\ ˈtōn How to pronounce tone (audio) \

Definition of tone

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : vocal or musical sound of a specific quality spoke in low tones masculine tones especially : musical sound with respect to timbre and manner of expression
2a : a sound of definite pitch and vibration
3 : accent or inflection expressive of a mood or emotion
4 : style or manner of expression in speaking or writing seemed wise to adopt a conciliatory tone
5 : a particular pitch or change of pitch constituting an element in the intonation of a phrase or sentence high tone low tone mid tone low-rising tone falling tone
6 : the pitch of a word often used to express differences of meaning
7a(1) : color quality or value
(2) : a tint or shade of color
b : the color that appreciably modifies a hue or white or black gray walls of greenish tone
8 : the effect in painting of light and shade together with color
9a : normal tension or responsiveness to stimuli specifically : the state of partial contraction of skeletal muscle at rest : muscular tonus
b : strength, firmness, or tautness of a part of the body (such as the muscles or skin) exercising to improve muscle tone the shape and tone of the arms
c : the state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor
10a : general character, quality, or trend a city's upbeat tone
b : frame of mind : mood
c : healthy elasticity : resiliency


toned; toning

Definition of tone (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to soften or reduce in intensity, color, appearance, or sound : mellow often used with downtone down the bright colorsThe candidate toned down his harsh rhetoric.
2 : to impart tone to : strengthen medicine to tone up the system especially : to increase the firmness, strength, or tautness of (a part of the body) She lifted weights to tone her arms.
3 : to change the normal silver image of (something, such as a photographic print) into a colored image
4 : to give a particular intonation or inflection to
5 : intone

intransitive verb

1 : to assume a pleasing color quality or tint
2 : to blend or harmonize in color


biographical name
\ ˈtōn How to pronounce Tone (audio) \

Definition of Tone (Entry 3 of 3)

(Theobald) Wolfe 1763–1798 Irish revolutionary

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Examples of tone in a Sentence

Noun He replied in a friendly tone. They spoke in hushed tones. Don't use that rude tone of voice with me. the low tones of an organ The speech had religious tones to it. The author's tone shows her attitude toward the subject. The professor's condescending tone irritated some students. a bright, dark, or light tone of blue the soft tones of the painting
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun There’s an underlying tone of melancholy to the story. Cressida Leyshon, The New Yorker, "Roddy Doyle on Ex-Hurricane Ophelia and the Wild Atlantic Way," 25 Nov. 2019 Insiders describe the tone of the discussions as ruppig (gruff) at times. The Economist, "German energy RWE wants to clean up its act," 21 Nov. 2019 Crozier lingered for two weeks as the CIA weighed next moves, judging from the tentative tone of the Havana station’s dispatches. USA Today, "JFK files: CIA spy in Cuba ‘befriended’ Castro, Che; played key role amid nuclear-war fears," 21 Nov. 2019 It was inspired by the verdigris tones of a historic building across the street and the pale blush of another local landmark. Jane Margolies, New York Times, "They Don’t Call Them Hot Desks for Nothing," 20 Nov. 2019 Benefits of harmonization Despite the scolding tone of the report, senators spent the hearing exploring ways to improve federal oversight rather than assigning blame. Jeffrey Mervis, Science | AAAS, "U.S. Senate panel sees a standard grant application as defense against foreign influence," 19 Nov. 2019 The clips were also presented out of proper context and created an impression of the parents that do not match the tone of how they are presented in the podcast series. David Jesse, Detroit Free Press, "Nassar survivor parents are upset with one of the world's most famous authors," 18 Nov. 2019 Alfredo Morales said, reflecting a tone of desperate intensity the Americans are bringing into the revenge match. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "USMNT seeks payback during key revenge match against Canada in Orlando," 15 Nov. 2019 The fiercest force on the Seahawks was Jadeveon Clowney, who single-handedly changed the tone of the game. Ann Killion,, "49ers’ offense struggled in every aspect as perfection comes to an end," 11 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb At that time, there was an internal belief refs would tone down the whistles. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "John Beilein frustrated with repeated travel calls against Cleveland Cavaliers: 'It’s not fair’," 28 Nov. 2019 Fans couldn't stop talking about her toned leg, shown off by her gown's thigh-high slit. Kelly O'sullivan, Country Living, "Carrie Underwood's AMAs Dress Had a Thigh-High Slit and We're Not Over Her Killer Legs," 25 Nov. 2019 With a lead of nearly $23,000, Holzhauer will be hard to beat, but the question arises whether the show's second-biggest money winner will tone down his aggressive, high-wager playing strategy to avoid risking his big cushion. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "'Jeopardy!' Tournament first-night finale: How did James Holzhauer, Emma Boettcher fare?," 14 Nov. 2019 Rina Sawayama rocked icy toned layers on hers with choppy pigtails and pink lipgloss, while singer Cosima wore a dreamy hue of lilac on her eyes as a cascade of curls fell behind her. Akili King, Vogue, "The Best Beauty Instagrams of the Week: Zazie Beetz, Flora Carter, and More," 3 Nov. 2019 Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, says that male birds generally will tone down courtship displays if the female seems fearful. Liz Langley, National Geographic, "Listen: This could be the loudest bird on Earth," 21 Oct. 2019 Enter: No7's latest launch, the Firming Booster Serum, which the British skin-care line claims can tone, tighten, and take years off of your skin. Rebecca Dancer, Allure, "Exclusive: No7's New Firming Booster Serum Comes With a Built-in Facial Roller," 18 Oct. 2019 Older generations probably remember more toned-down mums that coordinated with their high school's colors and prom dresses, but a new generation of students sporting over-the-top mums has taken over. Rebecca Hennes, Houston Chronicle, "Houston-area students celebrate Texas homecoming tradition with outrageous mums," 11 Oct. 2019 Earlier this year, Peter Altmaier, the German economics and energy minister, announced support for constructing an L.N.G. terminal in return for the United States toning down its opposition to the new pipeline with Russia. New York Times, "Pushed by Security Concerns and Trump, Germany Weighs a New Fuel," 7 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tone.' 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 tone


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1674, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 5

History and Etymology for tone


Middle English, from Anglo-French tun, ton, from Latin tonus tension, tone, from Greek tonos, literally, act of stretching; akin to Greek teinein to stretch — more at thin

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Time Traveler for tone

Time Traveler

The first known use of tone was in the 14th century

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Statistics for tone

Last Updated

1 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Tone.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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More Definitions for tone


How to pronounce Tone (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tone

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the quality of a person's voice
: the quality of a sound produced by a musical instrument or singing voice
: a quality, feeling, or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing



English Language Learners Definition of tone (Entry 2 of 2)

: to give strength and firmness to (something, such as muscles or skin)


\ ˈtōn How to pronounce tone (audio) \

Kids Definition of tone

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an individual way of speaking or writing especially when used to express an emotion He replied in a friendly tone.
2 : common character or quality There was a polite tone to the discussions.
3 : quality of spoken or musical sound
4 : a sound on one pitch
5 : a shade of color The room is decorated in soft tones.
6 : a color that changes another It's gray with a blue tone.
7 : a healthy state of the body or any of its parts He has good muscle tone.


toned; toning

Kids Definition of tone (Entry 2 of 2)

: to give a healthy state to : strengthen She exercised to tone up her muscles.
tone down
: to soften or blend in color, appearance, or sound Can you tone down the music?


\ ˈtōn How to pronounce tone (audio) \

Medical Definition of tone

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a sound of definite pitch and vibration
2a : the state of a living body or of any of its organs or parts in which the functions are healthy and performed with due vigor
b : normal tension or responsiveness to stimuli specifically : tonus sense 2
toned; toning

Medical Definition of tone (Entry 2 of 2)

: to impart tone to tone the muscles

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More from Merriam-Webster on tone

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tone

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tone

Spanish Central: Translation of tone

Nglish: Translation of tone for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tone for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about tone

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