Definition of tone in English:

tone

noun

  • 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’
    • ‘She is blessed with the cool, crystalline tone so characteristic of Scandinavian singers.’
    • ‘It employs a single reed and has a very pure tone with no vibrato although this can be induced by use of the bellows.’
    • ‘Kevin and Faith were not far from him speaking in hushed tones.’
    • ‘The playing throughout is crisp, featuring beautiful, full, round tones and distinct single note lines.’
    • ‘She also sings rather well, with a husky, sensual tone hinting at a passion lurking under all those crinolines.’
    • ‘Imagine my surprise when they spontaneously sang with me again, but this time in hushed and reverent tones.’
    • ‘Oistrakh's warm tone ensures that the concerto's melodic content is not compromised, in spite of his gutsy playing.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Yes, his name is uttered amongst the musical cognoscenti in hushed tones.’
    • ‘But they soon learned the distinctive sound of each engine and found the familiar tones of the passing traffic a comfort rather than a disturbance.’
    • ‘The Octet's members placed a high priority on a full singing tone, honeyed legato playing, and warm, genial musicianship.’
    • ‘The darkly resonant tones of the lower strings in the opening Largo were a prelude to the precise, crisp attack of the violins in the succeeding Allegro molto.’
    • ‘He continued to ponder this as he moved across the room to where several of his men were standing speaking in hushed, worried tones.’
    • ‘On 'The Bird and Phoenix', he achieves an impressionistic, plaintive tone on flute.’
    • ‘Violinist Adela Pena played with a penetrating tone and trenchant musicality.’
    • ‘Gruppman's bracing attack and Kosower's warmly resonant tone enlivened the Allegro finale.’
    • ‘She started to laugh, the musical tones reverberating through the halls before quieting.’
    • ‘There was no speaking in hushed tones at this compact dining room full of chatty, laughing customers.’
    • ‘The attractive part of the vocal delivery is the tone, the snotty sneer with which nearly every line is delivered.’
    • ‘He opened his mouth and began to say something, but stopped short, and stared at Naomi for a second before continuing in a hushed tone.’
    timbre, sound, sound quality, voice, voice quality, colour, tone colour, tonality, resonance, ring
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    1. 1.1 A modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood:
      ‘a firm tone of voice’
      • ‘The tone of voice in the transcripts is revealing.’
      • ‘But I'm sure my tone of voice and facial expression got my point across.’
      • ‘‘That was how our grandfathers and father lived - those are our rules,’ says one man in a firm tone of voice.’
      • ‘Ah well, you'll just have to imagine what my dulcet tones sound like.’
      • ‘For a moment during this litany, her tone of voice takes on a sharp, exasperated edge.’
      • ‘First she tried sweet-talking him, using a sugary-sweet tone of voice to put him in a good mood and then happily suggesting that he let her out for some exercise.’
      • ‘I could see some of the excitement drain out of her expression and her tone of voice changed.’
      • ‘Despite the dismissive tone of voice, a serious expression crossed her face.’
      • ‘Keeping track of your tone of voice, volume and inflection is also a good idea.’
      • ‘I couldn't hear the sarcastic tone in her voice and I felt jealousy rising in me.’
      • ‘Try changing your tone of voice to break the pattern.’
      • ‘Without the facial expressions and tone of voice that play so great a part in human communication, comments may become at best ambiguous, at worst offensive.’
      • ‘Her voice held a tone of finality that signaled the end of the discussion.’
      • ‘I can normally tell, just from her tone of voice down the telephone line, how she's feeling.’
      • ‘‘I'm turning into a bit of a dragon,’ she says, in a tone of voice that could hardly be less dragon-like.’
      • ‘I can see their expression and hear their tone of voice now, clear as anything.’
      • ‘His voice had struck a conversational tone that grated on her nerves.’
      • ‘Only Trent noticed the mocking tone in Matt's voice and he hated him for it.’
      • ‘I didn't know what that meant exactly, but her tone signaled the end of the discussion.’
      • ‘She was excited, but couldn't manage a happy tone of voice to express it.’
      intonation, tone of voice, mode of expression, expression, inflection, pitch, modulation, accentuation
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    2. 1.2 A musical note or other sound used as a signal on a telephone or answering machine.
      • ‘She quickly dialled Izzy's Scottish number but was answered by a busy tone.’
      • ‘The harsh tone of the telephone disrupts my slumber.’
      • ‘It took at least three tones before someone answered.’
      • ‘The telephone beside Andrew rang, and he answered after a single tone.’
      • ‘His mobile telephone rang with a tone indicating he was in Spain but was switched off without a word being said.’
      • ‘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
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  • 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’
    • ‘The lack of a clear atmosphere or tone turns what could have been passionate into just passable.’
    • ‘Interesting images are available through this gateway, and although the content varies from provider to provider, the general tone is one of intelligent, critical inquiry.’
    • ‘The show seemed oddly just a little light in tone, at least relative to the general tone of the series.’
    • ‘Computers crash, characters bicker, and the general tone of the series is somewhat grim, with occasional bursts of humor.’
    • ‘The general tone of the piece was quite positive.’
    • ‘That has been the general tone of media reporting of the affair.’
    • ‘Though he makes some brief excursions into consciously literary forms, the overall tone of his writing is terse, colloquial, practical, laconic.’
