Tone is the author’s attitude toward the topic. The author’s attitude is expressed through the words and details he or she selects. For example, textbooks are usually written with an objective tone which includes facts and reasonable explanations. The objective tone is matter-of-fact and neutral. The details are mostly facts. On the other hand, fiction and personal essays are usually written with a subjective tone. A subjective tone uses words that describe feelings, judgments, or opinions. The details are likely to include experiences, senses, feelings, and thoughts.
Two Types of Tone
- Objective tone is impartial. It does not show any feelings for or against a topic; therefore, it is unbiased or neutral. Often objective tone uses higher-level words and avoids pronouns such as I and you, creating a formal tone.
- Subjective tone is personal, biased, emotional, and often informal.
Note: Tone is expressed through the words and details the author selects. To determine the author’s tone, you must notice how these words and details are used within the writing.
Examples of Tone
The following statements express different attitudes about a shabby apartment. Six different tones are used: optimistic, bitter, tolerant, sentimental, humorous, and objective.
This place may be shabby, but since both of my children were born while we lived here, it has a special place in my heart.
The tone is sentimental. “It has a special place in my heart,” expresses tender emotions.
This isn’t the greatest apartment in the world, but it’s not really that bad.
The tone is tolerant. The words “not really that bad” show that the writer accepts the situation while recognizing that it could be better.
If only there were some decent jobs out there, I wouldn’t be reduced to living in this miserable dump.
The tone is bitter. The writer presents a situation that forces him or her to live in a “miserable dump.”
This place does need some repairs, but I’m sure the landlord will be making improvements sometime soon.
The tone is optimistic. The writer is expecting the apartment to be improved soon.
When we move away, we’re planning to release three hundred cockroaches and tow mice, so we can leave the place exactly as we found it.
The tone is humorous. The writer claims to be planning a comic revenge on the landlord by returning the apartment to the terrible condition it was in when the tenants moved in.
This is the apartment we live in. It provides shelter.
The tone is objective. The writer does not express feelings about the apartment. He simply states facts.
- Accusatory – charging of wrongdoing
- Apathetic – indifferent due to lack of energy or concern
- Awe – solemn wonder
- Bitter – exhibiting strong animosity as a result of pain or grief
- Cynical – questions the basic sincerity and goodness of people
- Condescension; condescending – a feeling of superiority
- Callous – unfeeling, insensitive to feelings of others
- Contemplative – studying, thinking, reflecting on an issue
- Critical – finding fault
- Choleric – hot-tempered, easily angered
- Contemptuous – showing or feeling that something is worthless or lacks respect
- Caustic – intense use of sarcasm; stinging, biting
- Conventional – lacking spontaneity, originality, and individuality
- Disdainful – scornful
- Didactic – author attempts to educate or instruct the reader
- Derisive – ridiculing, mocking
- Earnest – intense, a sincere state of mind
- Erudite – learned, polished, scholarly
- Fanciful – using the imagination
- Forthright – directly frank without hesitation
- Gloomy – darkness, sadness, rejection
- Haughty – proud and vain to the point of arrogance
- Indignant – marked by anger aroused by injustice
- Intimate – very familiar
- Judgmental – authoritative and often having critical opinions
- Jovial – happy
- Lyrical – expressing a poet’s inner feelings; emotional; full of images; song-like
- matter-of-fact- -accepting of conditions; not fanciful or emotional
- Mocking – treating with contempt or ridicule
- Morose – gloomy, sullen, surly, despondent
- Malicious – purposely hurtful
- Objective – an unbiased view-able to leave personal judgments aside
- Optimistic – hopeful, cheerful
- Obsequious – polite and obedient in order to gain something
- Patronizing – air of condescension
- Pessimistic – seeing the worst side of things; no hope
- Quizzical – odd, eccentric, amusing
- Ribald – offensive in speech or gesture
- Reverent – treating a subject with honor and respect
- Ridiculing – slightly contemptuous banter; making fun of
- Reflective – illustrating innermost thoughts and emotions
- Sarcastic – sneering, caustic
- Sardonic – scornfully and bitterly sarcastic
- Satiric – ridiculing to show weakness in order to make a point, teach
- Sincere – without deceit or pretense; genuine
- Solemn – deeply earnest, tending toward sad reflection
- Sanguineous – optimistic, cheerful
- Whimsical – odd, strange, fantastic; fun