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Analyzing tone through word choice | Reading

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Tone communicates how an author feels about their topic. How do good readers pick up on tone from clues left by the words an author chooses? Let’s discuss, and find out together! Created by David Rheinstrom.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Sparkling Cider
    Can a book/story have multiple tones?
    (26 votes)
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    • eggleston blue style avatar for user IsotonicFlaccidCell21
      It can, especially in different stages. The beginning may be resounding, as though all is normal, but during a climax, the tone may be that of suspense. The tone would usually affect the pace as well, and so would prob be pretty fast during the climax. The author may use short sentences to help depict the fast-paced action or the inundation of incessant, perturbing thoughts. But then in the end, the author may want to utilize longer sentences, to create a calm and collected tone.
      (35 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Cadmium Antimony
    I'm writing a book called Puissant. It about a group of superhero kids that need to save Earth from an alien invasion, all the while their leader is trying to find out the meaning of his last name: Puissant. Does anybody want a peek excerpt?
    (24 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Misty Scoresby
    A book I'm working on is called Obliterate. It's a novel about a 15-year-old who uses a time machine to fulfill his greed. The tone is light yet not carefree; dark yet not heavy.
    A excerpt of the prologue:

    The warm breeze drifted across the clearing as two individuals sat in the grass, watching the sun slowly sinking into the horizon.
    "You never regretted it, did you?" The wind swooped the tree, flinging beautiful petals with it as it blew.
    "No, I suppose not." the boy gave a wry smile.
    "You could've done better. You know that, right?" came the sigh of his companion.
    "But I never did."
    It was silent as the teenagers sat there, the willow tree shadowing them. The sun disappeared behind a mountain.
    His companion got up.
    "If we're going to make it back before night, we better start walking."
    "Wait."
    The boy picked up a petal and crushed mercilessly it in his hands. His companion watched him with a sad look on her face.


    Any criticism?
    (12 votes)
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  • eggleston green style avatar for user kayleeoriana
    One of my charecters in my story is sarcastic most of the time. And now even i dont know if the sorry she said was meaningful or just sacastic-
    (5 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Izabella Whitehead - Donnnison
    Hi I've been writing a book about a girl who is a gladiator does anyone have any tips because I've got stuck?
    (3 votes)
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    • marcimus red style avatar for user I.N.V.A
      Try reading up about gladiators and what they do and act like, then compare it to your main character.
      When I'm stuck writing (which is more often than I can count) I like go over what different stories I've read to see if I can get any ideas for plot and characters.
      But a main thing is: Do your research!
      If you know enough about what you're writing about, things should come easily enough.
      I hope this helped!
      (This was written by someone who reads a lot)
      (3 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Bella S
    Who's writing a story/book? Have you ever written yourself into a corner? I'll give you the prologue if you want.
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user ɐLβατʀσšŜ
    I have recently started to work on a book. I haven't figured out a name for it yet but it's basically the spin-off of the famous book series WoF. The actual series is a bit violent, so my book also has a bit of violence. Just warning you about that...If you haven't read the series yet then this story will be a bit (very) confusing. Tell me if I need to explain anything. But anyway! Here ya go: (I'm still working on it, like grammar mistakes and what should happen next. I think that I should make two separate stories, because I want my readers to choose how the story should go)

    WAVE: (Eyes dart around to look at the fish, ears perked high, starts to flash luminescent scales softly) See, Clam? When a big school like this is nearby, you need to freeze and act like a statue. Do not look directly into their eyes. Don’t look like you’re giving them any attention. Copy me.

    CLAM: (Copies sister, perking up ears, freezing) What do we do next? Attack?

    WAVE: (Keeps eyes on fish but continues to flash scales) In just a second. When I twitch my tail, jump forward and snatch any you possibly can. You got it?

    CLAM: (Narrows eyes at fish, bares teeth, ready for attack)Got it.

    WAVE: (Pupils thin in, twitches tail and flashes scales) Now is your time to shine for once, little sister. Make it count.

    CLAM: (Pupils thin, silently roars, flashes scales anticipatingly, shoots after school of fish from in front) Argh! Come here you little rascals! Ngh!

    (School of fish dart behind Clam, pass around Wave)

    WAVE: (Flashes scales, bares teeth at Clam) What was that!? Do you think that you’re going to feed this family by acting so foolishly!?

    CLAM: (Puffs out chest, flashes scales wildly, face scrunches up in defense) I was doing what you told me! “Blah blah blah, go in front, blah blah blah” It was YOU who messed up anyway, so don’t drop YOUR responsibility onto ME.

    WAVE: (bares teeth, flashes scales in an aggravated manner, narrows eyes) Don’t be so brainless, little dragonet. Next time, learn to listen or you won’t be fed anything.

    CLAM: (bares teeth back, flashes scales annoyedly, interrupted by gigantic shadow) WELL OH MY, HOW SORRY I AM, DEARE-

    (Both turn heads to look at the great shadow of a blue whale)

    WAVE: (widens eyes, flattens ears, flashes scales slowly) Clam. Go in front of its face and flash your scales as bright as you can. Now.

    CLAM: (jaw falls, flashes scales) Wave…Does that happen to be a whale?

    WAVE: (Turns head annoyedly, flashes scales fastly) You idiot, what do you think it is, a fat mermaid? Do as your told!

    CLAM: (Swims fastly to head, flashes scales brightly in front of left eye)

    (Whale moans loudly, turns away only to find itself face to face with a 7-year-old dragon)

    WAVE: (slashes face with claw, flashes scales intensely in eye) You’ll be just right, blue whale. I’ll be so honored by the queens; you’ll never know what happened. Of course you won’t, though, because you’ll be in my queens’ stomach. And then I’ll challenge her for the throne!

