sotto voce

adverb or adjective

sot·​to vo·​ce ˌsä-tō-ˈvō-chē How to pronounce sotto voce (audio)
: under the breath : in an undertone
also : in a private manner
: very softly
used as a direction in music

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Did you know?

It’s no secret: sotto voce functions both as an adverb ("she began telling us sotto voce about the upcoming surprise party") and as an adjective ("he read the letter in a sotto voce delivery"). Borrowed into English from the Italian word sottovoce (literally meaning "under the voice"), 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.

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Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web But until fairly recently, the symptoms of this physical experience have been cloaked in banal terms, uttered sotto voce if at all. Mary Mcnamara, Los Angeles Times, 27 Sep. 2022 Dating back to his formative years in Washington in the 1960s and early 1970s, Oliver schmoozed with enthusiasm; fishing off the Dry Tortugas with party muckety-mucks or strategizing sotto voce with campaign insiders. Manuel Roig-franzia, Washington Post, 14 June 2022 All of these conflicts, and many more, are depicted with comedy ranging from wry to antic, from sotto voce to turbulently physical. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 4 Oct. 2021 Lakeith Stanfield plumbs new depths of sotto voce silkiness as Cherokee Bill, the quickest of quick-draw artists. Los Angeles Times, 21 Oct. 2021 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 See More

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.

Word History


Italian sottovoce, literally, under the voice

First Known Use

1737, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of sotto voce was in 1737


Dictionary Entries Near sotto voce

Cite this Entry

“Sotto voce.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Oct. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on sotto voce

Last Updated: 5 Oct 2022

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