[ tohn-def ]

  1. unable to distinguish differences in pitch in musical sounds when producing or hearing them.

  2. unable to perceive public sentiment, attitudes, or preferences: The council’s politically tone-deaf plan would cost lower income residents $100 a year.

  1. lacking emotional insight; insensitive or unsympathetic to others: She is often tone-deaf to her daughter’s needs.

Origin of tone-deaf

First recorded in 1890–95

Other words from tone-deaf

  • tone deaf·ness, noun

Words Nearby tone-deaf Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use tone-deaf in a sentence

  • It is easy to understand that this master of harmony possessed no charms for a tone-deaf young man.

    Makers of Electricity | Brother Potamian
  • Some people are tone-deaf, and they find it physically impossible to observe the law of contrasts.

    Vocal Expression | Katherine Jewell Everts
  • Trilby the tone-deaf, who couldn't sing one single note in tune!

    Trilby | George Du Maurier
  • But almost any one, not entirely tone-deaf, can follow a tune and almost everybody can get enjoyment out of some sort of music.

    The Story of Mankind | Hendrik Van Loon
  • Some people are "tone-deaf," and they find it physically impossible to observe the law of contrasts.

    The Story of My Life | Ellen Terry

British Dictionary definitions for tone-deaf


  1. unable to distinguish subtle differences in musical pitch

Derived forms of tone-deaf

  • tone deafness, noun

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