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Words That Describe Tone

Below is a list of adjectives that can be used to describe tone.  When you are trying to identify the tone of an essay, always remember that quite often more than one feeling or attitude is present.  For instance, an angry letter might communicate not only anger, but regret, bitterness, and even an undertone of fear.  A love letter might betray not only affection but curiosity, self-doubt (if the writer is uncertain of the feelings of the person to whom the letter is written), and uncertainty.  Note also that some adjectives in the list are broader than others.  To say that the tone of a piece of writing is happy tells us only a little about the attitude of the writer.  Be careful not to confuse words that describe the effect of the essay with the attitude it conveys.  An essay may be humorous in its effect, but the attitude of the writer may be apparently very serious. (Picture Rodney Dangerfield complaining away about getting "no respect"; the effect on the listener is hilarious, but Dangerfield's attitude is peevish and complaining.) For more information click on  Tone: A Matter of Attitude at the end of this page.

Negative Adjectives Positive Adjectives More or Less Neutral Adjectives Words That Describe Mode, Manner, or Effect
 

sad

 

loving

 

detached

 

humorous

depressed affectionate objective satirical
disturbed amorous indifferent formal
perturbed tolerant tentative informal
cynical doting hesitant subjective
angry understanding uncertain objective
resentful sympathetic bemused light
bitter merry apologetic casual
sarcastic buoyant surprised conversational          
ironic effervescent astonished witty
outraged happy appalled conventional
vengeful expectant shocked confidential
disgusted passionate flattered
impatient excited resigned
derogatory enthusiastic demanding
critical amused curious
hateful laudatory urgent
envious paternal wondering
cold maternal bland
distant avuncular timid
jealous optimistic nostalgic
intolerant fascinated incredulous
defensive honored skeptical
mocking sanguine doubtful
arrogant jubilant proud
heartless celebratory elegiac
merciless admiring
aloof deferential
snobbish worshipful
domineering respectful
pessimistic eager
stubborn pitying
adamant
 

  Tone : A Matter of Attitude