Blog Lesson Library Programs Testimonials GET THE FREE TRAINING Login

English Intonation Essentials

 

In this lesson you’ll learn about the basic intonation patterns, or how the voice rises and falls for statements and questions in English.

Recognizing and using these patterns will help you sound more natural in your daily conversations.

 

Statements

In written English, a statement or sentence ends with a period.

In spoken English, your pitch will fall at the end of a sentence when you reach where that period would be.

Now here’s the key. Your voice only falls on the final phoneme, or sound, in that final word.

Let’s eat outside.

It’s nice to meet you.

It was a great trip.

That’s an excellent suggestion.

 

Questions

Questions are a little less straightforward.

There’s a common misconception that your voice or pitch will always rise at the end of a question.

Actually, the voice typically only rises when you are asking a question that can be answered by yes or no.

Did you like it?

Can you meet at 3?

Did you have lunch?

Are you serious?

Does that make sense?

In contrast, when you’re asking a question that starts with one of the WH words (who, what, when, where, why, how) your pitch actually falls at the end of the question, like there’s a period.

What time works best?

Why did you say that?

Who else will be there?

When is this due?

Why’d you leave?

Where did you find that?

When can you meet?

How’d it go?

Now sometimes you will hear the pitch raise at the end of a WH question.

This happens when the person asking the question is seeking repetition or clarification of something that’s already been stated or discussed.

If you think the meeting is at 10, but you want to be sure, you might ask your colleague: When are we meeting?

If you're shocked when given a quote or a price for something you might ask: How much is that going to cost?

Notice the question word is also emphasized more here - when you’re seeking that repetition or clarification.

When was this delivered?

What were the final numbers?

Why did we choose that?

How long is the session?

Whose idea was this?

 

Practice Yes/No questions vs. WH questions

Did you like it?
How’d you like it?


Have you met her?
When did you meet her?


Can I help?
How can I help?


Is it over?
When will it be over?


Did you hear?
What did you hear?


Do you work there?
Where do you work?


Do you think that?
Why do you think that?


Also- you can take a regular old statement or sentence and turn it into a question by using rising intonation, or raising your pitch, at the end.

She got the job?

He’s getting married?

They loved it?

It was amazing?

I have a suggestion./?

Notice what I did there.
I have a suggestion./?
I have an idea./?
Here’s something to consider.

If I use rising intonation, it sounds like I’m asking a question. Like I am uncertain. Like I am looking for confirmation.

You don’t want to unintentionally convey this. So be careful- watch out for rising intonation in statements that you want to sound like statements.

I have a suggestion.

I have an idea.

Here’s something to consider.

Another time you may hear and want to use rising intonation is if you're expressing a thought that has two parts.

You say the first part with a rising intonation, this indicates to your listener that you're not done talking, that you still have more to say. This is called non-final intonation.

It’s a lot of money, but it's totally worth it.

He’s a little intense, but he’s extremely talented.

If we follow this plan, we’ll be debt free in a year.

With this new job, I’ll have to work weekends.

After we talked about it, I felt a lot better.

If we do this, there’s no turning back.

You’ll also hear this non-final, rising intonation when you ask someone a questions that involves two or more choices:

Expressing choices:

Did you want a medium or a large?

Would Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday work better?

Should we go out or stay in?

Would you prefer soup or salad?

Did you like the gray, the blue or the red?

Red wine or white?

And there you have it- English sentence and questions intonation 101!

Love these lessons? Get them delivered to your inbox!

Good news! There are more FREE pronunciation lessons coming you won't want to miss! Sign up here and I will send new lessons right to your inbox!

Close

50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.