a low or subdued tone: to speak in undertones.
an unobtrusive or background sound: an undertone of static from the receiver.
an underlying quality or element; undercurrent: There was an undertone of regret in his refusal.
a subdued color; a color modified by an underlying color.

Origin of undertone

First recorded in 1800–10; under- + tone
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for undertone

Contemporary Examples of undertone

Historical Examples of undertone

  • That,” she told her husband, in an undertone, “is a picture of the officer I saw on the lawn.

  • And yet there was an undertone in his expression which I could not define.

  • He walked abruptly out to where some of his men were standing by their horses, and he said something in an undertone.

    The Coyote

    James Roberts

  • "But I can't," she was heard to murmur in an undertone to the disappointed Bruce.

    Harriet and the Piper

    Kathleen Norris

  • Now it was resonant and strong, though still only an undertone.

    The Blind Spot

    Austin Hall

British Dictionary definitions for undertone



a quiet or hushed tone of voice
an underlying tone or suggestion in words or actionshis offer has undertones of dishonesty
a pale or subdued colour
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 undertone

1762, "low or subdued tone," from under + tone. Figurative sense of "undercurrent of feelings, etc.," is attested from 1861.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper