Tone : English Glossary

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Tone : English Glossary

This section ought to be read in conjunction with the section on Purpose in Writing, as tone and purpose are very much related: one's tone is defined by why one is writing and vice versa.

Your behavior while attending church is different from your behavior while hanging out in the back yard with friends, or at least we hope it is. And part of that difference is the difference in language, a difference not just in the words we use but in what we call tone. We also recall being told, when we were very young, not to "use that tone of voice with me, Mister (or Missy, as the case may be)!" Just as the pitch and volume of one's voice carry a difference in tone from street to church, the choice of words and the way we put our sentences together convey a sense of tone in our writing. The tone, in turn, conveys our attitude toward our audience and our subject matter. Are we being frivolous or serious, casual or formal, sweet or stuffy? The choice of a single word can change the tone of a paragraph, even an entire essay. In the first sentence of this paragraph, for example, the phrasal verb "hanging out" is considerably more casual than others we might have chosen: gathering, congregating, assembling.

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