155 Words To Describe An Author’s Tone


Tone refers to an author’s use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. Tone is often defined as what the author feels about the subject. What the reader feels is known as the mood.

Tip: Don’t confuse tone with voice. [Read How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?] Voice can be explained as the author’s personality expressed in writing. Tone = Attitude. Voice = Personality.

Tone (attitude) and voice (personality) create a writing style. You may not be able to alter your personality but you can adjust your attitude. This gives you ways to create writing that affects your audience’s mood.

The mechanics

Tone is conveyed through diction (choice and use of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar; how you put words and phrases together), and level of formality. It is the way you express yourself in speech or writing.

How do you find the correct tone?

You can usually find a tone by asking these three questions:

  1. Why am I writing this?
  2. Who is my intended audience?
  3. What do I want the reader to learn, understand, or think about?

In formal writing, your tone should be clear, concise, confident, and courteous. The writing level should be sophisticated, but not pretentious.

In creative writing, your tone is more subjective, but you should always aim to communicate clearly. Genre sometimes determines the tone.

     Tone

     Meaning

Absurd illogical; ridiculous; silly; implausible; foolish
Accusatory suggesting someone has done something wrong, complaining
Acerbic sharp; forthright; biting; hurtful; abrasive; severe
Admiring approving; think highly of; respectful; praising
Aggressive hostile; determined; forceful; argumentative
Aggrieved indignant; annoyed; offended; disgruntled
Ambivalent having mixed feelings; uncertain; in a dilemma; undecided
Amused entertained; diverted; pleased
Angry incensed or enraged; threatening or menacing
Animated full of life or excitement; lively; spirited; impassioned; vibrant
Apathetic showing little interest; lacking concern; indifferent; unemotional
Apologetic full of regret; repentant; remorseful; acknowledging failure
Appreciative grateful; thankful; showing pleasure; enthusiastic
Ardent enthusiastic; passionate
Arrogant pompous; disdainful; overbearing; condescending; vain; scoffing
Assertive self-confident; strong-willed; authoritative; insistent
Awestruck amazed, filled with wonder/awe; reverential
Belligerent hostile; aggressive; combatant
Benevolent sympathetic; tolerant; generous; caring; well meaning
Bitter angry; acrimonious; antagonistic; spiteful; nasty
Callous cruel disregard; unfeeling; uncaring; indifferent; ruthless
Candid truthful, straightforward; honest; unreserved
Caustic making biting, corrosive comments; critical
Cautionary gives warning; raises awareness; reminding
Celebratory praising; pay tribute to; glorify; honour
Chatty informal; lively; conversational; familiar
Colloquial familiar; everyday language; informal; colloquial; casual
Comic humorous; witty; entertaining; diverting
Compassionate sympathetic; empathetic; warm-hearted; tolerant; kind
Complex having many varying characteristics; complicated
Compliant agree or obey rules; acquiescent; flexible; submissive
Concerned worried; anxious; apprehensive
Conciliatory intended to placate or pacify; appeasing
Condescending stooping to the level of one’s inferiors; patronising
Confused unable to think clearly; bewildered; vague
Contemptuous showing contempt; scornful; insolent; mocking
Critical finding fault; disapproving; scathing; criticizing
Cruel causing pain and suffering; unkind; spiteful; severe
Curious wanting to find out more; inquisitive; questioning
Cynical scornful of motives/virtues of others; mocking; sneering
Defensive defending a position; shielding; guarding; watchful
Defiant obstinate; argumentative; defiant; contentious
Demeaning disrespectful; undignified
Depressing sad, melancholic; discouraging; pessimistic
Derisive snide; sarcastic; mocking; dismissive; scornful
Detached aloof; objective; unfeeling; distant
Dignified serious; respectful; formal; proper
Diplomatic tactful; subtle; sensitive; thoughtful
Disapproving displeased; critical; condemnatory
Disheartening discouraging; demoralising; undermining; depressing
Disparaging dismissive; critical; scornful
Direct straightforward; honest
Disappointed discouraged; unhappy because something has gone wrong
Dispassionate impartial; indifferent; unsentimental; cold; unsympathetic
Distressing heart-breaking; sad; troubling
Docile compliant; submissive; deferential; accommodating
Earnest showing deep sincerity or feeling; serious
Egotistical self-absorbed; selfish; conceited; boastful
Empathetic understanding; kind; sensitive
Encouraging optimistic; supportive
Enthusiastic excited; energetic
Evasive ambiguous; cryptic; unclear
Excited emotionally aroused; stirred
Facetious inappropriate; flippant
Farcical ludicrous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable
Flippant superficial; glib; shallow; thoughtless; frivolous
Forceful powerful; energetic; confident; assertive
Formal respectful; stilted; factual; following accepted styles/rules
Frank honest; direct; plain; matter-of-fact
Frustrated annoyed; discouraged
Gentle kind; considerate; mild; soft
Ghoulish delighting in the revolting or the loathsome
Grim serious; gloomy; depressing; lacking humour;macabre
Gullible naïve; innocent; ignorant
Hard unfeeling; hard-hearted; unyielding
Humble deferential; modest
Humorous amusing; entertaining; playful
Hypercritical unreasonably critical; hair splitting; nitpicking
Impartial unbiased; neutral; objective
Impassioned filled with emotion; ardent
Imploring pleading; begging
Impressionable trusting; child-like
Inane silly; foolish; stupid; nonsensical
Incensed enraged
Incredulous disbelieving; unconvinced; questioning; suspicious
Indignant annoyed; angry; dissatisfied
Informative instructive; factual; educational
Inspirational encouraging; reassuring
Intense earnest; passionate; concentrated; deeply felt
Intimate familiar; informal; confidential; confessional
Ironic the opposite of what is meant
Irreverent lacking respect for things that are generally taken seriously
Jaded bored; having had too much of the same thing; lack enthusiasm
Joyful positive; optimistic; cheerful; elated
Judgmental critical; finding fault; disparaging
Laudatory praising; recommending
Light-Hearted carefree; relaxed; chatty; humorous
Loving affectionate; showing intense, deep concern
Macabre gruesome; horrifying; frightening
Malicious desiring to harm others or to see others suffer; ill-willed; spiteful
Mean-Spirited inconsiderate; unsympathetic
Mocking scornful; ridiculing; making fun of someone
Mourning grieving; lamenting; woeful
Naïve innocent; unsophisticated; immature
Narcissistic self-admiring; selfish; boastful; self-pitying
Nasty unpleasant; unkind; disagreeable; abusive
Negative unhappy, pessimistic
Nostalgic thinking about the past; wishing for something from the past
Objective without prejudice; without discrimination; fair; based on fact
Obsequious overly obedient and/or submissive; fawning; grovelling
Optimistic hopeful; cheerful
Outraged angered and resentful; furious; extremely angered
Outspoken frank; candid; spoken without reserve
Pathetic expressing pity, sympathy, tenderness
Patronising condescending; scornful; pompous
Pensive reflective; introspective; philosophical; contemplative
Persuasive convincing; eloquent; influential; plausible
Pessimistic seeing the negative side of things
Philosophical theoretical; analytical; rational; logical
Playful full of fun and good spirits; humorous; jesting
Pragmatic realistic; sensible
Pretentious affected; artificial; grandiose; rhetorical; flashy
Regretful apologetic; remorseful
Resentful aggrieved; offended; displeased; bitter
Resigned accepting; unhappy
Restrained controlled; quiet; unemotional
Reverent showing deep respect and esteem
Righteous morally right and just; guiltless; pious; god-fearing
Satirical making fun to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive
Sarcastic scornful; mocking; ridiculing
Scathing critical; stinging; unsparing; harsh
Scornful expressing contempt or derision; scathing; dismissive
Sensationalistic provocative; inaccurate; distasteful
Sentimental thinking about feelings, especially when remembering the past
Sincere honest; truthful; earnest
Sceptical disbelieving; unconvinced; doubting
Solemn not funny; in earnest; serious
Subjective prejudiced; biased
Submissive compliant; passive; accommodating; obedient
Sulking bad-tempered; grumpy; resentful; sullen
Sympathetic compassionate; understanding of how someone feels
Thoughtful reflective; serious; absorbed
Tolerant open-minded; charitable; patient; sympathetic; lenient
Tragic disastrous; calamitous
Unassuming modest; self-effacing; restrained
Uneasy worried; uncomfortable; edgy; nervous
Urgent insistent; saying something must be done soon
Vindictive vengeful; spiteful; bitter; unforgiving
Virtuous lawful; righteous; moral; upstanding
Whimsical quaint; playful; mischievous; offbeat
Witty clever; quick-witted; entertaining
Wonder awe-struck; admiring; fascinating
World-Weary bored; cynical; tired
Worried anxious; stressed; fearful
Wretched miserable; despairing; sorrowful; distressed

