Intonation: The Secret Ingredient to Great Pronunciation (with Audio)

intonation picture

Listen as you read: Listen Along

Hello, everybody! This is Adir Ferreira from  and today I’m going to be talking to you about intonation.

Intonation is the melody of language and is made of pitches (high or low qualities of a sound) that rise and fall. Intonation is used to communicate our intentions and emotions, and it is used in spoken language to replace punctuation.

Intonation can indicate anger, surprise, hesitation, confusion, sarcasm, interest or lack thereof. It is very important to learn and use correct intonation so that your spoken English is more dynamic and more interesting to listen to.

In English we have four kinds of intonation patterns: (1) falling, (2) rising, (3)  non-final, and (4) wavering intonation. Let’s learn about each one.

1. Falling Intonation

Falling intonation is when we lower our voice at the end of a sentence. This usually happens in statements and in questions that contain words like where, when, what, why, how, and who (these are called information questions). Here are some examples:


1. My name is Adir Ferreira.

2. Nice to meet you.

3. I’m going to the movies.

4. I’ll be back in an hour.

5. Have a great day.


1. What’s your name?

2. Where does he live?

3. Why did you do that?

4. Who’s that woman over there?

5. How can I open this?

2. Rising Intonation

Rising intonation is when we raise the pitch of our voice at the end of a sentence. We use this kind of intonation in questions that are answered with “yes” or “no” (these are called yes/no questions). Check out some examples:

1. Are you American?

2. Does she know about this?

3. Can you lend me a pencil?

4. Is the movie good?

5. Are we leaving soon?

Rising intonation is also used in expressions like:

1. Excuse me?

2. Really?

Here are some question pairs with both rising and falling intonation. Listen and practice saying them!

1. Do you know that woman? How do you know that woman?

2. Do you go to school here? Why do you go to school here?

3. Did you buy a new laptop? What kind of laptop did you buy?

4. Do you work? Where do you work?

 3. Non-final intonation

In non-final intonation sentences, the pitch rises and falls within the sentence. This type of intonation is used with unfinished thoughts, introductory phrases, series of words and also when we express choices. Let’s listen to some examples:

Unfinished thoughts

1. She bought the magazine, but she didn’t read it.

2. When I finished high school, I got  a job.

3. If I study hard, I’ll pass the test.

4. I’m going outside, for some fresh air.

Introductory Phrases

Phrases like as a matter of fact, as far as I’m concerned, actually, in my opinion, if you don’t mind and by the way also indicate that a thought is not finished, so we use non-final intonation. Some examples:

1. As a matter of fact, I do know where she lives.

2. As far as I’m concerned, she was not suitable for that position.

3. Actually, the movie was pretty good.

4. In my opinion, this car is way too expensive.

5. If you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.

6. By the way, have you read that book I lent you?

Series of Words

Suppose that you say you like playing several sports like football, tennis, basketball, and volleyball. Here’s how it would sound in English with non-final intonation:

I like playing football, tennis, basketball and volleyball.

We have rising intonation on football, tennis and basketball. The intonation falls on volleyball. Listen again:

I like playing football, tennis, basketball and volleyball.

Some more examples:

1. At college I’m taking psychology, French, history, and linguistics.

2. He left work, came home, took a shower, and went to bed.

3. I need rice, beans, lettuce, and sugar.

4. “I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.” – Fred Allen

Expressing Choices

Non-final intonation is also used when you choose between two or more things. Some examples:

1. Do you want to stay home or go to the movies?

2. Are you going to travel in March or April?

3. Do you speak Spanish or Portuguese?

4. Is your name Mary or Mandy?

5. Would you like a coke or some juice?

4. Wavering Intonation

Wavering intonation is used when we express specific emotions or attitudes within a word. You can express, for instance, surprise, anger, sarcasm, hesitation, fear, amazement, among others.

Take a look at these two words: you did. I’m going to say them showing that I’m curious, very surprised, disappointed, angry and in agreement. Listen!

1. You did? (curious)

2. You did? (very surprised)

3. You did? (disappointed)

4. You did? (angry)

5. You did. (in agreement)

Check out some more examples:

Thanks a lot. (normal)

Thanks a lot. (very happy)

Thanks a lot. (sarcastic)

Okay. (normal)

Okay. (hesitant or unwilling)

Okay! (very excited)

Okay! (frustrated and angry)

No! (angry)

No? (surprised)

No… (hesitant)

No. (sarcastic)

See you all next time!

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  • Rosana Baraldi says:

    Thanks Adir Ferreira!

    • Lamidiakeem2020 says:

      Thanks for the knowledge
      Of intonation

  • Mona Ali says:

    that's really great. thanks

  • Maria Fernanda Sanchez says:

    great and very useful thanks!!

  • Rø??? ??H?mè? says:


  • It's nice!Thank you!

  • Natalia Zhukova says:

    Very useful, waiting for the notes about falling-rising tones, accidental rises, different types of scales and heads

  • I really recomend this post…

  • adonis says:

    Great article…
    Pronunciation and intonation are needs to well express.
    Very nice! I’ve enjoyed it. Tks

  • This is such an awesome article on intonation!!!Thanks so much Adir Ferreira and Real Life English for sharing it!

  • Absolutely interesting; such issue can be really felt in the classroom nowadays.

  • Zoe Huynh says:


    This is very useful for a non- native speaker :))) Thanks a lot indeeed!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thanks for the comments, guys! I’m really happy I could help!

  • Yuan Jen Lu says:

    This article is really very helpful. Thanks for Adir Ferreira sharing!

  • Zahid Ezat says:

    Very nice

  • Elizabete says:

    Hi Adir,
    Great article!
    Thanks a lot!!!!! ( I mean I’m very happy! – with weaving intonation…)

  • Gerson Santiago says:


  • Neuma Rios says:

    Fantástico, muito útil. Meu nível é o básico mas consegui compreender
    muitas frases. Com este tipo de ajuda, sei que chegarei ao meu objetivo.
    Muito grata!

  • Catherine says:

    yes, the lesson is interesting. I can differentiate the different sounds and intonation. Thank you. It’s a great help to my teaching English here in Urumqi, Xinjiang.

  • Im level 1 so I cant say anything just thanks mabye another level my comment will be better

  • Deusilene Matos says:

    Very good! I really love all the contents you share here. Thanks a lot! 😉

  • Min Min says:

    Thank you so much Adir Ferreira!

  • Wilma Neves says:

    Veru useful! Thanks a bunch!

  • Gone says:

    Good information

  • Mush says:

    Really helped with my gatherings.. class presentation should be great tomorrow..
    Thanks Adir?

  • Faruku abubakar nayaya says:

    Am very happay to this that never stop leaning

  • shubham says:

    ya this is shubham here i really enjoy your post with the using in my pc thanks for your kind information

  • Hajia jummah says:

    That’s educating

  • Dinah Abdellah says:

    It’s very helpful, Thanks

    • Justin says:

      Aww yeah, great to hear Dinah!

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  • Joy says:

    Good job

  • Riya Sharma says:


  • Joseph emmanuel says:

    That was perfect


    A reliable source of information on the English Language.

  • Anantharamulu says:

    Clear information of 4 kind methods of intonation ,thank you.

  • Bello pelumi Emmanuel says:

    Cool thanks

  • Zahra'u Mustapha says:

    Nice to meet you

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Thank you for visiting our blog 🙂

  • Hope says:

    Intrigued, thanks

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Glad you liked it, Hope!

  • Lengher says:

    Thanks for sharing. It is useful.

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Happy to help!

  • King says:

    Thanks for the knowledge of intonation

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      We’re happy to help!

  • jack says:

    Thanks. Very helpful.

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Happy to help!

  • Jacinta Kamitu says:

    Nice contend

    • Agnieszka from RealLife English says:

      Thank you, Jacinta!