    • ‘He uses everything at his disposal to maintain a moody, atmospheric tone.’
    • ‘Despite the modern setting, the films are Victorian in tone and atmosphere.’
    • ‘Excessively muted in tone and atmosphere, they seem remote now, as if filtered through gauze.’
    • ‘I'm also a little stunned by the tone of the piece.’
    • ‘Throughout all of this, the emphasis is on atmosphere and tone.’
    • ‘The general tone of this album is quite serious, heavily laden with food-for-thought political rants.’
    • ‘I would agree wholeheartedly with the general tone of the article.’
    • ‘A couple of moments might make you jump but overall it's a promise the film just can't keep as tension quickly fades into a tone of general monotony.’
    • ‘She'd written most of the lyrics, and it was surprising that he'd caught on about the general tone of the piece.’
    • ‘However, I take exception to the general tone of his letter.’
    • ‘The general tone of the piece is cynical, morbid and unpleasantly other-worldly.’
    • ‘I am most happy with the fact that the general tone of your newspaper is moderate and very optimistic.’
    • ‘Nonetheless, I found the general tone of the film to be inspirational rather than offensive.’
    mood, quality, feel, style, note, air, attitude, character, spirit, flavour, grain, temper, humour, effect
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    1. 2.1informal [mass noun] An atmosphere of respectability or class:
      ‘they don't feel he gives the place tone’
  • 3A 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’
    • ‘Ideally, I try to warm-up to a tone or two above the performance's highest note.’
    • ‘For example, a rising whole tone interval is mirrored by a falling whole tone interval.’
    • ‘At the climax of the third chant, she so subdivides her forces that eventually, all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are encompassed.’
    • ‘He uses this music to introduce octaves, accented rhythms, a whole tone scale and a continuous cross-hand pattern.’
    • ‘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’
    • ‘The temperature is just right, there's a clear scent in the air, and the colours and tones of the falling leaves is absolutely beautiful to me.’
    • ‘His visible brushstrokes in the foreground and creamy subdued tones interspersed with bright oranges and red hues are very seductive.’
    • ‘A student of the subject at A-Level, he favours a mixture of painting and printing techniques, and his pictures suggest a preference for modern art as well as earthy colours and tones.’
    • ‘Light pink gets lost next to the yellow and dark pink is too close in tone to the red.’
    • ‘John finds that artist pencils allow him to better express his artistic creativity than the brush because of the aspect of detail and layers of tone and texture which can be obtained.’
    • ‘No matter what the bright colours, whether orange, sweet pink tones, neutral colours or just black and white, they will all be widely seen.’
    • ‘The drawing is notable for its wonderful use of soft pencil, which permits fine gradations of tone and texture.’
    • ‘Extraordinarily subtle gradations of hue and tone at the perimeters heighten the ethereal appearance of the whole.’
    • ‘Her trademark knitwear combines earthy tones with vivid colourful trims.’
    • ‘After the war his painting lost much of its intensity, with pastel tones replacing the bold, sometimes harsh colours he had earlier used.’
    • ‘Other than delicate pink flesh tones, heavenly shades of blue predominate, accented with green and white.’
    • ‘We often take color for granted, not bothering to notice the subtle hues, tones and intensities that surround us.’
    • ‘The palette also includes colours inspired by skin tones: blush, flesh, coffee, caramel, nut and cinnamon.’
    • ‘Alternate different tones of green to prevent them from becoming completely camouflaged.’
    • ‘I enjoy the search for new shades of established colours, and I look forward to merging them with my base tones and creating a different vision of how I perceive things to be.’
    • ‘Their neutral tone will balance the bright hues of the coolest polo shirts of the season, and offset your trendy jeans.’
    • ‘The paintings seem at first to be sombre in tone, coloured mostly by umbers and sepia-like hues.’
    • ‘Building on continental lessons, he developed a technique of using thin washes of colour in muted tones to create an impression of transparency.’
    • ‘The neck is longer and more elegant, the underglaze blue cobalt lighter and purer in tone, and the porcelain itself whiter and with fewer occlusions.’
    • ‘The walls, adjustable lighting and curtains are all in warm colour tones to ease anxiety.’
    harmonize, go, go well, blend, fit, coordinate, team, accord
    match, suit, complement
    tint, shade, colour, hue, tinge, cast, tincture
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    1. 4.1[mass noun] The general effect of colour or of light and shade in a picture.
      • ‘Here Turner had moved away from recording topography and was preoccupied with achieving specific effects of light and tone.’
      • ‘This work is stark and reductive in colour and tone.’
      • ‘Murray's handling of paint, tone and colour is flawless.’
      • ‘Light's bleaching glare may saturate the picture plane, obscuring tone, details and minute particulars.’
      • ‘In its details and rich nuances of tone and texture, the drawing is an impressive demonstration of Rembrandt's genius.’
      • ‘His use of shade, tone and colour is different from many of his stylised drawings of the past, where the simplicity of line seemed to dominate over the human subject.’
      • ‘Picasso is not interested in describing tone, depth, or form.’
      • ‘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.’
    2. 4.2 A slight degree of difference in the intensity of a colour.
  • 5Phonetics
    (in some languages, such as Chinese) a particular pitch pattern on a syllable used to make semantic distinctions.

