipher. More, people might perceive an everyday encounter or an author’s tone in different ways.

This is why literary analysis is so thrilling. A writer might paint a passage with a specific intention, or tone, in mind. Meanwhile, it could go on to create a whole slew of mixed moods from the audience. Different perceptions in tone and mood can elevate book club meetings to something resembling a professional wrestling match. Whose perception is right?

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