Preview Quiz 1

As a preview to what will be discussed in Part One, try to answer this question:

What would the tone of a story be most likely to reveal?

  1. Feelings
  2. Characters
  3. Plot

Begin reading Part One to learn how authors use tone.

Efficient reading requires the use of many comprehension skills, one of which is recognizing tone. Tone is the sound of language which reveals feelings, attitudes, and points of view. It is the result of carefully selecting and arranging words to create desired effects.

In conversation we know whether a person is happy or angry just by the sound of his voice, his choice of words, and by the speed of his delivery. Tor example, if someone feels happy about something, he might use words like "great," "terrific," or "good." These words and the way he speaks them reveal his happy frame of mind. Likewise, if a person feels angry, he may use words like "stupid," and "idiot." He may also raise his voice and pound his fists. There would be no mistaking his feelings.

Besides feeling happy or angry, we often show hate, love, sincerity, sarcasm, tenderness, toughness, gratitude, ingratitude, and so on. Any human feeling can be reflected as tone.

As we reveal our feelings, we also reveal attitudes. We may approve of what we see, or we may disapprove. We may accept life the way it is, or we may reject it. Two people looking at the same issue may hold different views. One person, for example, might think that China and Russia are threats to America. His factual and forceful tone will reflect his attitude. Another person might insist that no threat exists, and his sincere and optimistic tone will reflect his attitude. Thus, if a person's attitude is one of bitterness, his tone will be bitter or sarcastic. If he understands a situation, his attitude will reflect understanding, pity, or sympathy. Attitudes, then, are reflected in tone.

Point of view is also revealed through tone. That is, the position from which we view issues of concern to us is made clear by the way we speak. If we are directly involved in an issue, our tone is naturally more forceful and knowledgeable than it would be if we were on the sidelines.

In similar ways, writers reveal their positions and clarify their ideas through tone. Establishing tone in writing, however, is more difficult than in speaking because a writer must present his ideas without the benefits of sound. The writer must select his words more carefully than the speaker. He must combine words more thoughtfully into meaningful sentences. And he must vary the length of sentences to reveal his feelings, attitudes, and points of view.

Preview Quiz 2

As a preview to what will be discussed next, try to answer this question:

What kinds of sentences would likely be used to reveal the feelings of a simple and sincere person?

  1. Long and expressive
  2. Short and direct
  3. Grammatically well-constructed

Continue reading to discover the correct answer.

The following illustration should be helpful. It is part of the introduction of Ossie: The Autobiography of a Black Woman by Ossie Guffy.

I'm a woman, I'm black, I'm a little under forty. I'm more of black America than Ralph Bunche or Rap Brown or Harry Belafonte, because I'm one of the millions who ain't bright, militant, or talented. The poor sections of every city and town are filled with people like me, black and white, who start every day wondering if the money'll make it through the week and if they'll have the strength to keep on trudging up a hill that ain't got no top ....

I've been on welfare, but I ain't never been on dope; I got more children than I can rightly take care of, but I ain't got more than I can love. I've worked until I fell over and then got up and worked again.

First notice that the opening comments are simple, direct, and powerful. They set the stage for tone. Since the author is writing about herself, her feelings are personal and sincere, yet she speaks for all of black America. Her expressions are steeped in pride and humility. There is sincerity and understanding in her observations. Using conversational English, as shown in expressions like, "I'm," "ain't," "I got," and "rightly", Miss Guffy removes all barriers to communication and creates a friendly relationship with the reader. Thus we can say that Ossie Guffy's writing reveals a tone of simplicity, directness, pride, sincerity, humility, and understanding.

As a reader you are frequently called upon to recognize tone. When this happens, you must be certain that the recognition you make is reasonable and carefully considered. This is important because it directly affects comprehension.

To help you improve your ability to recognize different tones in reading, this booklet will explore the steps involved. You will have an opportunity to learn more about these steps in Part Two of this booklet.