Definition of tone in English:



  • 1A musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength.

    ‘the piano tone appears monochrome or lacking in warmth’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘She started to laugh, the musical tones reverberating through the halls before quieting.’
    • ‘Imagine my surprise when they spontaneously sang with me again, but this time in hushed and reverent tones.’
    • ‘Yes, his name is uttered amongst the musical cognoscenti in hushed tones.’
    • ‘She also sings rather well, with a husky, sensual tone hinting at a passion lurking under all those crinolines.’
    • ‘On 'The Bird and Phoenix', he achieves an impressionistic, plaintive tone on flute.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘There was no speaking in hushed tones at this compact dining room full of chatty, laughing customers.’
    • ‘Violinist Adela Pena played with a penetrating tone and trenchant musicality.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘She is blessed with the cool, crystalline tone so characteristic of Scandinavian singers.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It employs a single reed and has a very pure tone with no vibrato although this can be induced by use of the bellows.’
    • ‘He continued to ponder this as he moved across the room to where several of his men were standing speaking in hushed, worried tones.’
    • ‘The attractive part of the vocal delivery is the tone, the snotty sneer with which nearly every line is delivered.’
    • ‘Oistrakh's warm tone ensures that the concerto's melodic content is not compromised, in spite of his gutsy playing.’
    • ‘The Octet's members placed a high priority on a full singing tone, honeyed legato playing, and warm, genial musicianship.’
    • ‘Gruppman's bracing attack and Kosower's warmly resonant tone enlivened the Allegro finale.’
    timbre, sound, sound quality, voice, voice quality, colour, tone colour, tonality, resonance, ring
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    1. 1.1A modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood.
      ‘a firm tone of voice’
      • ‘For a moment during this litany, her tone of voice takes on a sharp, exasperated edge.’
      • ‘I didn't know what that meant exactly, but her tone signaled the end of the discussion.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I couldn't hear the sarcastic tone in her voice and I felt jealousy rising in me.’
      • ‘Keeping track of your tone of voice, volume and inflection is also a good idea.’
      • ‘Try changing your tone of voice to break the pattern.’
      • ‘Despite the dismissive tone of voice, a serious expression crossed her face.’
      • ‘‘I'm turning into a bit of a dragon,’ she says, in a tone of voice that could hardly be less dragon-like.’
      • ‘I could see some of the excitement drain out of her expression and her tone of voice changed.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But I'm sure my tone of voice and facial expression got my point across.’
      • ‘Only Trent noticed the mocking tone in Matt's voice and he hated him for it.’
      • ‘I can see their expression and hear their tone of voice now, clear as anything.’
      • ‘The tone of voice in the transcripts is revealing.’
      • ‘His voice had struck a conversational tone that grated on her nerves.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She was excited, but couldn't manage a happy tone of voice to express it.’
      • ‘‘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.’
      intonation, tone of voice, mode of expression, expression, inflection, pitch, modulation, accentuation
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    2. 1.2A musical note, warble, or other sound used as a particular signal on a telephone or answering machine.
      • ‘His mobile telephone rang with a tone indicating he was in Spain but was switched off without a word being said.’
      • ‘It took at least three tones before someone answered.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She quickly dialled Izzy's Scottish number but was answered by a busy tone.’
      • ‘The telephone beside Andrew rang, and he answered after a single tone.’
      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’
    • ‘And yet there is no disputing that the event, its militant tone and its choice of target will provoke terrible memories and associations.’
    • ‘They also wanted to have the conference at a place of higher learning in order to set a tranquil and academic tone for the event.’
    • ‘The general tone of the last three days continues, albeit slightly calmer.’
    • ‘His wit and poise set the tone for the afternoon event, which was seasoned with songs from Randall's performing friends.’
    • ‘The events of this year have set the tone for a less giddy new year's celebration and perhaps one more for reflection.’
    • ‘The city's atmosphere sets just the right tone: warm, spontaneous and charged with sultry glamour.’
    • ‘This was a discouraging event that set the tone for the long week that lay ahead.’
    • ‘Instructors set the emotional tone of the class.’
    • ‘The past two years have been overshadowed by real-world events that have given the awards a somber tone.’
    • ‘Also not susceptible to compromise was the decision to restrict beer consumption to two beer gardens, in keeping with the family tone of the event.’
    • ‘Nevertheless, despite the low-key tone to events 40 Christmas trees have been shipped out to lend a more festive feel to proceedings.’
    • ‘I hate those twenty-four hour periods when a single event sets the tone for the whole rotation.’
    • ‘The Inquiry we are conducting is inquisitorial and not adversarial in tone, content or character.’
    mood, quality, feel, style, note, air, attitude, character, spirit, flavour, grain, temper, humour, effect
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    1. 2.1informal An atmosphere of respectability or class.
      ‘they don't feel he gives the place tone’
  • 3Phonetics
    (in some languages, such as Chinese) a particular pitch pattern on a syllable used to make semantic distinctions.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Its lingua franca is Cantonese, a dialect that has six tones compared to the four tones of standard mandarin Chinese.’
    • ‘Chinese pronunciation involves four tones, each indicated by a tone mark.’
    • ‘Hmong is monosyllabic and tonal, meaning that it consists mainly of one-syllable words and that the tone of a word affects meaning.’
    1. 3.1(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.’
  • 4A 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 or whole step.

