Tone of voice in English – Is it possible to change the meaning of what you’re saying, without changing your words? The answer is – YES
We use our voice to express our emotions and feelings. It plays a huge role in our communication with other people.
We often put more meaning into the speaker’s tone of voice (how they say things) than into the words they use. And sometimes it only takes a slight change in our voice for something to be taken as a joke, an insult, or a friendly comment.
The thing is – when we switch to a different language, things may get a bit more complicated as some tones of voice may carry a different meaning in another language.
Understanding those differences and knowing what to do in order to bridge those gaps, can really transform our communication skills as non-native speakers. We’ll become clearer and feel more confident, which is the most important thing.
“Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine. That’s fine? That’s fine!” Let’s talk about tone of voice. Tone is, essentially, how you say things. But when we think about it, it’s more about the emotions and the feelings conveyed through your voice, regardless of the words that you’re using.
So just like in the example that I used – “That’s fine” – you felt four different things. One: “that’s fine.” I was genuine, I was calm, I was kind. The other one was “That’s fine”. Right? I was unsatisfied, a little sarcastic maybe. “That’s fine?..” – uncertain, confused, unsure. And “That’s fine!” What was that? I was definitely not happy, right?
So the tone is basically the emotion that I’m expressing through my voice. A lot of times we don’t let out a lot of emotions to be expressed through our voice. And it’s really important in communication because, you know, for example, when you give a compliment to someone, you can say, “You have a nice hat”, “you have a nice hat”. So people actually put more meaning to how I say it, rather than the words that I use. Right?
So that might not be perceived as a compliment. Maybe they would take it as an insult if I say it like that – “Oh, you have a nice hat.” Versus “You have a nice hat!” So all I did was I changed my voice a little bit and I used my pitch a little differently. From going really flat – “You have a nice hat…” – leaving it up hanging, and my voice was a little harsh. Versus: “You have a nice hat“. My voice was a little softer and I used pitch more. “You have a nice hat“.
By the way, if you are new here, then welcome to my channel. My name is Hadar and I’m a speech and pronunciation coach. And I’m a non-native speaker of English and I am here to help you sound confident, clear, and proud when speaking English. If you want to connect, you can find me at @hadar.accentsway on Instagram. And of course I’m inviting you to click ‘Subscribe’ and click the bell to get all the notifications so you know when my videos come out.
Now, let’s go back to tone of voice. The reason why I wanted to make this video is because the other day I came across this long list of tone of voice words. And it was actually aimed at writing cause also you can have tone while writing, but we’re not going to talk about that. But then I thought it would be so great to see how we can use all these emotions on the same sentence and see how it completely changes the sentence, and talk about what actually happens to the voice when we use this certain tone in comparison to another.
Let’s begin by taking the simple phrase “That’s great” and explore four tones of voice. The first one is going to be excited or happy. The second one is going to be sarcastic. The third one is going to be not interested or just indifferent. And the last one is going to be angry.
Now, as I do it, try to detect what is different about my voice and my pitch. So, yeah, we can fake emotions by changing your voice. I mean, people will notice, so I don’t recommend you to do that, but still, understand that you can sound more friendly or you can sound more excited, even if you’re not that excited, simply by using your voice and your tone and your pitch.
Okay. So, “that’s great”. Excited: “That’s great. That’s great. That’s great. That’s great”. Sarcastic: [I have that look when I’m sarcastic]: “That’s great. That’s great. That’s great”. Indifferent: “That’s great. That’s great. That’s great. That’s great”. Angry: “That’s great! That’s great! Oh, that’s just great! That’s great!” Doesn’t sound like things are so great. “That’s great! Oh, that’s great!” Okay.
So, I said the same thing, but it meant four different things. Now, what is the difference? What was different about my voice? Let’s try to explore it. The first one was “That’s great”, right? So, my voice was slightly higher, the pitch difference was bigger – “That’s great. That’s great”, right. Now, if we compare it to what we did later for the indifferent – “That’s great” – not a lot of pitch changes there.
So, when someone is excited or happy, usually there is like a big pitch range between the stress words and the unstressed words: “That’s great”. Or at least you hear the difference within the word. “That’s great”. Right? So my voice is up here, it’s all forward: “That’s great!” Right?
Now, when I was sarcastic, I went down: “Oh, that’s great”. Right? My voice was like a little harsher. “That’s great. That’s great”. Right? Little lower, maybe a little bit of a vocal fry here. “Oh, that’s great. Oh, that’s great”. Okay? So, I wasn’t all the way up here.
And then, when I was not interested or just like indifferent, it was kind of flat. And my voice was not as full as it was for when I was excited. “That’s great!” – “Oh, that’s great. Oh, that’s great. Oh, that’s great”. I leave it up hanging, I don’t close it: “That’s great. Yeah, whatever”. Right? That feeling of like, “I don’t care. I don’t care”.
And when I was angry, you felt like I was dropping at the end. And of course, my voice was more energized. “Oh, that’s great!” Maybe more of the lower tones, right, like more of my chest voice. “Oh, that’s great! That’s great! Great!”