 

Helpful Tip: Finding the correct tone is a matter of practice. Try to write for different audiences. Even if you only want to write novels, it is an apprenticeship of sorts. Write press releases. Write opinion pieces. Write interviews. Write copy. Write a business plan.

The more you write, the better you will become at infusing your work with the nuances needed to create the perfect book.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Amanda Patterson

© Amanda Patterson

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This article has 29 comments

  1. Sanjeev talpade

    Wow you got a good thing going very evolved module for writers thank you

  2. Matti

    Thanks for all the wonderful tones this really made my class understanding way easier when we write in class. Thanks for your help.

  3. Writers Write

    Thank you, Matti. We’re glad this helped.

  4. Hanna

    Thank you for this list! Although I think you misspelled skeptical as sceptical.

  5. Writers Write

    No, we spelt it correctly. We use British English in South Africa.

  6. Ucup Hermawan

    Your explanation is really helpful. Now I can clearly explain the topic to my students. Thanks a lot

  7. Heather Mangate

    Even though philosophers have constantly argued that perfection cannot be reached.This is perfect.

  8. emely

    Very helpful , thank you.

  9. Laurel Christopherson

    May I distribute this list to my 10th grade English students, as long as I give you credit for it?

  10. jhohn

    thanks

  11. Alison

    Really helpful when looking forward to character sketches!!

  12. Brian Cornelson

    Excellent resource! The book my class is using talks about tone and style but without providing a vocabulary. This site and its companion on style are excellent; I’ve recommended them to my classmates.

  13. shiku kamanu

    The topic on tone was amazing.Kindly can you give the same on attitude and mood

  14. Grace

    How To write a tone analysis essay
    Tone refers to the attitude of a writer toward the subject he is writing about. A writer can convey his attitude directly, by stating his opinion, or indirectly, through his choice of vocabulary and stylistic elements. As an essay writer, your job consists of investigating the purpose or significance of the author’s tone.

  15. the proper student

    Regards to this site, it is so fantastic. This list of tone words helps me ever so graciously in my Pre-AP Honors class. Thank you to the genius owner of this site.

  16. the dabster

    this is lit *dab inserted here*

  17. Writers Write

    Thank you for the feedback, everyone. We’re happy that you find the list useful.

  18. Ibrahim khalilullah

    Thnx fo list very helpful

  19. Toyin Azanor

    Thanks for the great info U share daily. I’m a Communication Specialist and these “Toneful” examples are very helpful.

  20. Grace_Dancer

    Thank you! I needed to find some good tone words and some good definitions. This is what i was looking for!

  21. Inga Davis

    Thank you! My students really loved your list! (7/8th graders in San Carlos CA)

  22. Writers Write

    Thank you, Inga. We appreciate the feedback.

  23. Ian McCarthy

    This was really helpful for my essay! Thanks guys!

  24. Emily

    Super Helpful. Me and my friends loved it while writing a Language Analysis.

  25. Harrison Wilson

    this is cool man

  26. laureano

    awsome

  27. Bardstown Middle School

    This really helped us get to learn better words for tone. thanks

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