\ ˈtōn \

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

b : whole step

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 : muscular tonus

b : 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

1a : to impart tone to : strengthen medicine to tone up the system

b : to soften or reduce in intensity, color, appearance, or sound : mellow often used with down

c : to change the normal silver image of (something, such as a photographic print) into a colored image

2 : to give a particular intonation or inflection to

3 : intone

intransitive verb

1 : to assume a pleasing color quality or tint

2 : to blend or harmonize in color


biographical name
\ ˈtōn \

Definition of Tone (Entry 3 of 3)

(Theobald) Wolfe 1763–1798 Irish revolutionary

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Examples of tone in a Sentence


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

The ruching detail at the hip was a cool puncutation and created a body-skimming silhouette, which was amped up by neutral tone stilettos. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle Make Their First Solo Outing at the Wimbledon’s Women’s Final—In Two Very Different Looks," 14 July 2018 Its color-blindness comes across as, at best, tone-deafness. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "What two fictional Gileads can teach us about America in 2018," 12 July 2018 Indeed, commentators across the political spectrum have defended Mr. Lepage and Ms. Bonifassi after days of their being eviscerated in the media for tone-deafness. Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, "A Show About Slaves, With White Actors, Will Go On After Protests," 12 July 2018 Both men actively tweet, though with decidedly different tones. Ronald J. Hansen, azcentral, "Twitter purge hits John McCain, Ruben Gallego most among Arizona politicos," 12 July 2018 Leave No Trace opens in the sunlit woods, the warm green tones in sympathy with Will and Tom's affection as they forage for food. J.r. Jones, Chicago Reader, "Leave No Trace approaches homelessness on the most intimate terms," 11 July 2018 However, Serena’s serious tone is not matched by her husband, Fred, who dismisses her with a condescending promise to discuss the matter., "The Handmaid's Tale Recap Season 2, Episode 13: The Martha Express," 11 July 2018 At the time the move seemed the epitome of tone-deafness. Patrick Comiskey,, "Why you should be drinking Gamay Noir this summer," 11 July 2018 Unlike Leach, the governor’s tone hasn’t shifted six months later. Chris Brennan,, "The left-wing uprising that led to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's victory in N.Y.? It happened first in Pa. | Clout," 6 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Flamez hates when Gordon tells the outspoken, confident rapper to tone it down. Andrea K. Mcdaniels, Washington Post, "Baltimore rapper and professor form unlikely friendship over health disparities," 21 June 2018 Following, Santana used Redken Shades EQ in 8V and 9NB to tone the hair. Wendy Sy, Allure, "Colorist Uses Balayage to Create "Khloé Blonde" Hair Color Inspired by Your Favorite Kardashian," 20 June 2018 Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma may be teammates but that hasn't stopped the Lakers from telling the two to tone down the social media roasting, reports ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk. Charlotte Carroll,, "Report: Lakers Ask Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma to Calm Down on Social Media Roasts," 13 June 2018 Sources briefed on the meeting said lawmakers were told to give the administration room to negotiate the matter and were asked to tone down the public criticism of the deal. Bloomberg,, "Trump administration reaches deal to save Chinese phone maker ZTE despite sanctions, sources say," 25 May 2018 Lowering the Decibel Level Tell your coworkers (or kids) to tone it down. Tehrene Firman, Redbook, "14 Surprising Things That Are Making You Tired," 20 Oct. 2017 Lopez paired her swimwear with her toned arms, and Rodriguez sported some sunscreen around his eye area. Anika Reed, USA TODAY, "From Beyoncé to Gigi Hadid, these hot celeb summer vacations will make you jealous," 6 July 2018 Her skin looked firm but toned, and the whites of her eyes shined like wedding gown under the lights at Kleinfeld. Kathleen Hou, The Cut, "Amanda Chantal Bacon Suddenly Believes in Skin Care," 27 June 2018 Gong toned down the inspiration, a volcanic Sichuan creation, to fit the preferences of his native Shanghai. Todd A. Price,, "Luvi's chef tells a deliciously beautiful story: First look review," 22 May 2018

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


1660, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 3

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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Learn More about tone

Dictionary Entries near tone

tonca bean





tone accent


Statistics for tone

Last Updated

8 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tone

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

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More Definitions for tone



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 \

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 \

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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Comments on tone

What made you want to look up tone? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a magnificent or impressive array

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