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  1. any sound considered with reference to its quality, pitch, strength, source, etc.: shrill tones.
  2. quality or character of sound.
  3. vocal sound; the sound made by vibrating muscular bands in the larynx.
  4. a particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, spirit, etc.: a tone of command.
  5. an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech.
  6. stress of voice on a syllable of a word.
  7. Linguistics. a musical pitch or movement in pitch serving to distinguish two words otherwise composed of the same sounds, as in Chinese.
  8. Music.
    1. a musical sound of definite pitch, consisting of several relatively simple constituents called partial tones, the lowest of which is called the fundamental tone and the others harmonics or overtones.
    2. an interval equivalent to two semitones; a whole tone; a whole step.
    3. any of the nine melodies or tunes to which Gregorian plainsong psalms are sung.
  9. a quality of color with reference to the degree of absorption or reflection of light; a tint or shade; value.
  10. that distinctive quality by which colors differ from one another in addition to their differences indicated by chroma, tint, shade; a slight modification of a given color; hue: green with a yellowish tone.
  11. Art. the prevailing effect of harmony of color and values.
  12. Physiology.
    1. the normal state of tension or responsiveness of the organs or tissues of the body.
    2. that state of the body or of an organ in which all its functions are performed with healthy vigor.
    3. normal sensitivity to stimulation.
  13. a normal healthy mental condition.
  14. a particular mental state or disposition; spirit, character, or tenor.
  15. a particular style or manner, as of writing or speech; mood: the macabre tone of Poe's stories.
  16. prevailing character or style, as of manners, morals, or philosophical outlook: the liberal tone of the 1960s.
  17. style, distinction, or elegance.
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verb (used with object), toned, ton·ing.
  1. to sound with a particular tone.
  2. to give the proper tone to (a musical instrument).
  3. to modify the tone or general coloring of.
  4. to give the desired tone to (a painting, drawing, etc.).
  5. Photography. to change the color of (a print), especially by chemical means.
  6. to render as specified in tone or coloring.
  7. to modify the tone or character of.
  8. to give or restore physical or mental tone to.
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verb (used without object), toned, ton·ing.
  1. to take on a particular tone; assume color or tint.
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Verb Phrases
  1. tone down,
    1. to become or cause to become softened or moderated: The newspaper toned down its attack.
    2. Painting.to make (a color) less intense in hue; subdue.
  2. tone up,
    1. to give a higher or stronger tone to.
    2. to gain or cause to gain in tone or strength: toning up little-used muscles.
  3. tone (in) with, to harmonize in tone or coloring; blend: The painting tones with the room.
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Origin of tone

1275–1325; Middle English (noun) < Latin tonus < Greek tónos strain, tone, mode, literally, a stretching, akin to teínein to stretch
Related formstone·less, adjectivetone·less·ly, adverbtone·less·ness, nounmul·ti·toned, adjectivenon·toned, adjectiveun·toned, adjectivewell-toned, adjective

Synonyms for tone

See more synonyms for on Thesaurus.com
1. See sound1. 15. spirit, quality, temper.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for tone down

dim, mitigate, dampen, temper, restrain, soften, modulate, cloud, darken, deepen, reduce, shade, sober, soft-pedal, subdue

British Dictionary definitions for tone down

tone down

  1. (adverb) to moderate or become moderated in toneto tone down an argument; to tone down a bright colour
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  1. (Theobald) Wolfe. 1763–98, Irish nationalist, who founded (1791) the Society of United Irishmen and led (1798) French military forces to Ireland. He was captured and sentenced to death but committed suicide
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  1. sound with reference to quality, pitch, or volume
  2. short for tone colour
  3. US and Canadian another word for note (def. 10)
  4. (in acoustic analysis) a sound resulting from periodic or regular vibrations, composed either of a simple sinusoidal waveform (pure tone) or of several such waveforms superimposed upon one main one (compound tone)
  5. an interval of a major second; whole tone
  6. Also called: Gregorian tone any of several plainsong melodies or other chants used in the singing of psalms
  7. linguistics any of the pitch levels or pitch contours at which a syllable may be pronounced, such as high tone, falling tone, etc
  8. the quality or character of a sounda nervous tone of voice
  9. general aspect, quality, or styleI didn't like the tone of his speech
  10. high quality or styleto lower the tone of a place
  11. the quality of a given colour, as modified by mixture with white or black; shade; tinta tone of red
  12. physiol
    1. the normal tension of a muscle at rest
    2. the natural firmness of the tissues and normal functioning of bodily organs in health
  13. the overall effect of the colour values and gradations of light and dark in a picture
  14. photog a colour or shade of colour, including black or grey, of a particular area on a negative or positive that can be distinguished from surrounding lighter or darker areas
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  1. (intr often foll by with) to be of a matching or similar tone (to)the curtains tone with the carpet
  2. (tr) to give a tone to or correct the tone of
  3. photog (tr) to soften or change the colour of the tones of (a photographic image) by chemical means
  4. (tr) to give greater firmness or strength to (the body or a part of the body)
  5. an archaic word for intone
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See also tone down, tone up

Word Origin for tone

C14: from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos tension, tone, from teinein to stretch
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 tone down



mid-14c., from Old French ton (13c.), from Latin tonus "a sound, tone, accent," literally "stretching" (in Medieval Latin, a term peculiar to music), from Greek tonos "vocal pitch, raising of voice, accent, key in music," originally "a stretching, taut string," related to teinein "to stretch" (see tenet). Sense of "manner of speaking" is from c.1600. First reference to firmness of body is from 1660s.

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"to impart tone to," 1811, from tone (n.). Related: Toned; toning.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tone down in Medicine


  1. The quality or character of sound.
  2. The character of voice expressing an emotion.
  3. The normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles.
  4. Normal firmness of a tissue or an organ.
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  1. To give tone or firmness to.
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The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with tone down

tone down

Make less vivid, harsh, or violent; moderate. For example, That's a little too much rouge; I'd tone it down a bit, or Do you think I should tone down this letter of complaint? This idiom uses tone in the sense of “adjust the tone or quality of something,” as does the antonym, tone up, meaning “brighten or strengthen.” For example, These curtains will tone up the whole room, or This exercise is said to tone up the triceps. [Mid-1800s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.