Here’s What a Novice Teacher Must Know About English Intonation

Intonation refers to the pitch patterns that a speaker uses when communicating in English. The intonation of a sentence is the pattern of the pitch that occurs. There are four patterns of intonation:

A) The falling intonation.

It is marked with a fall of the voice from a high pitch to relatively very low pitch in the last stressed words. This pattern conveys the following types of sentences:

  1. Short sentence: I was glad. I like coffee.
  2. Wh-question intended to convey information: What is your name?
  3. Imperatives: shut up. Sit!
  4. Exclamation: what is a nice girl?! What is a nice dress?!
  5. Question tag: he speaks English, doesn’t he? 

B) The rising intonation.

It is indicated by the rise in the voice from a very low pitch to relatively very high pitch on the last stressed syllable as the syllable following it. This pattern is typical on the following patterns:

  1. Statement intended to encourage the listener. I should not be late, come on.
  2. Yes/No-question: did you play football? Do you like football?
  3. Incomplete sentence: (When the speaker intends to continue) When I saw my father, …
  4. Question tag: (When the speaker expects a negative reply) It is clod today, isn’t it? forcing the answer yes.
  5. Questions showing sympathy: what are you going to do?

C) Falling-rising pattern.

It is a fall of the voice from a high note to a very long one, and then a rise from the low note to a very high one again. It is used for the following sentences:

  1. Correcting other people: You surely want the briefcase for you. Oh. No. It’s for my son.
  2. Showing differences of opinion: This is cheap watch. Oh. No. It’s very expensive.
  3. Implying something else: The worker left angrily. (The speaker implies that the worker may not turn the next day).

D) Rising-falling pattern.

The voice first rises from a low note and then falls from a very high note. This pattern is used to express certainty as opposed to doubt, as in saying:

His name is Ali. (If I am certain about the person’s name).


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