    • ‘Its lingua franca is Cantonese, a dialect that has six tones compared to the four tones of standard mandarin Chinese.’
    • ‘Hmong is monosyllabic and tonal, meaning that it consists mainly of one-syllable words and that the tone of a word affects meaning.’
    • ‘Ethnic Liberian languages usually contain two or three distinct tones, based on pitch, which indicate semantic or grammatical differences.’
    • ‘Every syllable has an associated tone or pitch - high, low, medium, falling, rising, or whatever.’
    • ‘Chinese pronunciation involves four tones, each indicated by a tone mark.’
    1. 5.1 (in some languages, such as English) intonation on a word or phrase used to add functional meaning.
      • ‘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[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’
    • ‘Tetanus causes increased muscle tone and spasms especially in the neck and jaw muscles.’
    • ‘Drinking water also helps maintain proper muscle tone, which aids muscle contraction.’
    • ‘The electroencephalogram, eye movements, and muscle tone are monitored.’
    • ‘Norepinephrine and serotonin are involved in the loss of muscle tone during REM sleep.’
    • ‘Staying active will help to maintain muscle tone and function.’
    • ‘They improve muscle tone, circulation and physiological efficiency and build up strength, stamina and flexibility.’
    • ‘His muscle tone was mildly low but within the reference range.’
    • ‘Walker is intent on maintaining muscle tone in his lower body.’
    • ‘Physical boosts in endurance, muscle tone, body composition and blood flow can all improve sexual functioning.’
    • ‘Babies with achondroplasia have poor muscle tone, often leading to delays in learning to sit, stand and walk.’
    • ‘I agree with him that upper airway muscle tone is decreased during sleep and is an important component of obstructive sleep apnea.’
    • ‘These children should be followed closely from birth and their development and muscle tone should be evaluated on a periodic basis.’
    • ‘Physical exercise also is encouraged to assist in weight reduction and increase muscle tone.’
    • ‘The Apgar score was based on heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability, and skin color.’
    • ‘This program consisted of ambulation with portable oxygen and arm exercises to maintain muscle tone.’
    • ‘These children tend to be underweight and emaciated, with decreased muscle tone.’
    • ‘Many signs are noticeable at birth, such as low muscle tone, small nose, short fingers, and flexible joints.’
    • ‘Other infants may develop low muscle tone, seizures, heart failure and coma, often following an illness.’
    • ‘His muscle tone is normal for gestational age and response to stimulation is good.’
    • ‘With that low activity level, they are likely to lose muscle tone throughout their body.’
    1. 6.1Physiology The normal level of activity in a nerve fibre:
      ‘vagal tone’
      • ‘Apparently, the increase in ectopic beats might be related to the increase in vagal tone.’
      • ‘Abnormal exams included clearly severe abnormalities in motor tone, levels of activity, or delays.’
      • ‘An increase of vagal tone after exercise occasionally can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.’
      • ‘Sinus node dysfunction can occur perioperatively because of increased vagal tone caused by anesthesia or surgical intervention.’
      • ‘Sinus bradycardia is common in normal individuals during sleep and in those with high vagal tone, such as athletes and young healthy adults.’

