The Rules of Intonation in English
Have you heard about the rules of intonation in English? If you have not heard of them yet, then let me walk you through them. Here’s what you need to know!
Imagine yourself asking someone and realize was it exactly the way it should sound? Sometimes, the way we said things actually gets us really anxious in a way that we get scared if we said it wrongly or sarcastically, or jokingly. The point is, we want to make sure that we say things with the correct intonation.
In particular, you talk to a friend and say, “My shoes are nice, aren’t they?” Yet, you felt bewildered whether you are trying to confirm it or simply trying to ask about his/her point of view.
Truthfully, almost all of us struggle to distinguish when to use the rising and falling intonation whenever we utter a statement or a question. Subsequently, this continues to confuse people with what we truly want to convey. That’s why in this article, we are going to learn the different types of intonation.
What is Intonation?
Intonation is the way the voice rises or falls when communicating. In short, it is the music of speech.
It focuses more on how you say it rather than what is being said. This is important in English communication because sentences may vary in meaning depending on the intonation. It also yields dynamics on your speech and makes it more compelling to hear.
So what are common types and rules of intonation?
The most common types of Intonation we have in English are the following:
- Falling intonation
- Rising intonation
- Falling–rising intonation
- Rising–falling intonation
One of the most common intonation patterns in the English language is the rules of falling intonation.
This is when the pitch of the voice falls at the end of a sentence. We commonly use them in statements, commands, WH-questions, confirmatory question tags, and exclamations.
Below are some examples where we use the falling intonation:
In statements, we say:
Pleased to meet ↓you.
Mom wants to buy that ↓bag.
We should keep ↓going.
In commands, we say:
Show me the way to the ↓station.
Take your shoes ↓off.
Leave them on the ↓desk.
In WH-questions, we say:
What food do you ↓want?
Where do you come ↓from?
Whose book is ↓this?
In question tags, we use the rules of falling intonation only when we seek confirmation or invite agreement.
For example, we say:
He thinks he’s so smart, doesn’t ↓he?
They didn’t enjoy the party, did ↓they?
She’s the one you told me about, isn’t ↓she?
In exclamations, we say:
That’s a perfect ↓gift!
How nice of ↓you!
What a beautiful ↓performance!
Another intonation marking used in the English language is the rules of rising intonation.
This is when the pitch of the voice rises at the end of the sentence. It is commonly used in yes or no questions, and question tags that show uncertainty.
In question tags showing uncertainty, we say:
You’re new here, aren’t ↑you?
He prefers the beach, doesn’t ↑he?
The rules were changed, weren’t ↑they?
In yes or no questions, we say: Do you like your new ↑shirt? May I borrow your ↑book?
Will she ↑agree?
We do not only use rising or falling intonations alone, but we can likewise use a combination of both. Consider the rules of rising-falling intonation.
This is generally used for giving out a list, a set of choices, partial and conditional statements.
In stating a list, use rising intonation in the first series of items. Then, use a falling intonation on the last item to indicate that the list has ended. For instance:
She bought some ↑bread, ↑meat, ↑pasta, and ↓apples.
He enjoys outdoor activities such as ↑mountain climbing, ↑trekking, and ↓camping.
This bag comes in colors of ↑white, ↑gray, ↑black, and ↓yellow.
When used in choices, we say:
Would you like to have ↑tea or ↓coffee?
Is Jane coming ↑today or ↓tomorrow?
Did you say ↑east or ↓west?
We also use the rising-falling intonation in partial statements. This is when the speaker is hesitant to fully express his ideas and is unable to finish his statement.
What was the place like? –Well, it ↑seemed ↓nice… (but it’s too small.)
So did you enjoy the trip? –Hmmm, ↑yes I ↓did… (but it was too short.)
Do Ethan and Ricky know you? –Well, ↑Ethan ↓does… (but not Ricky.)
In conditional statements, we use the rising intonation in the first clause, then gradually shift to the falling intonation in the second clause.
So we say:
If you have any ↑questions, send me a ↓message.
Ever since you came ↑here, everything’s doing ↓well.
Unless she ↑asks, I’ll stay ↓silent.
Finally, one of the familiar rules of intonation is the usage of the falling–rising intonation within a word. This is often used when the speaker is uncertain of an answer to a question or shows reluctance.
Should we ↓re↑port this incident?
Do you think it is ↓va↑lid?
Would he ↓su↑pport the team?
Why learn the Rules of Intonation?
Unlike other languages, the English language follows several rules of Intonation. We use a different intonation in every different situation in English. And while other people don’t give so much importance to the rules, having the right intonation helps us sound clearer and more natural.
Below are the five benefits of having a very good intonation.
1. Awareness of intonation aids communication.
2. Incorrect intonation can result in misunderstandings, speakers losing interest, or even taking offense!
3. Intonation allows you to play well in tune. So, the better the tune, the more you’ll sound better and will be perceived as a better speaker.
4. Your tone is usually better and more consistent because you have better control in managing your air better in order to play in tune better. Your technique has to improve in order to make the adjustments necessary to play in tune.
5. You will feel more confident and at ease when you know your intonation is good. When you have good intonation, speaking in English will become more fun!
Now that you already know the reasons for the importance of intonation in English, make sure you practice and learn them. This will be a little challenging at first, but trust, it will be totally useful if you already get the hang of it. So, keep practicing.
Did you like what you have just read? If you want more articles about how to improve your English pronunciation skills, check out this article about the Rules of Word Stress and learn all of them now!