Intonation in Spoken English

Intonation in spoken English is the musical patterns of ups and downs in your speech.

In English, there are three intonation patterns:

Rise  arrow 5

Full fall  arrow 6 copy

Partial fall  arrow 6 copy 2

These different musical patterns that convey different messages to your listener.


When to use falling  arrow 6 copy or raising  arrow 5 intonation in your speech?

1. Finishing A Statement

Use the falling intonation pattern to tell the listener that you’re finished with a sentence.


Compare these sentences:

• His dog understands English.  arrow 6 copy

• His dog understands English?   arrow 5


When you use the rising intonation, as in the second sentence, you’re telling the listener that you’re surprised. When you use the falling intonation, as in the first sentence, you are merely making a statement; reporting that his dog understands English.


2. Asking Yes/No Question

Use the rising intonation for asking a yes/no question.


• Do you understand English?  arrow 5  – No, not really.

• Are you listening?  arrow 5 – Yes, I am.


3. Asking with WH Question Words

Use the falling intonation when asking with ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ‘how’.


• Who are you looking for?  arrow 6 copy

• What’s that you’re reading?  arrow 6 copy

• Why are you learning English?  arrow 6 copy


4. Showing Surprise

Use the high/rising intonation to express surprise.



• Oh, really?  arrow 5

• Your dog understands English?  arrow 5


5. Requesting Clarification or Repetition

As an English language learner, you may sometimes have a hard time understanding a speaker. If you don’t understand everything that was said, you can use the rising intonation to let the speaker know that you require clarification.


X: I think I’ll go to the door.

Y: You’ll go to the store?  arrow 5

X: No. The door.  arrow 6 copy (The intonation goes down when finishing a statement.)


Here are some phrases you can use to request clarification or repetition with the rising intonation if you don’t understand a speaker:

• I’m sorry?  arrow 5

• Excuse me?  arrow 5

• What was that?  arrow 5

• Could you repeat that please?  arrow 5


6. Making A List

Use a partial falling intonation when you’re making a list.



I’ve always wanted to visit Paris arrow 5, New York arrow 5, and Tokyo arrow 6 copy.


The intonation goes up on the two cities in the series ‘Paris’ and ‘New York’. To make yourself clear to the listener that you’re done with the list, use the falling intonation on ‘Tokyo’. That means ‘Tokyo’ would be the last city on your list.


Check out this video from Australia Plus to learn more on intonation and how it takes an important role in IELTS speaking test.


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