Let me help you out with something English speakers are listening for when you talk… rising and falling intonation. That’s because people tune in to the intonation patterns in English sentences to figure out the meaning behind what you are saying
In this lesson I will provide you with rising and falling intonation exercises and examples to help you understand the various functions of intonation, otherwise know as inflection. I have attached a downloadable cheat sheet that I developed to use with my own coaching clients you are welcome to use for your own home practise.
Intonation patterns in English
Falling intonation is when the words in a sentence gradually fall in tone (or musical note) almost in a stepwise manner.
Here is something that might come as a surprise… most of the time English speakers actually use a falling intonation pattern, why you ask? Because falling intonation communicates to the listener a very specific message (depending on how dramatically your intonation drops!).
Functions of Falling Intonation
- Statements or comments
- Wh questions like ‘where are you going?’
- Low energy emotions such as boredom, disinterest
If you are familiar with what I mean by word stress you will understand that stressed words (important words or short phrases) in a sentence are the exception to the falling tone applied to the rest of the words in the above sentences. That’s because one of the ways English speakers mark the importance of a stressed word is with a sudden rise in tone. For example the word ‘outside’ in the following sentence:
‘I want to eat outside this evening’
Functions of Rising Intonation
Rising intonation is often overused by both none native English speakers as well as native speakers (and most people don’t realise they are doing it!). In fact this is called ‘high rising terminal’ and has been on the increase especially in Australia. Using rising intonation incorrectly can indicate you are unsure of yourself, in a heightened emotional state, or wanting the listener to clarify what you are saying. Many non native speakers have been taught to use rising intonation when asking any kind of question but this is not correct as English speakers only use rising tone for questions with a yes/no answer! The rising tone intonation pattern is only used for:
- Questions with a yes/no answer
- Requests for clarification (indicates uncertainty)
- High energy emotions e.g. happiness/anger/shock
Functions of Mixed Intonation
Mixed intonation in English sentences serve several functions including:
- Offering a choice of two (high to low intonation) e.g. black or white?
- Listing items (gradually rise then fall on the last word) e.g. milk, bread, butter and cheese
Intonation Examples Cheat Sheet – free download
For more examples and exercises to work on intonation patterns in English, download our free cheat sheet below.
If you have any questions or need any clarification after this lesson feel free to contact me.