sotto voce

adverb or adjective
sot·​to vo·​ce | \ ˌsä-tō-ˈvō-chē How to pronounce sotto voce (audio) \

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 When Benedict XVI resigned in 2013—becoming the first Pope to do so since 1415—episcopal politics, typically practiced behind closed doors and sotto voce, were brought out into the open. Paul Elie, The New Yorker, 22 June 2021 As one on-site vendor noted (in a conspiratorial sotto voce), a number of the women showing dogs on Saturday sported spring-season St. John suits, which commonly retail for more than $1000. Washington Post, 14 June 2021 As fine as some of those performances have been, no one has accurately captured her throaty, sotto voce verbal style or mordant wit. Washington Post, 28 Sep. 2020 Are people leaning in intensely, speaking sotto voce? Steven Levy, Wired, 18 June 2020 As for the politics, consider the persistently leftward tilt of American art culture ever since—a residual hankering, however sotto voce, to change the world. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, 24 Feb. 2020 In the background, his parents contend sotto voce with his fixation. John Lahr, The New Yorker, 4 Nov. 2019 His Conservative rivals and some skeptics in Liberal Party circles had already been asking, sotto voce, who exactly that person was. David Shribman, Los Angeles Times, 21 Sep. 2019 In remarkable scenes that flustered even the sotto voce BBC commentators, opposition lawmakers threw themselves at the silk-canopied speaker’s chair, trying in vain to keep him from getting to his feet and allowing Parliament to be suspended., 11 Sep. 2019

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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The first known use of sotto voce was in 1737

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Last Updated

1 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sotto voce.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for sotto voce

sotto voce


English Language Learners Definition of sotto voce

formal : in a very quiet voice
music : very softly

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