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)

Well, this is it for today. If you want to learn more about American English Pronunciation (and are a Portuguese speaker) check out my Guia de Pronúncia – Inglês Americano.

See you all next time!

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  1. Rosana Baraldi on October 4, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks Adir Ferreira!

  2. Mona Ali on October 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    that's really great. thanks

  3. Maria Fernanda Sanchez on October 4, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    great and very useful thanks!!

  4. Rø??? ??H?mè? on October 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm


  5. Conchy Navarro Peran on October 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    It's nice!Thank you!

  6. Natalia Zhukova on October 4, 2013 at 2:42 pm

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

  7. Valdelino Lourenço on October 4, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I really recomend this post…

  8. Sara Abdullah Al-q on October 4, 2013 at 7:28 pm


  9. adonis on October 4, 2013 at 5:42 pm

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

  10. Wanessa Pires on October 4, 2013 at 9:08 pm

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

  11. Carina Fragozo Cadoná on October 4, 2013 at 9:39 pm


  12. Siena Alshadady on October 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm


  13. Silvio Pilone on October 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm

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

  14. Zoe Huynh on October 6, 2013 at 10:18 am


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

  15. Adir Ferreira on October 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm

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

  16. ???? ????? ???????? on October 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    that is very beautiful

  17. Yuan Jen Lu on October 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm

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

  18. Zahid Ezat on October 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Very nice

  19. Elizabete on October 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm

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

  20. Gerson Santiago on October 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm


  21. Neuma Rios on October 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    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!

  22. Catherine on October 11, 2013 at 1:23 am

    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.

  23. Maya Alsulaimy on November 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

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

  24. Deusilene Matos on November 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm

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

  25. Min Min on November 18, 2014 at 3:09 am

    Thank you so much Adir Ferreira!

  26. jovila on March 6, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you. It’s simple yet comprehensive. 🙂

  27. Celia Pretty on April 17, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    thanks a lot

  28. Nisreen Mahmood on April 21, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you mr Ferreira ,it's very beneficial information .

  29. Wilma Neves on May 24, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Veru useful! Thanks a bunch!

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