Now, let’s take the sentence “Can I get a cup of coffee?” Right. So, if you want to say it in a friendly way, remember – friendly and excited and happy, usually means more pitch. So, if you ask for a cup of coffee and this is how you say it – “Can I get a cup of coffee? Can I get a cup of coffee?”, it may not sound as friendly as “Can I get a cup of coffee? Can I get a cup of coffee?” Right? Because I use more pitch, my voice is a little softer, which indicates friendliness, you know, I’m being kind, I’m excited.
“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee please?” versus “Can I get a cup of coffee? Can I get a cup of coffee?” This tone is usually associated with being very strict or authoritative, which is also fine. Let’s say you walk into a cafe and the barista is like treating everyone else, but you, not even taking a look at you, giving everyone else coffee. So, probably you wouldn’t want to be like, “Oh, can I get a cup of coffee, please?” But more like, “Can I get a cup of coffee?”, right? Because you’re a little angry, you’re a little frustrated.
So, the tone of voice is different – the pitch is lower and your voice is a little different, it’s more harsh. “Can I get a cup of coffee?” – like, stronger, versus that softness that we have – “Can I get a cup of coffee, please?”
Now, staying in the restaurant realm, if let’s say, I ordered something and I did not get what I want. And I can say, “Um, that’s not what I ordered”. That has a very different tone than “That’s not what I ordered!” Right? So, listen to the pitch: “That’s not what I ordered” – my voice is a little softer and being friendly. Maybe I really like the server and I know that, you know, he or she did their best.
“Um, I’m sorry, that’s not what I ordered” versus “That’s not what I ordered!” I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but you need to understand that there is a difference in each way of speaking fits, or suits, a certain scenario. So, you want to understand what is the context to be able to use the right tone.
And you want to understand that if you don’t pay attention to how you say things, sometimes you might come across as too excited or friendly when that’s not the situation. Or, on the contrary, you may come across as unfriendly or demanding when that’s not your intention, it’s just the tone of voice that you’re using.
And as speakers of a second language, sometimes we apply the tone that we have, or we’re familiar with in our native language, or we express things differently, or maybe it’s less expressive in your native language. And as a result, it may come across as, you know, more indifferent. And you have to understand that pitch and the quality of your voice determine the experience that people have when they hear you speak.
So, it’s a tool for you to express what you want, in addition to using the right words. Because, as you see, like sometimes we can say a positive thing, like “That’s great”, and it may not sound positive at all.
Let’s take another one. “You’re so cute. You’re so cute”. So, again, if I’m excited and genuine – “You’re so cute. You’re so cute”. Let’s say I want to sound a little patronizing or condescending: “Oh, you’re so cute. You’re so cute. You’re so cute”. Right? Like, I’m changing my tone a little bit, I’m changing my voice. “Oh, you’re so cute. Oh, you’re so cute. Oh, you’re so cute”. See how it’s different. And even the intonation is sort of the same, but you feel something different. And it’s not acting, it’s not acting. It’s just a way to express a certain emotion or feeling.
Now, let’s try another one and then you will try yourself. Okay. Let’s try the sentence “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me?” Let’s try it in a genuine friendly way: “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me?”
Now, let’s try to do it in a romantic way: “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me?” Now, let’s do it as a joke or a funny way: “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me?” You hear that laugh in my voice? Try it. “Are you waiting for me?”
And, of course, upset: “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me? I mean, I’ve been waiting for you for four hours. Are you waiting for me?” Surprised: “Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me? Are you waiting for me?”
Okay. So now it’s your turn. Let’s take the phrase “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know”. And I’m going to write the tone and you are going to try it out and see how it’s different. Let’s start. Angry:
Friendly, and excited:
Okay. If you want to practice this more, then I’ve prepared for you a list of different tones, as well as a few sentences that can be said in different tones. So, if you want to practice that, then click on the link and it’ll take you to my blog post, where you’ll see that list so you can practice it and have fun. And also start paying attention to how people say things around you.
And, especially if you feel connected with someone or you feel that they’re very friendly and nice and kind, what is it about their voice that makes them come across as so friendly and inviting? And on the other hand, if you have someone that repels you, that you feel uncomfortable around, check in with yourself and see what it is about their voice that makes you have and feel those feelings.
Because the voice is the first thing that people hear, and it really does convey all these beautiful emotions that we can experience. So, it’s good to know that as a listener, but it’s also good to have it as a communicator. Because you want to be able to use your voice so it gets you what you want and what you need, and it helps you connect with other people.
So, thank you so much for being here. If you like this video, then click ‘Like’, “click Like” and subscribe. I mean, I guess that’s more exciting than “Click ‘Like’ and subscribe”, right? It’s like I’m being authoritative here – “Click ‘Like’ and subscribe”. No, cause then you’d be like, “Who does she think she is?” Right? So, this is why I’m saying it like that – “Click ‘Like’ and subscribe”, “Subscribe to my channel”. And then leave a comment below and tell me, what is your favorite tone of voice to practice?
Have a beautiful, beautiful day and I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.
I’ve prepared for you some sentences that can be used in different tones of voice.
Use the following sentences to practice.
Where were you?
What were you doing there?
Can I get a cup of coffee?
That’s not what I meant.
What did they say?
Are you coming?
Can you move aside please?
Were you waiting for me?