Learn English with English, baby!

Join for FREE!

Social_nav_masthead_logged_in
How Intonation Changes Meaning

How Intonation Changes Meaning

Date: Dec 10 2008

Topic: Pronunciation

Author: nad1a

Lesson

MySpace Tracker

Another important thing, when it comes to learning English is, being aware of intonation. Intonation in American English is the way the voice rises and falls while you speak. Very often, it changes the main idea of what is said, going beyond the exact meaning of the words to indicate how the speaker feels.

The very same sentence and the same word order, might result in quite a different idea behind your words, by only shifting the stress from one word to another.

Try reading this sentence by stressing the word in bold each time.

  • 1. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    In this case, you mean that it’s not him who is traveling but someone else. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. His brother is.”

    2. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    Here, the emphasis is on the word “isn’t” to say that, it’s not true that he is flying. As in: “Do you know that John is flying to Paris tomorrow?” “He isn’t flying to Paris tomorrow. He was intending to but he changed his mind later.”

    3. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    By stressing the word “flying”, we intend to say that this is not what he’s going to do but maybe something else. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He is actually driving.”

    4. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    If you say the word “to” louder, you’re saying this is not the direction he’s flying into. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He is actually flying back from Paris.”

    5. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    Stressing the word “Paris”, in this example, would mean that this is not the actual destination of John’s flight. As in: “He is not flying to Paris. He’s flying to New York.”

    6. He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow.
    Giving emphasis to the word “tomorrow” would mean that it’s not tomorrow he’s flying but another day. As in: “He isn't flying to Paris tomorrow. He said he would be flying the day after tomorrow.”

As you can see, you are saying the same words every time, just pronouncing a different word at a higher pitch. In this way, you are actually saying a different thing every time.

Why should you bother to remember this? Well, being aware of the various intonation patterns is what will make you capable of conveying the intended message. That is to say, even if you pronounce each word clearly, if your intonation is non-standard, your meaning will not be clear.

Also, in terms of comprehension, you will lose a great deal of information, if you are only listening for the actual words used. You get to understand people better, and people understand YOU better and can then focus on the point you are trying to make, rather than struggling to "decode" your pronunciation.

More help on Pronunciation

Comments

Log in to Comment

English_Valet

Philippines

Intonation pattern is also important in conversation. It is considered as music of a language in which tune defines different meaning. 

I came to know about this when I started enhancing my English pronunciation through a book. 

02:30 AM Nov 07 2010 |

julywidiawati

Indonesia

Yes, I believe intonation is important, a good teacher always teach how to pronounce intonation properly!

10:06 PM Dec 06 2009 |

mohbyte

mohbyte

Algeria

A friend of mine who is a versed English teacher, told me that a word in English can be stressed by either making it longer or pronoucing it louder. Can you help me with that issue? Smile

05:41 AM Feb 04 2009 |

jimmy33

Guadeloupe

cool. thank you. another very useful lesson.

12:26 PM Jan 31 2009 |

Nikos

Nikos

Greece

Sooooooooooooooo true. Intonation changes meaning so much. IMagine you're accused of stealing this money and you say "I didnt steal this money". They will think it is still you who took it, but you don't take this to be stealing lol

10:54 PM Jan 18 2009 |

fanny_chan11

Indonesia

great. it works

07:37 PM Jan 17 2009 |

fanny_chan11

Indonesia

great!

07:36 PM Jan 17 2009 |

RYM

Algeria

i m here

02:40 PM Jan 17 2009 |

M_honor

M_honor

Lebanon

Great as always.

08:23 AM Jan 17 2009 |

EDITH ^.~

EDITH ^.~

United States

That’s very true. Thanks for bringing up the importance of intonation in speaking English.

11:21 AM Jan 16 2009 |

Aneet

Aneet

Czech Republic

Very nice lesson:)

07:35 AM Jan 15 2009 |

Whitney S

Whitney S

Colombia

This is a very important issue. Thank you

06:12 PM Jan 08 2009 |

amany7

amany7

Saudi Arabia

afew days ago there was a T or F  Q. in the exam about if stress can change the meaning immediatly I remmbered this lessom ….:)))

how NIce  is the lesson thanks Nad1a...

09:54 AM Jan 08 2009 |

sofyh

Morocco

Thank you !

12:45 PM Jan 03 2009 |

wuricheng8888

China

I come from china

so this is a great lesson for me

because i have much difficult in intonation

thank you very much

04:16 PM Dec 26 2008 |

Delrany

Gambia

realy da fact

03:24 PM Dec 26 2008 |

ice1234

ice1234

India

Good….

06:41 AM Dec 19 2008 |

natuzzi

natuzzi

Ukraine

Yes, I meant it exactly. intonation is important in every language, but espesially in that one, where we can`t change the word order to emphasise some information. For example,as in slavonic languages.

01:15 AM Dec 18 2008 |

nad1a

nad1a

Greece

yes, natuzzi

the same way that we can change the underlying meaning of something by shifting the stress to a different word, in some other languages, we do that by changing the word order

(i don't speak Russian, but I guess that is what you meant)

05:27 AM Dec 17 2008 |

natuzzi

natuzzi

Ukraine

I think,intonation is very important when we can`t chang the word order anyway we want, as in Russian, for example.

04:49 AM Dec 17 2008 |

Likes (32):

See all >

Share this lesson:

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Bebo
  • Share on Myspace
  • Share on Twitter
  • Email this to a friend
  • Share on Renren
  • Share on Sina

Post Ebaby! lessons on your blog:

Ebaby! Cast