Intonation Changes Meaning in English—How to Understand and Use It

by and | 29 comments

Intonation is the rise, the fall, the melody, and the pitch of how we speak. It’s the music of the language. But also, intonation changes meaning in English.

But first, let’s talk emojis. 😳 I’m serious.

Emojis may seem like something fun and cute for texts or social media messages. And they are. But they also play an important role in communication, because when we stopped talking on the phone and face to face and started texting we lost something really valuable—intonation.  

There was a lot of hidden meaning in the melody, the pitch, the rise and fall of our voices in English that allowed us to read between the lines and hear more than just the words. (Note: to read between the lines is an idiom that means to  understand the real or hidden meaning behind something, in this case, behind intonation).

In written form, emojis help us find the balance. They help us express whether the word “good” in a text means really awesome 😁, great 😀, good 🙂, or just okay 😐.

But do you know how to understand and use intonation when speaking in English to do the same thing? Can you express deeper levels of meaning when you speak? Can you use it to change meaning?

That’s exactly what you’ll learn to do in today’s video lesson.

Get practice with how to understand and use intonation in English.

Lesson by Annemarie

More Ways to Learn How Intonation Changes Meaning in English

Now that you’ve watched the video, you might be curious—how can you continue to learn and practice this?

Here’s my recommendation:

Listen to English podcasts or watch English TV shows. Be sure to choose programs where two or more people are having a conversation. Interviews can be a great choice too.

Don’t listen to something too long. Choose just 3-4 minutes. As you listen to the conversation, can you discover the real meaning of words through intonation?

If two people are talking about a colleague at work, consider two things:

  1. What words are they using? What is the meaning of those words?
  2. Now listen for intonation. Does the intonation match the meaning of the words or does it express something deeper or different?

TV shows can be particularly useful because you also have facial expressions and body language to help you.

After you watch the video, I’d love to hear your answers to my challenge question!

At the end of the video lesson, I shared an example situation and I said the word “great” in three different ways. The word is always the same, but my intonation gives the word a different meaning each time.

Can you identify how I really feel each time I say the word? Share your answers in the comments section below. That’s the best place to get feedback from me and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday and thanks for joining me!

~ Annemarie

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