In TEFL teaching intonation is the variation of pitch when speaking. It is often called “the music of language” and it can be really important with regards to accent and subtleties of meaning. Take the word “sorry”. How many different ways can you say the same phrase to mean so many different things? Have a go yourself, say “sorry” for situations when:

  • somebody is in your way;
  • someone is treading on your foot and it hurts;
  • you are not sure if you heard correctly;
  • you are disgusted with something;
  • you want to be sarcastic;
  • you want to genuinely apologise;
  • you dare someone to repeat what they have just said.


Whether the pitch of the voice rises or falls in a sentence is called tone and it can play a part in expressing a statement or a question. Unfortunately, it is extremely subjective. As you will find, a lot of native teachers don’t practise what they teach. It’s mostly due to accents and how the language has developed over the last 10-15 years but the result is that it is harder for our students to understand what we want from them.

Here are the basic rules for the use of tone depending on the structure in English:

Questions: should have a slight raise in tone towards the end of the sentence.

Statements: should have a slight fall in tone.

Reality: a lot of native speakers either have a neutral or slight fall in tone for both statements and questions.