verb

[WITH OBJECT]
  • 1Give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a muscle):

    ‘exercise tones up the muscles’
    • ‘It depends on the individual, on how confident they feel and how toned their body is.’
    • ‘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’
    • ‘Bitter herbs also tone the smooth muscles in your gastrointestinal tract.’
    • ‘The backstroke is ideal for toning the upper body, while the breast stroke works those hard-to-tone inner thighs.’
    • ‘When you feel how much this strengthens and tones your lower body, especially your glutes and thighs, you'll be in an even better mood.’
    • ‘This will stretch and tone the arm muscles, while loosening the back and shoulder muscles.’
    • ‘They're not heavy enough to strengthen and tone your muscles, and they won't do much to boost the intensity of your cardio workouts, either.’
    • ‘Walking, cycling and swimming, especially breaststroke, also work your bottom muscles and tone up your thighs.’
    • ‘It tones the entire body while strengthening the cardiovascular system.’
    • ‘It is also great for toning your upper body, arms and leg muscles.’
    • ‘They find that the hip movements are beneficial - they strengthen and tone the body.’
    • ‘Here's how to tone your body in all the right places.’
    • ‘Kata training is great for defense, raising your level of fitness, toning your body muscles and releasing those dangerously high levels of stress.’
    • ‘It seemed like every muscle in her body was perfectly toned and tanned, and she looked amazing.’
    • ‘Pilates has been hailed as the best overall exercise for toning your body and freeing your mind.’
    • ‘It stretches and tones up just about every muscle in the body.’
    • ‘The goal is to strengthen and tone muscles while improving balance, coordination, core strength and body awareness.’
    • ‘It tones up the muscles of the face and improves facial expressions.’
    • ‘A great glute and thigh strengthener, this exercise tones the abs and lower back muscles in a highly original way.’
    • ‘Jeff tones up his clients' muscles with some regular gentle weight-lifting.’
    1. 1.1tone up[no object] (of a muscle or other bodily part) became stronger or firmer:
      ‘his leg muscles had toned up’
      • ‘I also added a light weight-training routine to tone up and build strength for labor.’
      • ‘Getting fit and toning up doesn't mean being confined to a sweaty gym or paying homage to stretch latex in an aerobics studio.’
      • ‘The real focus this week has been Pilates, and toning up.’
      • ‘I began to tone up and had a little muscle definition in areas I never had before.’
      • ‘Just eat your three squares and spend a bit more time in the gym toning up.’
      • ‘She began weight training three or four times a week to tone up.’
      • ‘I don't necessarily advocate such a diet for my training clients who are looking to tone up and drop some fat.’
      • ‘If you do these classes you will get fit and tone up - as well as increasing your flexibility.’
      • ‘After losing 100 pounds and toning up, I couldn't wait to wear a tank top that showed off my sculpted arms and skirts that flattered my slimmer legs!’
      • ‘Tony's attitude is toned down, while his body is toned up.’
      • ‘Prior to joining the center, she lost 40 pounds through a diet, but after joining the club, she lost another 25 pounds and is eating healthier and toning up.’
      • ‘‘I know all my customers personally and assure them I will get them toned up,’ he said.’
      • ‘What I want to do is lose some weight and tone up - I just wish I could get some more help.’
      • ‘Even after just a few sessions, you will see your muscles tone up, fatty places firm up and even a few pounds fall away.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘He had a lot to say about muscle, tissue and toning up.’
      • ‘He will tone up a little bit more and he will look more built, although he is still a big guy at the moment.’
      • ‘The main difference I have noticed is my shape and how much I've toned up.’
      • ‘Your goal should not be to bulk up like a body builder, just to tone up and become leaner and stronger.’
      • ‘And if you haven't been diligent with your workouts, you can still get trouble areas toned up in time to enjoy the warm weather.’
  • 2tone with[no object] Harmonize with (something) in terms of colour:

