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

1. See sound1. 15. spirit, quality, temper.




(Theobald) Wolfe,1763–98, Irish nationalist and martyr for independence.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tone

Contemporary Examples of tone

Historical Examples of tone

  • "Hum," remarked Uncle Peter, in a tone to be noticed for its extreme dryness.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • "That's bad," said the station-master, in a tone of sympathy.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • "You will hear from me again," he said, in a tone of menace.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • "Heads for her, tails for me," he said, with some awe in his tone.

  • "I'll tell you how it is," said the big man in the tone of one who is willing to argue a point.

British Dictionary definitions for tone



sound with reference to quality, pitch, or volume
short for tone colour
US and Canadian another word for note (def. 10)
(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)
an interval of a major second; whole tone
Also called: Gregorian tone any of several plainsong melodies or other chants used in the singing of psalms
linguistics any of the pitch levels or pitch contours at which a syllable may be pronounced, such as high tone, falling tone, etc
the quality or character of a sounda nervous tone of voice
general aspect, quality, or styleI didn't like the tone of his speech
high quality or styleto lower the tone of a place
the quality of a given colour, as modified by mixture with white or black; shade; tinta tone of red
  1. the normal tension of a muscle at rest
  2. the natural firmness of the tissues and normal functioning of bodily organs in health
the overall effect of the colour values and gradations of light and dark in a picture
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


(intr often foll by with) to be of a matching or similar tone (to)the curtains tone with the carpet
(tr) to give a tone to or correct the tone of
photog (tr) to soften or change the colour of the tones of (a photographic image) by chemical means
(tr) to give greater firmness or strength to (the body or a part of the body)
an archaic word for intone
See also tone down, tone up

Word Origin for tone

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



(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
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

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.


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

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tone in Medicine




The quality or character of sound.
The character of voice expressing an emotion.
The normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles.
Normal firmness of a tissue or an organ.


To give tone or firmness to.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.