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 Are people leaning in intensely, speaking sotto voce? Steven Levy, Wired, "Videoconferencing Needs to Climb Out of the Uncanny Valley," 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, "The Lasting Influence of Mexico’s Great Muralists," 24 Feb. 2020 In the background, his parents contend sotto voce with his fixation. John Lahr, The New Yorker, "Todd Haynes Rewrites the Hollywood Playbook," 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, "Canada’s Justin Trudeau says he’s evolved since wearing brownface. Will voters accept that?," 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., "When a security team finally tore the lawmakers away, the speaker, John Bercow, remained studiously seated, causing one of the BBC commentators to marvel under her voice, “He’s not going to go.”," 11 Sep. 2019 Then Ansari dials down his loud and nasal drawl to sotto voce. Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker, "The Productive Ambivalence of Aziz Ansari in His Comeback Netflix Special," 13 July 2019 His vibratoless, nasal-toned, sotto voce croon floated with seeming detachment above his guitar. Matt Schudel, Washington Post, "João Gilberto, a quiet and leading voice of Brazil’s bossa nova music, dies at 88," 6 July 2019 Openly cooperating with Israel without resolving the future of Jerusalem and its Islamic holy sites surely would provoke opposition from religious Saudis, though only sotto voce given the crown prince’s severe repression of domestic opponents. Karen Elliott House, WSJ, "Will Netanyahu Go to Riyadh?," 6 Jan. 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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Time Traveler for sotto voce

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The first known use of sotto voce was in 1737

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Last Updated

30 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sotto voce.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for sotto voce

sotto voce

How to pronounce sotto voce (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sotto voce

formal : in a very quiet voice
music : very softly

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