Intonation refers to the alteration of pitch of the voice. In other words, it is the rise and fall of one’s voice when speaking. Your voice when speaking tells people your mood. It tells your listeners whether you are happy, sad, polite, rude, and so on.

Intonation is the punctuation in speech. Just as we obey punctuation when reading, we should also obey punctuation or intonation when speaking.

Types of Intonation

There are basically two kinds of intonation:

  1. Rise tone and
  2. Fall tone

Though, three other types can be distinguished as fall rise, rise fall and level. But our primary concern here focuses on the two main types already mentioned above.

Rise Tone

Rise tone sounds like a question.

Functions of Rise Tone:

1. Polite request: It is used in polite request.


  1. May I sit with you?↗
  2. May I come along?↗
  3. May I accompany you?↗

2. Initiating greeting: It is used in speech to initiate greeting.


  1. Good morning.↗
  2. Hello everyone.↗
  3. Hi kids.↗

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3. Asking question: The rise tone is also used in asking question.


  1. Are you okay?↗
  2. Have you done it?↗
  3. Is that for you?↗

4. Uncertainty or doubt: The rise tone can be used to express doubt or uncertainty


  1. My husband cheated on me?↗
  2. You are four in your home?↗
  3. She came to my house?↗

5. Incomplete statement: When making incomplete statement rise tone is applied.


  1. As I was going to the market.↗
  2. On my way back from school.↗

6. Listing of items: Here you have basically two types, and they are open and close. For open list you  can add more items, while in close list you do not add more items.


Always use the “and” to close a list.

As in:

As I seated here I saw pen,↗ books,↗ and phones.↘

7. Optional questions: Optional questions are said in the rise tone.


Would you like it hot or cold?↗

8. Wh-Question: When the answer or response to wh-question is to be yes or no, the question should be asked in the rise tone.


  1. Were you at the party?↗
  2. Will you be coming?↗
  3. Would she go with her?↗


Fall Tone

The fall tone sounds like a complete statement.

Functions of Fall Tones:

  1. Command: When issuing a command statement fall tone is used.


  1. Finish your food.↘
  2. Sit down there.↘
  3. Give me that pen now.↘

2. Response to greeting: When responding to greeting fall tone is used.


  1. Good morning ma.↘
  2. Good day sir.↘
  3. Good afternoon sir.↘

3. Certainty: The fall tone is also used when expressing certainty.


  1. She stole my pen.↘
  2. He was here.↘
  3. She ate the food.↘

4. Complete statement: The complete statement is made using the fall tone, which does not invite the listener to respond.


  1. The teacher is writing on the black board.↘
  2. I went to the market to buy food stuff yesterday.↘
  3. Kunle’s mother is a good woman.↘
  4. He has been promoted to a new class.↘

5. Wh-Questions: When a response  to wh-question is an explanation, the question should be asked in the fall tone.


  1. Where did you go?↘
  2. How are you?↘

6. Question tags: This has to do with sentence that has two parts; and the sentence must be question. In this type of sentence, fall tone is used. When the first part of the sentence is positive, the second part should be negative.


  1. She is nice to you, isn’t she?↘
  2. He is not a driver, isn’t he?↘
  3. We are going to the party, aren’t we?↘

7. Exclamations: The fall tone is used in saying exclamations, because the speaker does not invite any response from the listener. Some exclamations are: Ah!, Oh!, Help!, Ow!, Wow!, Look out!, etc.


  1. Wow! Here is it.↘
  2. Oh! You’ve made it.↘
  3. Yes! I’ve gotten it.↘
  4. Look out! A car is coming.↘
  5. Ha!  What a party.↘

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