Intonation: The Secret Ingredient to Great Pronunciation (with Audio)

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Hello, everybody! This is Adir Ferreira from www.adirferreira.com.br  and today I’m going to be talking to you about intonation.

Intonation is the melody of language and is made of pitches (high or low qualities of a sound) that rise and fall. Intonation is used to communicate our intentions and emotions, and it is used in spoken language to replace punctuation.

Intonation can indicate anger, surprise, hesitation, confusion, sarcasm, interest or lack thereof. It is very important to learn and use correct intonation so that your spoken English is more dynamic and more interesting to listen to.

In English we have four kinds of intonation patterns: (1) falling, (2) rising, (3)  non-final, and (4) wavering intonation. Let’s learn about each one.

1. Falling Intonation

Falling intonation is when we lower our voice at the end of a sentence. This usually happens in statements and in questions that contain words like where, when, what, why, how, and who (these are called information questions). Here are some examples:

Statements

1. My name is Adir Ferreira.

2. Nice to meet you.

3. I’m going to the movies.

4. I’ll be back in an hour.

5. Have a great day.

Questions

1. What’s your name?

2. Where does he live?

3. Why did you do that?

4. Who’s that woman over there?

5. How can I open this?

2. Rising Intonation

Rising intonation is when we raise the pitch of our voice at the end of a sentence. We use this kind of intonation in questions that are answered with “yes” or “no” (these are called yes/no questions). Check out some examples:

1. Are you American?

2. Does she know about this?

3. Can you lend me a pencil?

4. Is the movie good?

5. Are we leaving soon?

Rising intonation is also used in expressions like:

1. Excuse me?

2. Really?

Here are some question pairs with both rising and falling intonation. Listen and practice saying them!

1. Do you know that woman? How do you know that woman?

2. Do you go to school here? Why do you go to school here?

3. Did you buy a new laptop? What kind of laptop did you buy?

4. Do you work? Where do you work?

 3. Non-final intonation

In non-final intonation sentences, the pitch rises and falls within the sentence. This type of intonation is used with unfinished thoughts, introductory phrases, series of words and also when we express choices. Let’s listen to some examples:

Unfinished thoughts

1. She bought the magazine, but she didn’t read it.

2. When I finished high school, I got  a job.

3. If I study hard, I’ll pass the test.

4. I’m going outside, for some fresh air.

Introductory Phrases

Phrases like as a matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, actually, in my opinion, if you don’t mind and by the way also indicate that a thought is not finished, so we use non-final intonation. Some examples:

1. As a matter of fact, I do know where she lives.

2. As far as I’m concerned, she was not suitable for that position.

3. Actually, the movie was pretty good.

4. In my opinion, this car is way too expensive.

5. If you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.

6. By the way, have you read that book I lent you?

Series of Words

Suppose that you say you like playing several sports like football, tennis, basketball, and volleyball. Here’s how it would sound in English with non-final intonation:

I like playing football, tennis, basketball and volleyball.

We have rising intonation on football, tennis and basketball. The intonation falls on volleyball. Listen again:

I like playing football, tennis, basketball and volleyball.

Some more examples:

1. At college I’m taking psychology, French, history, and linguistics.

2. He left work, came home, took a shower, and went to bed.

3. I need rice, beans, lettuce, and sugar.

4. “I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.” – Fred Allen

Expressing Choices

Non-final intonation is also used when you choose between two or more things. Some examples:

1. Do you want to stay home or go to the movies?

2. Are you going to travel in March or April?

3. Do you speak Spanish or Portuguese?

4. Is your name Mary or Mandy?

5. Would you like a coke or some juice?

4. Wavering Intonation

Wavering intonation is used when we express specific emotions or attitudes within a word. You can express, for instance, surprise, anger, sarcasm, hesitation, fear, amazement, among others.

Take a look at these two words: you did. I’m going to say them showing that I’m curious, very surprised, disappointed, angry and in agreement. Listen!

1. You did? (curious)

2. You did? (very surprised)

3. You did? (disappointed)

4. You did? (angry)

5. You did. (in agreement)

Check out some more examples:

Thanks a lot. (normal)

Thanks a lot. (very happy)

Thanks a lot. (sarcastic)

 

Okay. (normal)

Okay. (hesitant or unwilling)

Okay! (very excited)

Okay! (frustrated and angry)

 

No! (angry)

No? (surprised)

No… (hesitant)

No. (sarcastic)

Well, this is it for today. If you want to learn more about American English Pronunciation (and are a Portuguese speaker) check out my Guia de Pronúncia – Inglês Americano.

See you all next time!

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