\ 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 Still, the tone and substance of that criticism were unhelpful—even counterproductive. Siva Vaidhyanathan, The New Republic, "Making Sense of the Facebook Menace," 5 Jan. 2021 The ensemble backdrop is crystalline, misty sighs, while the solo cello line expands into melancholy arias without words; sometimes the tone is passionate, dark-hued nocturne, sometimes ethereal lullaby. New York Times, "Tyshawn Sorey: The Busiest Composer of the Bleakest Year," 1 Jan. 2021 The tone is arch and the words often capitalized in Meryl Lee’s part of the story. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, "Children’s Books: Free Range," 31 Dec. 2020 The ironic tone is characteristic of Morselli’s books, but there is a nervous edge to the joke. Alejandro Chacoff, The New Yorker, "The Italian Novelist Who Envisioned a World Without Humanity," 28 Dec. 2020 The entertainment industry professionals who spoke to NBC News generally agreed that the angry tone of Cruise's apparent outburst was out of bounds. NBC News, "Behind Tom Cruise's apparent outburst, Covid-era anxieties and power imbalances," 16 Dec. 2020 The highlight tone is a warm and saturated mix of deeper golden hues and brighter blonde placed solidly on the front, face-framing strands. Sarah Midkiff,, "Chrissy Teigen’s New Haircut Proves That “The Rachel” Is Trending," 14 Dec. 2020 Shibasaki's soothing and encouraging tone has helped to support people during these tough times. Nell Lewis; Video By Stefanie Blendis, CNN, "The 'Japanese Bob Ross': How a 73-year-old artist took YouTube by storm," 9 Dec. 2020 Since then, the campaign-turn-transition's tone has changed, in part because Biden's the likely next occupant of the White House and many of his staff have taken on different positions. Naomi Lim, Washington Examiner, "Biden gambles he'll win by letting Trump hold limelight during transition," 2 Dec. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb And tone down the politically correct cancel culture on college campuses and in newsrooms. Star Tribune, "Thomas L. Friedman: Trump is blowing the GOP apart. God bless him.," 13 Jan. 2021 Yet the coronavirus scourge that dominated the year is also looming over New Year's festivities and forcing officials worldwide to tone them down. Jennifer Peltz, ajc, "After a year like this, expect a strange New Year's Eve," 30 Dec. 2020 More than 100 Black pastors have signed a letter urging Republican Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler to tone down her campaign’s attacks on Democratic challenger, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Michael Ruiz, Fox News, "More than Black 100 pastors pen letter to Sen. Loeffler denouncing campaign attacks on Rev. Warnock," 24 Dec. 2020 Tamara, who has a lot of vibrato and is classically trained, needs to tone it down a bit; Olivia needs to bump up her power and performance level. Maggie Fremont,, "The Voice recap: It's time to Battle," 10 Nov. 2020 Whether its trusted advisers or the sycophantic hosts of prime-time Fox News shows, someone has to tone Trump down. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, "These 5 things must change before the second presidential debate between Trump and Biden," 1 Oct. 2020 Then work through the eight included exercises to build and tone muscle and strengthen your core. Scott Gilbertson, Wired, "Our 100+ Favorite Cyber Monday Deals Still Available Today," 1 Dec. 2020 Some Chinese investors expect that President-elect Joe Biden will tone down anti-China rhetoric heard from the White House under President Donald Trump, but not change what’s now a bipartisan view in Washington of Beijing as a strategic rival. Todd Shields,, "ZTE Corp.’s Designation as Security Threat Affirmed by U.S. FCC," 24 Nov. 2020 But Wentz needs to stop pressing, Pederson needs to tone down the gambling a bit, and the back seven on defense need tackling lessons. Barry Wilner, Star Tribune, "On Football: The not good, very bad and incredibly ugly," 23 Oct. 2020

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 ton, tone "musical sound or note, pitch," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French ton, tun, toen, borrowed from Latin tonus "strain, tension, musical pitch, note," borrowed from Greek tónos "stretching, tightening, exertion, pitch of the voice, accent in a syllable," nominal derivative from the base of teínein "to stretch, extend" — more at tenant entry 1

Note: As the Oxford English Dictionary, 1st edition, points out, the phonetic development of tone is peculiar. The normal outcome of medieval French ton in modern English should have been *toun, parallel to sound, noun. If, on the other hand, the vowel of ton had merged with Middle English long close o, the result should have been *toon; toone (glossed as Latin tonus) is in fact rhymed with boone and moone in the rhyming dictionary of Peter Levins (Manipulus Vocabulorum, 1570). The Oxford editors are probably correct in suggesting that the present form of the word is due to repeated reshaping under the influence of the Latin source. Cf. tune entry 1.


derivative of tone entry 1

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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

19 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

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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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Comments on tone

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