[in-toh-ney-shuh n, -tuh-]


the pattern or melody of pitch changes in connected speech, especially the pitch pattern of a sentence, which distinguishes kinds of sentences or speakers of different language cultures.
the act or manner of intonating.
the manner of producing musical tones, specifically the relation in pitch of tones to their key or harmony.
something that is intoned or chanted.
the opening phrase in a Gregorian chant, usually sung by one or two voices.

Origin of intonation

First recorded in 1610–20, intonation is from the Medieval Latin word intonātiōn- (stem of intonātiō). See intonate, -ion
Related formsin·to·na·tion·al, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for intonation

Contemporary Examples of intonation

Historical Examples of intonation

  • A sudden throb of shock masked in the surface indifference of intonation.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • The intonation of the Ungava Eskimos, particularly the women, is like a plaint.

  • Something in his intonation, some change in his face, gripped hold of Duncan.

    The Avenger

    E. Phillips Oppenheim

  • Mademoiselle caught the meaning of the intonation rather than any in the words.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • "Say, Rossi isn't an anarchist," said a man with an American intonation.

British Dictionary definitions for intonation



the sound pattern of phrases and sentences produced by pitch variation in the voice
the act or manner of intoning
an intoned, chanted, or monotonous utterance; incantation
music the opening of a piece of plainsong, sung by a soloist
  1. the correct or accurate pitching of intervals
  2. the capacity to play or sing in tuneSee also just intonation
Derived Formsintonational, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for intonation

1610s, "opening phrase of a melody," from French intonation, from Medieval Latin intonationem (nominative intonatio), from past participle stem of intonare (see intone). Meaning "modulation of the voice in speaking" is from 1791.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper