Home / English Lessons / Intonation: Unfinished Thoughts | Part 6 | English Pronunciation Lesson

Intonation: Unfinished Thoughts | Part 6 | English Pronunciation Lesson

This lesson is from the Elemental English pronunciation series on Intonation:

…or listen to the audio while you read!:

Introduction

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.

Example

Compare the music of these two sentences:

  • “My phone number is 555-1212.”

vs.

  • “My phone number is 212-555….”

Did you hear the difference in the musical notes at the end of each sentence?

In English, the burden is on the speaker to be very clear. The listener should not need to work hard to understand the communication. Therefore, the speaker’s voice should fully fall at the end of a thought group or sentence to tell the listener that he or she is finished with that statement.

Likewise, the speaker’s pitch will only partially fall at the end of a thought group to:

  • give the listener’s brain time to “digest” the speech; and
  • tell the listener that he or she is not finished speaking.

Another Example

“I really want to improve my pronunciation.” (notice how “want to” –> “wanna“)
vs.
“I really want to improve my pronunciation…” [but I have to work on my grammar today].

Did you hear the very subtle difference in pitch at the end of the two sentences?

In the second sentence, my pitch  (the musical note) did not go all the way down, because I wanted you to know that I had more to say. In the first sentence, my pitch fully fell, which tells you that I am done with that sentence, and now, you can respond!

Notice that the pitch goes up on the focus word, which gets the most emphasis. Here, that’s the word “pronunciation”. And then we go down on and after that same word to tell the listener that we are done with our thought group or sentence.

Listen and Repeat

Test yourself. Do I finish my sentence in the following examples?

  • “I’m traveling to New York today”
  • “I’m traveling to New York today” […then to California next week.]
  • “I would love to get a Masters degree in America, the UK, or Australia”
  • “We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long”
  • “They really shouldn’t have gone out without asking our permission first”
  • “My cell phone number is (212) 555-12” (notice how I pause between groups of numbers).
  • “You can text me and let me know where we’re meeting” (note that Americans say “text” instead of “SMS”)

Remember, native English speakers use the music of English to send a message to the listener. Here, they use the partial fall to tell the listener that he or she is not finished speaking.

 

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