Introduction to Intonation

Listen to the following phrases. Are they the same?

1. I’d like to go there.
2. I’d like to go there.

Although the words are identical, the intonation changes the emotions we feel when we hear them. The first phrase sounds certain and we believe that the person really does want to ‘go there’, and uses falling intonation:
‘I’d like to ↘go there.’

The second phrase sounds uncertain and we feel that the person might be about to say ‘…but…’. Intonation is the music of a language and English uses intonation in this way more than other languages do.
‘I’d ↘↗ like to go there.’ 

How does English intonation work?

In English, there are three main patterns of intonation:

  • fall ↘
  • fall-rise ↘↗
  • rise ↗

Listen to some phrases that use these different patterns. You might want to try to copy the melody yourself:

Fall

In general, using this pattern makes you sound certain, serious and truthful.

“Good evening.”
“My name’s Lisa.”
“The hospital is closing.”

Fall-rise

In general, using this pattern makes you sound uncertain – maybe there is something else you want to say.

“Yes…”
“I like your cooking…”
“It’s quite good…”

Rise

Using this pattern can make you sound either friendly or surprised – it depends on the conversation.

“Good morning.”
“Really?!”
“Where are you going?!”

EXERCISE

Listen to these phrases and decide whether the intonation is fall ↘, fall-rise ↘↗, or rise↗:

A. Hello.
B. I love the idea.
C. How are you?
D. Who?
E. I want to go.
F. I want to go.
G. Good evening.
H. No.

A. fall B. fall-rise C. fall D. rise E. fall F. fall-rise G. rise H. fall-rise

An aspect of intonation is covered in every chapter of ‘The Sound of English’ and on Pronunciation Studio’s Accent Reduction courses.

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