Home / English Lessons / Intonation: Expressing Surprise | Part 5 | English Pronunciation Lesson

Intonation: Expressing Surprise | Part 5 | English Pronunciation Lesson

Watch the video lesson:

…or listen to the audio while you read!:


The musical pattern of ups and downs in your speech–in both the middle and end of your sentences–is called intonation.

In English, there are three intonation patterns:

  1. Rise  arrow 5
  2. Full fall arrow 6 copy
  3. Partial fall arrow 6 copy 2 

These different musical patterns communicate different messages to your listener.


Compare the two sentences below:

  • X: “My dog understands English.”  arrow 6 copy
  • Y: “Your dog understands English?!”  arrow 5

In English, the burden is on the speaker to be very clear. The listener should not need to work hard to understand the communication, which includes the emotion behind the words. Therefore, native English speakers use the rising intonation pattern to tell the listener that he or she is surprised by what they just heard–so surprised, in fact, that they sometimes repeat the surprising statement as a question with the rising intonation.

Listen again.

  • X: “My dog understands English.”  arrow 6 copy
  • Y: “Your dog understands English?!”  arrow 5

Did you hear how my rising intonation expressed surprise?

Listen and Repeat

Notice which focus word takes the most emphasis. The rising intonation will come after the pitch change on that focus word.

  • “Is that yours?” (subtly meaning, “Wow, I can’t believe you have that!”)
  • X: “John is the class valedictorian.”
  • Y:  “John graduated at the top of his class?!” (meaning, “Wow, I didn’t know he was even that smart.”)
  • X: “I prefer vanilla.”
  • Y: “Wait, you don’t like chocolate ice cream?!” (meaning, “Chocolate ice cream is amazing. I thought everyone loves it!”
  • “You’re moving to China?!” (meaning: “OMG, that’s so far away!”) (notice how I de-stressed the “to”)

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  1. Thank you, Larissa! I really appreciate your English lessons.

    I leave in Canada and my mother tongue is Romanian. One of my weaknesses is my pronunciation and have never had a chance to work on it. Your speaking is very clear and your voice is enjoyable, so I will definitely continue taking your English lessons. Thanks again!

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