\ 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 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


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 But Rockwell pointed to a change in tone after months of wrangling. Jamey Keaten And Zeke Miller,, "US backs waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines to speed pandemic’s end," 5 May 2021 In any large-scale urban redevelopment, the first project sets the tone for future projects around it. Steven Litt, cleveland, "City proposal to put asphalt, concrete plants in Opportunity Corridor ignores prior plans, undermines chances for success," 1 May 2021 Kavita Patel, former White House health policy director under the Obama administration, said Biden's shift in tone also has played a role in getting more people vaccinated. USA Today, "Biden blazed past his vaccine target for the first 100 days. Does the Trump administration deserve credit too?," 27 Apr. 2021 His excitement reels her into , at times, a one-sided partnership that’s without boundaries and likewise, Alex Somers’ playful single piano score turns nursery rhyme in tone. Robert Daniels, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Ed Helms and Patti Harrison make a perfect platonic match in ‘Together Together’," 22 Apr. 2021 Compared to those comments, Wen's essay this week is far milder in tone, but the climate has changed dramatically, with both freedom of speech and any aspirations for democracy and freedom taking a major hit under Xi. James Griffiths, CNN, "Did China's former Premier just subtly criticize President Xi Jinping?," 19 Apr. 2021 The new manager knows team success will follow if the starting pitching sets the tone. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, "How Detroit Tigers' Matthew Boyd set tone with Opening Day win over Cleveland Indians," 2 Apr. 2021 This all-in-one mask sets the tone for deep slumber with its delicate, essential oil fragrance. Bianca Salonga, Forbes, "Skinmalism: Your Guide To The Biggest Beauty Trend For 2021," 19 Mar. 2021 That entertaining tale sets the tone for the rest of the book and explains some of its omissions, for this is a story not only about scientists but about the corporate scramble to harness their minds. Washington Post, "The minds behind artificial intelligence, and the bidding war for them," 19 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb This is a great tool for minimal impact exercises that remain light on your knees and joints but will help tone your abs, glutes, and upper body. Chris Hachey, BGR, "Best Slide Board," 6 May 2021 Imagine trying to find a way to tone down inflammatory exchanges. Robert Gehrke, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Robert Gehrke: The only solution to the toxic tone of social media is for each of us to try to be better," 26 Apr. 2021 Luckily, purple shampoo can save you from spending even more time and money at the salon to tone out any yellow or brass tones. Sydney Poe,, "What is the best purple shampoo?," 4 Apr. 2021 The Democrat in charge of corralling his party’s votes in the House said Democrats attempting to use their votes on President Joe Biden’s tax plan as leverage to remove the SALT cap need to tone it down. Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, "'Tone down a bit': Clyburn cautions Democrats threatening to derail tax plan over SALT cap," 21 Apr. 2021 This is a great tool for minimal impact exercises that remain light on your knees and joints but will help tone your abs, glutes, and upper body. Chris Hachey, BGR, "Best Slide Board," 11 Mar. 2021 Whether you’re done with the fire or trying to tone it down, there’s a right way to go about extinguishing it. Popsci Staff, Popular Science, "Everything you need to know to start a fire," 18 Feb. 2021 Chicago will tone down the city's St. Patrick's Day celebrations again this year due to the pandemic, but the 59-year tradition of dyeing the river green continues on. Marlene Lenthang, ABC News, "Despite St. Patrick's Day COVID restrictions, Chicago River runs green," 13 Mar. 2021 She has already been pilloried in racist terms in the press and, even within the palace, has been advised to tone herself down. Jesse Green, New York Times, "Review: Royalty as Horror Show in ‘Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!’," 10 Mar. 2021

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

7 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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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 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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