    WAVE: (exhales and inhales fastly, bites whale on flipper, grins menacingly) I may not be related to Queen Anemone, but I’ll kill her with my own talons if I have to! And bratty little Clam…she’s going to get in my way.

    QUEEN ANEMONE: (Opens eyes widely, jaw falls) Wave…Wave, this is splendid! This will feed my entire tribe! Shall we have a great feast? Grab my wife and sister, Ripnami! Oh, my oh my…Tamarin? Tamarin and Auklet! Come over here, look what mighty Wave has brought us! If only mother was here…She would’ve written this down and sold it for free to every Seawing in the land…

    WAVE: (Smiles kindly but meaninglessly, talks slowly) My queen, I wouldn’t have brought you this whale without my sister, Clam. But…

    QUEEN ANEMONE: (Stares at Wave, softens eyes, talks in a motherly tone) Oh dear Wave. I’m so sorry this happened. May I ask ever so kindly where Clams bod—where she is?

    WAVE: (Saddens face, speaks in a saddened tone) Once the blood had spread off of the wound from Clam’s body, I’m afraid it attracted sharks, and I couldn’t do anything up to that point. Her body rests within the ocean now.

    QUEEN ANEMONE: (frowns, nods in an assuring way and meaningful way; clasps her talons in Wave’s) Dear, dear…I know what loss feels like. I am so sorry for Clam’s sudden death. But you are brave. You must stay that way. Your mother will be very upset once she hears the news, but proud of you for staying strong.

    WAVE: (grins softly, bows) I will, no worries. I will.
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Simum
    How can I learn Formal and Informal language?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user JaysonH
    Can a book/story have multiple tones?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Ant
    Does tone have to be one word?
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Wolfy
      Tone refers to an author's use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. What the author feels about the subject is often defined as the tone. ... Tip: Don't confuse tone with voice. Voice can be explained as the author's personality expressed in writing.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

- [David] Hello readers, I suppose it's time, if we have to to talk about tone. You see, if I were feeling snide or dismissive or sarcastic, I'd use a lot of disdainful language to talk about how little I valued this topic, which is a piddling trifle, a Bagatelle, a trivial, little nothing. Far more likely though, considering my love of languages, the notion that I'd be enthusiastic and encouraging, I would say understanding tone unlocks a treasure house of understanding, it is a feast of knowledge. Tone communicates how an author feels about the topic they're writing about, this can come across in a number of different ways, it can reflect their enthusiasm or skepticism, it can also communicate formality or informality, an academic paper or a speech before the UN, for example are very different things from a toast at a wedding or a thank you card for a birthday gift and this kind of difference in tone is something that sociologists and linguists call register. Social conventions and customs call for different registers in different circumstances, just as it would be inappropriate in most situations to wear a tuxedo at the beach, so too would it be incongruous to use extremely formal language in an informal setting? (melodic orchestral music) (clearing throat) Dear honored sir, it was the privilege of my very life to have you attend my 14th birthday party. I am grateful beyond words for your most generous gift, a check for $36 American. Your humble and obedient servant, David. In fact using extremely formal language and high-minded gratitude for something as relatively small as a birthday gift might even come across as sarcastic or insulting. But this is sort of an extreme example, let's pull back and discuss how an understanding of tone can aid you in making sense of informational texts. One great way to do that is to analyze word choice, we can look at a writer's language and determine their attitude towards the subject based on the words they've chosen to describe it. Oceans of ink have been spilled over comparisons between a Chicago style hotdog and a New York style hotdog. The first with its garden's worth of toppings, but a holier than now prohibition of ketchup, the latter with its sauerkraut, mustard and dubious dirty water cooking style. But scant attention, a droplet of ink before the ocean has been paid to the half-smoke, the unsung but mighty regional sausage of Washington DC. Now how does the author think about the subject? Well, we know that they think that not enough writing has been done about DC's regional sausage, the half-smoke, but how do they feel about it? How do the words they use express their feelings? Let's break it down bit by bit. So right out of the gate, we have oceans of ink, this is a deliberate piece of overstatement, there are no literal oceans made of ink, but it's being set up in opposition to the droplet of ink used to describe half-smokes later in the paragraph. Half-smokes are described as unsung, but mighty, which suggests that they haven't been given their due, there hasn't been enough praise for half-smokes and that therefore the amount of attention given to Chicago and New York hotdogs is unfair or even disproportionate. I think we can also determine from word choice, that the author thinks a Chicago hot dog is a little ridiculous and that a New York hot dog is a little gross. How do we know this? Chicagoans generally don't like ketchup on their hotdogs and the way the author phrases this is by saying, that they have a holier than thou prohibition on ketchup, which is to say they get all haughty and upset about it, which is weird because it's ketchup, listen, I'm a Chicagoan by birth, I used to feel this way and I'm not even sure why. Similarly the word dubious in the description of the New York hotdog, meaning doubtful suggests that the dirty water cooking method is kind of nasty sounding, why would the author do this? Is it to say these are terrible hot dogs and nobody should eat them? No, I don't think so, The author is trying to make room for the half-smoke in the national sausage conversation and to do that, they're first trying to dismantle the importance of New York and Chicago style by making fun of them. These are tactical choices, not to be confused with authorial voice, which is a different concept entirely an author's voice is their style, it's much more consistent across topics, whereas a tone is specific to a topic. So I might have an authorial voice, that uses a lot of goofy wordplay, but I use a sympathetic tone to talk about bears and a hostile tone to talk about, I don't know, whales, yeah, boo whales, I said it. I do not actually hate whales, I love whales. But my point is this, use your knowledge of words, of the connotation and implications of the language, that an author might use to unlock your understanding of their tone, because if you can do that, my friend, you can learn anything, David out.