\ ˈtōn How to pronounce tone (audio) \

Definition of tone

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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 2)

transitive verb

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

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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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Building trust comes in many forms—from responding to all comments and inquiries on social platforms in your brand’s tone and voice to always putting customers first. Jonathan Schwartz, Forbes, 17 May 2022 As the day progresses, the tone becomes more ominous. New York Times, 17 May 2022 Ever the chameleon, Diaz shifts his style and tone in this section to reflect the wounded pride of a powerful man convinced that his life story, properly presented, will offer valuable instruction to posterity. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 17 May 2022 Such leaders survive for a while, lowering the tone and eroding their country’s reputation. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 16 May 2022 Sandalwood helps to increase skin elasticity while evening out tone. The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 May 2022 The lack of clarity and murky conditions created the perfect tone and setting for this dark and sinister thriller. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 16 May 2022 The book’s tone shifts as fluidly as its focus does, and many of the writers lace their cultural diagnoses with personal anecdotes and vice versa. The Atlantic, 16 May 2022 Some Twitter users noted that giving Wallen a platform felt especially tone deaf as the ceremony honored Tamika Mallory, a Black social justice advocate. Marlene Lenthang, NBC News, 16 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Lactic acid’s exfoliating properties can also tighten and tone the skin, reducing visible signs of aging such as fine lines. The Salt Lake Tribune, 9 May 2022 The two-step treatment packets gently tone and lift away dead skin cells while smoothing wrinkles and protecting skin from free radicals for an overall brighter and more balanced complexion. Alex Warner,, 10 Mar. 2022 The Secrets team decided to tone down Grindelwald’s appearance, giving Mikkelsen just a hint of Depp’s platinum hair. James Hibberd, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 Apr. 2022 Fox has this impressive ability to tone down even the most revealing of ensembles, favoring a head-to-toe black palette to do so. Christian Allaire, Vogue, 9 Feb. 2022 The idea is that light pressure releases fascial and muscular tension and moves sluggish lymph fluid to tone the face. Emily Rekstis, Allure, 14 Apr. 2022 Sharp-eyed Marvel fans watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ this week noticed something a bit off: Some of the more violent scenes in the superhero series appeared to be edited to tone down the content. Nick Romano,, 30 Mar. 2022 After some tough love from the judges, Gressett vowed to tone down the flamboyance that almost torpedoed his chances during his initial audition. Mary Colurso |, al, 29 Mar. 2022 The Kim Jong Un regime’s test-fire of artillery on March 20 violated an inter-Korean accord to tone down military hostilities, Mr. Yoon said; the Moon administration disagreed. Timothy W. Martin, WSJ, 26 Mar. 2022 See More

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

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

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Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for tone


\ 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


transitive verb
toned; toning

Medical Definition of tone (Entry 2 of 2)

: to impart tone to tone the muscles

Tone biographical name

\ ˈtōn How to pronounce Tone (audio) \

Definition of Tone

(Theobald) Wolfe 1763–1798 Irish revolutionary

More from Merriam-Webster on tone

Nglish: Translation of tone for Spanish Speakers

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


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