How to master English intonation

5/9 post of the series “The 9 basic pillars to speak English well

If you want to speak English well it’s basic to master English intonation.
When you talk your pitch goes up and down and that is intonation.

If you talk all the time in a flat voice like a robot…

  1. Your English doesn’t sound good.
  2. It’s difficult to understand what you mean.

When speaking ,apart from using the right words in a sentence, you also have to add the right intonation that conveys important information.

There is a very old saying about that…

…It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it…

How to master English intonation
Let’s take a look at the two basic English intonations…

Falling Intonation…

It’s the most common intonation.
It’s when your voice falls (go down) on the last stressed syllable of a sentence.

Falling intonation expresses…

  • Finality (you are finished talking)
  • Certainty (you are sure about what you are saying)
  • Confidence
  • convincement

Falling intonation is used in…

  1. Declarative sentences –> I live in France.
  2. Commands –> Sit down!
  3. Exclamatory sentences –> What a wonderful girl!
  4. At the last item of a list –> I like cars, trucks and bikes.
  5. Wh questions –> Where do you live?
  6. Tag question –> You live in France, don’t you?
    (You use falling intonation on a tag question when you already know the answer. You just want to confirm it or are just making conversation.)


Rising Intonation…

It’s when your voice rises (go up) on the last stressed syllable of a sentence.

Rising intonation expresses…

  • Doubt
  • Surprise
  • Non-finality
  • Awaiting for a reply
  • Lack of confidence
  • Uncertainty
  • Interest

Rising  intonation is used in…

  1. Yes/No questions –> Are you French?
  2. In every item of list except the last one –> I like cars, trucks and bikes.
  3. Dependent or introductory sentences –> If she calls, ask her to come.
  4. Direct adress –> Sir, be careful with the dog.
  5. Tag questions –>You live in France, don’t you?
    (Here the tag question is a real question because you don’t know the answer).


Changing The Rules To Master English Intonation

Very often you are going to hear a sentence with an Intonation that doesn’t follow the rules I just shared with you.
It’s not a mistake!!!
It’s just that you can change intonation when you want to convey a different meaning.

Example 1:

– I ask you: “Where do you live?” (Falling intonation)

– If your answer is… “I live in the moon.”
I’m going to think that you didn’t understand my question or that I didn’t understand your answer or that you are just making fun of me.

– Then I’m going to repeat the question: “Where do you live?“(Rising intonation)

But this time with a RISING INTONATION because I want to show you that I’m surprised.

Example 2:

As I told you before in a list you use a rising intonation (up) for all the items you are listing except for the last one that has a falling intonation (down).
The falling intonation shows that it’s the last item of the list.

Sentence 1:  Would you like tea(up), coffee(up) or juice(down)?

In this sentence you are asking someone which one of the tree options he/she likes.
But you can change the intonation pattern and use a rising intonation (up) for the tree item (even for the last one).

Sentence 2: Would you like tea(up), coffee(up) or juice(Up)?

With this intonation pattern your question is open and you are asking if he/she wants one of the tree items listed or maybe something else.
Would you like tea, coffee or juice…or maybe something else…?

To the first question your speaker can choose between tea, coffee or juice.
But to the second question you speaker can chose between tea, coffee or juice or maybe ask for milk or water or something else.
As you can see in these examples it’s very common to change the intonation pattern whenever you want to convey a different meaning.


And Remember…

How to master English intonation_

…All your comments are very welcome!!!

What to do next…

The 9 basic pillars to speak English well
– How to master English pronunciation … Coming soon!
How to master word stress
– How to master sentence stress … Coming soon!
– How to master the Schwa sound … Coming soon!
How to master connected speech
How to master English contractions
– How to master thought groups … Coming soon!
How to master word ending pronunciation

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