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How Intonation Changes Meaning

How Intonation Changes Meaning

Date: Dec 10 2008

Topic: Pronunciation

Author: nad1a


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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


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United States

This a very useful and amzing tool for life

12:56 PM Aug 24 2023 |



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. 

10:30 AM Nov 07 2010 |



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

06:06 AM Dec 07 2009 |




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

01:41 PM Feb 04 2009 |



cool. thank you. another very useful lesson.

08:26 PM Jan 31 2009 |




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

06:54 AM Jan 19 2009 |



great. it works

03:37 AM Jan 18 2009 |




03:36 AM Jan 18 2009 |



i m here

10:40 PM Jan 17 2009 |




Great as always.

04:23 PM Jan 17 2009 |



United States

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

07:21 PM Jan 16 2009 |



Czech Republic

Very nice lesson:)

03:35 PM Jan 15 2009 |

Whitney S

Whitney S


This is a very important issue. Thank you

02:12 AM Jan 09 2009 |



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...

05:54 PM Jan 08 2009 |



Thank you !

08:45 PM Jan 03 2009 |



I come from china

so this is a great lesson for me

because i have much difficult in intonation

thank you very much

12:16 AM Dec 27 2008 |



realy da fact

11:24 PM Dec 26 2008 |





02:41 PM Dec 19 2008 |




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.

09:15 AM Dec 18 2008 |




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)

01:27 PM Dec 17 2008 |

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