sotto voce

adverb or adjective
sot·​to vo·​ce | \ˌsä-tō-ˈvō-chē \

Definition of sotto voce 

1 : under the breath : in an undertone also : in a private manner

2 : very softly used as a direction in music

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Did You Know?

It’s no secret: in our first example sentence, sotto voce functions as an adverb, modifying the verb tell. But sotto voce, which was borrowed into English from the Italian word sottovoce (literally meaning "under the voice"), can also serve as an adjective. That’s the role it plays in our second example sentence. The adverb sense first appeared in English in the 18th century and soon afterward found use in musical directions calling for whispered vocals. The adjective sense came about in the early 19th century.

Examples of sotto voce in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

But this will also be a contrast in demeanors: Halep’s loud grunts and emotional expressiveness with Stephens’s sotto voce on-court zenitude. Christopher Clarey, New York Times, "Can Simona Halep Finally Make Her Major Breakthrough?," 7 June 2018 The reason for McCarthy’s withdrawal remains the source of much sotto voce speculation. Philip Elliott, Time, "Republicans Brace for a Brutal House Leadership Race," 1 June 2018 When asking you to put your phone away, the gentleman should have gone sotto voce. Amy Dickinson,, "Family wedding could revive feuds," 5 May 2018 When asking you to put your phone away, the gentleman should have gone sotto voce. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Family wedding could revive family feud," 5 May 2018 That's not to denigrate Auerbach, whose almost sotto voce delivery gives the songs their own meaning. Chuck Yarborough,, "Chuck Auerbach follows in the footsteps of his Black Keys son with Beachland gig (concert review)," 4 May 2018 According to the Democratic nominee, there's a particular breed of Obamaniacs who approach him after events to confess their Obamania--sotto voce. Newsweek, "Analysis," 14 Mar. 2018 At a time when AIDS and homosexuality were mentioned only sotto voce, Versace lived his life as a publicly gay man. Kate Betts, Town & Country, "Family Tragedy: Inside the Versace Drama," 31 Jan. 2018 At school the next day, other kids keep giving Tati knowing looks and making snickering, sotto voce comments. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Rust’: Film Review | Sundance 2018," 23 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sotto voce.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of sotto voce

1737, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sotto voce

Italian sottovoce, literally, under the voice

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for sotto voce

The first known use of sotto voce was in 1737

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More Definitions for sotto voce

sotto voce


English Language Learners Definition of sotto voce

: in a very quiet voice

music : very softly

Comments on sotto voce

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playful or foolish behavior

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