Definition of tone in English:

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Pronunciation: /təʊn/


1A musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength: they were speaking in hushed tones the piano tone appears lacking in warmth
More example sentences
  • Yes, his name is uttered amongst the musical cognoscenti in hushed tones.
  • By the time the entrées arrived, I found myself taking tiny bites and talking in hushed tones about the quality of the parsnips in my soup.
  • She started to laugh, the musical tones reverberating through the halls before quieting.
timbre, sound, sound quality, voice, voice quality, colour, tone colour, tonality, resonance, ring
1.1A modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood: a firm tone of voice
More example sentences
  • I can see their expression and hear their tone of voice now, clear as anything.
  • She was excited, but couldn't manage a happy tone of voice to express it.
  • I could see some of the excitement drain out of her expression and her tone of voice changed.
intonation, tone of voice, mode of expression, expression, inflection, pitch, modulation, accentuation
1.2A musical note or other sound used as a signal on a telephone or answering machine.
Example sentences
  • His mobile telephone rang with a tone indicating he was in Spain but was switched off without a word being said.
  • The harsh tone of the telephone disrupts my slumber.
  • I make sure the volume on my beep tone is always turned up as high as it will go.
note, beep, bleep, meep, whine, buzz, warble, burr, signal
2The general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc. trust her to lower the tone of the conversation there was a general tone of ill-concealed glee in the reporting
More example sentences
  • The general tone of the piece is cynical, morbid and unpleasantly other-worldly.
  • The general tone of the piece was quite positive.
  • She'd written most of the lyrics, and it was surprising that he'd caught on about the general tone of the piece.
mood, quality, feel, style, note, air, attitude, character, spirit, flavour, grain, temper, humour, effect;
tenor, vein, drift, gist
2.1 [mass noun] informal An atmosphere of respectability or class: they don’t feel he gives the place tone
3 (also whole tone) A basic interval in classical Western music, equal to two semitones and separating, for example, the first and second notes of an ordinary scale (such as C and D, or E and F sharp); a major second: the B flat clarinet’s part is written one tone higher than the pitch required
More example sentences
  • He uses this music to introduce octaves, accented rhythms, a whole tone scale and a continuous cross-hand pattern.
  • At the climax of the third chant, she so subdivides her forces that eventually, all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are encompassed.
  • The Hellenistic mind of the Byzantines allowed musicians to draw systems of tones from the music of ancient Greece.
4The particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a shade of a colour: stained glass in vivid tones of red and blue [mass noun]: an attractive colour which is even in tone and texture
More example sentences
  • The paintings seem at first to be sombre in tone, coloured mostly by umbers and sepia-like hues.
  • His visible brushstrokes in the foreground and creamy subdued tones interspersed with bright oranges and red hues are very seductive.
  • Other than delicate pink flesh tones, heavenly shades of blue predominate, accented with green and white.
tint, shade, colour, hue, tinge, cast, tincture
harmonize, go, go well, blend, fit, coordinate, team, accord;
match, suit, complement
4.1 [mass noun] The general effect of colour or of light and shade in a picture.
Example sentences
  • Here Turner had moved away from recording topography and was preoccupied with achieving specific effects of light and tone.
  • I'm sure the genius that was Joseph Mallord William Turner, landscaping master of light, tone and shade would fully endorse some of the previous groundbreaking entries.
  • Light's bleaching glare may saturate the picture plane, obscuring tone, details and minute particulars.
4.2A slight degree of difference in the intensity of a colour.
5 Phonetics (In some languages, such as Chinese) a particular pitch pattern on a syllable used to make semantic distinctions.
Example sentences
  • Ethnic Liberian languages usually contain two or three distinct tones, based on pitch, which indicate semantic or grammatical differences.
  • Chinese pronunciation involves four tones, each indicated by a tone mark.
  • Every syllable has an associated tone or pitch - high, low, medium, falling, rising, or whatever.
5.1(In some languages, such as English) intonation on a word or phrase used to add functional meaning.
Example sentences
  • In English, these tones suggest finality, the fall frequently occurring at the end of a statement, the rise at the end of a yes-no question.
6 (also muscle tone) [mass noun] The normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle: a reduction of muscle tone a certain amount of daily exercise is essential to maintain proper body tone and function
More example sentences
  • The Apgar score was based on heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability, and skin color.
  • I agree with him that upper airway muscle tone is decreased during sleep and is an important component of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Physical exercise also is encouraged to assist in weight reduction and increase muscle tone.
6.1 Physiology The normal level of activity in a nerve fibre: vagal tone
More example sentences
  • Abnormal exams included clearly severe abnormalities in motor tone, levels of activity, or delays.
  • Apparently, the increase in ectopic beats might be related to the increase in vagal tone.
  • An increase of vagal tone after exercise occasionally can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.


[with object]
1Give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a muscle): exercise tones up the muscles
More example sentences
  • Kata training is great for defense, raising your level of fitness, toning your body muscles and releasing those dangerously high levels of stress.
  • It strengthens and tones your muscles, raises your body's metabolism and knocks up to six inches off your waist, hips and stomach measurement in a single session
  • It is also great for toning your upper body, arms and leg muscles.
1.1 [no object] (tone up) (Of a muscle or other bodily part) became stronger or firmer: his leg muscles had toned up
More example sentences
  • He had a lot to say about muscle, tissue and toning up.
  • But Alex warns that weight isn't always a reliable indication of how effect your fitness regime is; you could be toning up and turning muscle to fat, but it won't necessarily show on the scales.
  • Even after just a few sessions, you will see your muscles tone up, fatty places firm up and even a few pounds fall away.
2 [no object] (tone with) Harmonize with (something) in terms of colour: the rich orange colour of the wood tones beautifully with the yellow roses
More example sentences
  • Keep the floor simple by sanding and add blocks of colour in rugs in pastels that tone with billowing curtains on poles in chintz and damask.
  • Some men had shirts made to measure to tone with the suit.
  • The colors were perfectly toned with his skin and hair and eye color.
3 Photography Give (a monochrome picture) an altered colour in finishing by means of a chemical solution: it’s a good idea to sepia tone the whole print first
More example sentences
  • With the toner used at full strength, the print should be fully toned in about six to eight minutes.
  • Unlike selenium, which selectively tones the low values first, gold toners tend to affect the entire image at once.
  • Sepia toning originally was developed to extend the archival life of early black-and-white silver-based prints.

Phrasal verbs

tone something down

Make something less harsh in sound or colour: a green-tinged moisturizer helps to tone down a ruddy complexion
More example sentences
  • I would suggest toning the colours down a bit, so it's not quite so harsh on the eyes
  • We have gone away from the bright colour scheme and toned it down slightly.
  • Would it really have detracted if the big keyboard synth sounds had been toned down to a minimum?
subdue, make less garish, soften, lighten, dim, mute
1.1Make something less extreme or intense: she saw the need to tone down her protests
More example sentences
  • Critics last night claimed the report had been toned down because of concerns that its most ‘extreme’ findings would ruffle too many feathers within the establishment.
  • Next time, boys, it may be possible to tone it down just a notch without losing any of the entertainment value.
  • Brendan heard himself being melodramatic and toned it down a couple of notches.
moderate, modify, modulate, mitigate, temper, dampen, soften, lighten;
subdue, restrain, stifle, bridle, bottle up, contain;
informal keep the lid on


Middle English: from Old French ton, from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos 'tension, tone', from teinein 'to stretch'.

Words that rhyme with tone

alone, atone, Beaune, bemoan, blown, bone, Capone, clone, Cohn, Cologne, condone, cone, co-own, crone, drone, enthrone, flown, foreknown, foreshown, groan, grown, half-tone, home-grown, hone, Joan, known, leone, loan, lone, mephedrone, moan, Mon, mown, ochone, outflown, outgrown, own, phone, pone, prone, Rhône, roan, rone, sewn, shown, Simone, Sloane, Soane, sone, sown, stone, strown, throne, thrown, trombone, Tyrone, unbeknown, undersown, windblown, zone

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