    • ‘Ideally, I try to warm-up to a tone or two above the performance's highest note.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘For example, a rising whole tone interval is mirrored by a falling whole tone interval.’
    • ‘The Hellenistic mind of the Byzantines allowed musicians to draw systems of tones from the music of ancient Greece.’
  • 5The particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a tint or shade of a color.

    ‘an attractive color that is even in tone and texture’
    ‘stained glass in vivid tones of red and blue’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The walls, adjustable lighting and curtains are all in warm colour tones to ease anxiety.’
    • ‘Light pink gets lost next to the yellow and dark pink is too close in tone to the red.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We often take color for granted, not bothering to notice the subtle hues, tones and intensities that surround us.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Building on continental lessons, he developed a technique of using thin washes of colour in muted tones to create an impression of transparency.’
    • ‘Her trademark knitwear combines earthy tones with vivid colourful trims.’
    • ‘The palette also includes colours inspired by skin tones: blush, flesh, coffee, caramel, nut and cinnamon.’
    • ‘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 paintings seem at first to be sombre in tone, coloured mostly by umbers and sepia-like hues.’
    • ‘After the war his painting lost much of its intensity, with pastel tones replacing the bold, sometimes harsh colours he had earlier used.’
    • ‘Extraordinarily subtle gradations of hue and tone at the perimeters heighten the ethereal appearance of the whole.’
    • ‘The drawing is notable for its wonderful use of soft pencil, which permits fine gradations of tone and texture.’
    • ‘Their neutral tone will balance the bright hues of the coolest polo shirts of the season, and offset your trendy jeans.’
    • ‘Other than delicate pink flesh tones, heavenly shades of blue predominate, accented with green and white.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Alternate different tones of green to prevent them from becoming completely camouflaged.’
    harmonize, go, go well, blend, fit, coordinate, team, accord
    match, suit, complement
    tint, shade, colour, hue, tinge, cast, tincture
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    1. 5.1The general effect of color or of light and shade in a picture.
      • ‘Light's bleaching glare may saturate the picture plane, obscuring tone, details and minute particulars.’
      • ‘Picasso is not interested in describing tone, depth, or form.’
      • ‘Murray's handling of paint, tone and colour is flawless.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
    2. 5.2A slight degree of difference in the intensity of a color.
  • 6The normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle.

    • ‘This program consisted of ambulation with portable oxygen and arm exercises to maintain muscle tone.’
    • ‘Babies with achondroplasia have poor muscle tone, often leading to delays in learning to sit, stand and walk.’
    • ‘Other infants may develop low muscle tone, seizures, heart failure and coma, often following an illness.’
    • ‘These children tend to be underweight and emaciated, with decreased muscle tone.’
    • ‘With that low activity level, they are likely to lose muscle tone throughout their body.’
    • ‘Staying active will help to maintain muscle tone and function.’
    • ‘Physical exercise also is encouraged to assist in weight reduction and increase muscle tone.’
    • ‘The electroencephalogram, eye movements, and muscle tone are monitored.’
    • ‘His muscle tone was mildly low but within the reference range.’
    • ‘Tetanus causes increased muscle tone and spasms especially in the neck and jaw muscles.’
    • ‘The Apgar score was based on heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability, and skin color.’
    • ‘Drinking water also helps maintain proper muscle tone, which aids muscle contraction.’
    • ‘Norepinephrine and serotonin are involved in the loss of muscle tone during REM sleep.’
    • ‘Physical boosts in endurance, muscle tone, body composition and blood flow can all improve sexual functioning.’
    • ‘Many signs are noticeable at birth, such as low muscle tone, small nose, short fingers, and flexible joints.’
    • ‘They improve muscle tone, circulation and physiological efficiency and build up strength, stamina and flexibility.’
    • ‘His muscle tone is normal for gestational age and response to stimulation is good.’
    • ‘Walker is intent on maintaining muscle tone in his lower body.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 6.1Physiology The normal level of activity in a nerve fiber.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’