    ‘the rich orange colour of the wood tones beautifully with the yellow roses’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The colors were perfectly toned with his skin and hair and eye color.’
    • ‘Some men had shirts made to measure to tone with the suit.’
  • 3Photography
    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’
    • ‘The print is then toned in sulphide or selenium and often hand coloured with oil paints to create the final result.’
    • ‘Below is the same test strip reduced in iodine reducer and toned in three different toners.’
    • ‘Sepia toning originally was developed to extend the archival life of early black-and-white silver-based prints.’
    • ‘Unlike selenium, which selectively tones the low values first, gold toners tend to affect the entire image at once.’
    • ‘With the toner used at full strength, the print should be fully toned in about six to eight minutes.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • tone something down

    • 1Make something less harsh in sound or colour:

      ‘a green-tinged moisturizer helps to tone down a ruddy complexion’
      • ‘Susan picked this colour for the walls, and toned it down with white to produce the shade she wanted, and the result is admirable.’
      • ‘Coat lipstick with a darker lip gloss to tone it down.’
      • ‘We have gone away from the bright colour scheme and toned it down slightly.’
      • ‘Instead of her usual style where bright, fluorescent colours stand out, this time the colour palette is toned down and the concentration is on darker shades.’
      • ‘The second way is to spot meter the scene calculating the dark area that you want to expose for and also the highlight area that you want to tone down.’
      • ‘When you've been sunbathing and your skin has a slight lobster tinge, don't wear a light colour that night - dark colours will tone down the burnt effect.’
      • ‘The synths had been toned down, replaced with tired guitar sounds.’
      • ‘I would suggest toning the colours down a bit, so it's not quite so harsh on the eyes’
      • ‘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
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      1. 1.1Make something less extreme or intense:
        ‘she saw the need to tone down her protests’
        • ‘My mother asked if it was possible for me to tone the show down a bit for her.’
        • ‘Brendan heard himself being melodramatic and toned it down a couple of notches.’
        • ‘When she realized how flirtatious that sounded, Jessica toned it down a bit.’
        • ‘Even though they said they wanted to shock and offend, when it came right down to it, the network toned the content down.’
        • ‘I think that they could pull the country together a lot better by just toning the rhetoric down a bit.’
        • ‘We had some very bruising sessions, so bruising that Clive had to step in and ask the players to tone it down.’
        • ‘When every other punk band was playing as fast as they could and spewing left-wing rhetoric, these guys were toning it down a notch, providing a more emotive and reflective tone and a poppier sound.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘To move to the next level, however, the chain needed to tone down its image a bit.’
        moderate, modify, modulate, mitigate, temper, dampen, soften, lighten
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Origin

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

Pronunciation:

tone

/təʊn/