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Introduction to Intonation | English Pronunciation Lesson

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

Listen to the audio!:

Speaking and understanding English doesn’t just come from using correct grammar and vocabulary. Native English speakers convey meaning in their sentences with pitch — the ups and downs and the musical notes of their sentences.


The following two sentences contain the same words. But is there a difference in their meanings?

1) “She got a dog.”

2) “She got a dog?!”

In these two simple sentences, the focus word of the sentence–the word that gets the most emphasis–is “dog”.

But what happened with the sound of the focus word?

In sentence one, the intonation went DOWN to indicate the completion of the thought.

1) “She got a dog.”  arrow 6 copy

In sentence two, the intonation went way UP, to indicate surprise.

2) “She got a dog?!” arrow 5

The patterns of ups and downs of your voice (and your pitch) on and after the focus word–which is usually at the end of a sentence or question–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

Listen and Repeat

the following examples of intonation patterns. The focus word is underlined in each sentence.

To complete a thought | FALL

 “I got a dog.” | FALL arrow 6 copy

To ask a wh-question (what, where, who, why, when, how) | FALL

arrow 6 copy  “How are you?”  | FALL

To express surprise | RISE

arrow 5   “Your dog speaks English?!” | RISE

Need clarification/repetition | RISE

arrow 5  “WHO got a dog?”  | RISE


arrow 6 copy 2  “My dog is smart, pretty and sweet.”) | PARTIAL RISE (+ FULL FALL) (notice the pausing between words)

Not finished your thought | NO CHANGE

arrow 1  “I want a dog, but…” | NO CHANGE (FOLLOWING A PARTIAL FALL)

So, remember. Speaking English isn’t just about correct grammar and vocabulary. You must change your pitch — the ups and downs and the musical notes of your voice — to convey proper meaning, emotion and expression.

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  1. A very helpful site to practice oral English.

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