  • 1Give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a part of it)

    ‘exercise tones up the muscles’
    • ‘Pilates has been hailed as the best overall exercise for toning your body and freeing your mind.’
    • ‘It tones up the muscles of the face and improves facial expressions.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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’
    • ‘The backstroke is ideal for toning the upper body, while the breast stroke works those hard-to-tone inner thighs.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Kata training is great for defense, raising your level of fitness, toning your body muscles and releasing those dangerously high levels of stress.’
    • ‘Bitter herbs also tone the smooth muscles in your gastrointestinal tract.’
    • ‘Here's how to tone your body in all the right places.’
    • ‘It tones the entire body while strengthening the cardiovascular system.’
    • ‘Walking, cycling and swimming, especially breaststroke, also work your bottom muscles and tone up your thighs.’
    • ‘It depends on the individual, on how confident they feel and how toned their body is.’
    • ‘They find that the hip movements are beneficial - they strengthen and tone the body.’
    • ‘It stretches and tones up just about every muscle in the body.’
    • ‘A great glute and thigh strengthener, this exercise tones the abs and lower back muscles in a highly original way.’
    • ‘This will stretch and tone the arm muscles, while loosening the back and shoulder muscles.’
    • ‘Jeff tones up his clients' muscles with some regular gentle weight-lifting.’
    • ‘The goal is to strengthen and tone muscles while improving balance, coordination, core strength and body awareness.’
    • ‘It seemed like every muscle in her body was perfectly toned and tanned, and she looked amazing.’
    • ‘It is also great for toning your upper body, arms and leg muscles.’
    1. 1.1[no object](of a muscle or bodily part) became stronger or firmer.
      • ‘Just eat your three squares and spend a bit more time in the gym toning up.’
      • ‘He had a lot to say about muscle, tissue and toning up.’
      • ‘What I want to do is lose some weight and tone up - I just wish I could get some more help.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘If you do these classes you will get fit and tone up - as well as increasing your flexibility.’
      • ‘The main difference I have noticed is my shape and how much I've toned 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.’
      • ‘Your goal should not be to bulk up like a body builder, just to tone up and become leaner and stronger.’
      • ‘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 know all my customers personally and assure them I will get them toned up,’ he said.’
      • ‘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!’
      • ‘I also added a light weight-training routine to tone up and build strength for labor.’
      • ‘Tony's attitude is toned down, while his body is toned up.’
      • ‘She began weight training three or four times a week to tone up.’
      • ‘I began to tone up and had a little muscle definition in areas I never had before.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 don't necessarily advocate such a diet for my training clients who are looking to tone up and drop some fat.’
      • ‘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] Harmonize with (something) in terms of color.

    ‘the rich orange color of the wood tones beautifully with the yellow roses’
    • ‘Some men had shirts made to measure to tone with the suit.’
    • ‘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.’
  • 3Photography
    Give (a monochrome picture) an altered color in finishing by means of a chemical solution.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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 color.

      • ‘I would suggest toning the colours down a bit, so it's not quite so harsh on the eyes’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 synths had been toned down, replaced with tired guitar sounds.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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
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      1. 1.1Make something less extreme or intense.
        ‘she saw the need to tone down her protests’
        • ‘Brendan heard himself being melodramatic and toned it down a couple of notches.’
        • ‘Next time, boys, it may be possible to tone it down just a notch without losing any of the entertainment value.’
        • ‘I think that they could pull the country together a lot better by just toning the rhetoric down a bit.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘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.’
        • ‘Even though they said they wanted to shock and offend, when it came right down to it, the network toned the content down.’
        • ‘When she realized how flirtatious that sounded, Jessica toned it 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.’
        • ‘To move to the next level, however, the chain needed to tone down its image a bit.’
        • ‘My mother asked if it was possible for me to tone the show down a bit for her.’
        moderate, modify, modulate, mitigate, temper, dampen, soften, lighten
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Middle English: from Old French ton, from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos tension, tone from teinein to stretch.