\ 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


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

That opening really sets the tone for everything that follows. Christian Holub,, "The Fanatic has an out-there performance from John Travolta and not much else," 3 Sep. 2019 Just be sure to pair it with a sleek pair of booties in a dark or neutral tone to ground your look. Kami Phillips, CNN Underscored, "10 white styles you should totally wear after Labor Day," 29 Aug. 2019 In other words, tone-deaf business as usual for U.S. Soccer. Ann Killion,, "World Cup over but Carli Lloyd and U.S. women continue to break ground," 28 Aug. 2019 Fitting the often outsized image of a modern football leader, Lewis played his career with a notable tenacity that set a tone for the Ravens’ franchise and inspired a generation of defensive players to follow. The Si Staff,, "100 Figures Who Shaped the NFL’s First Century," 28 Aug. 2019 There are few things Gruden loves more than a deliberate, tone-setting possession that takes time off the clock especially if winds up in the end zone. Jerry Mcdonald, The Mercury News, "Raiders’ newest acquisition Corey Liuget: ‘I’m in rare form now’," 26 Aug. 2019 Too much fealty to the past may result in tone-deaf earnestness; too much irreverence risks alienating nostalgists. Gary Baum, The Hollywood Reporter, "Formosa Cafe: Dining Review," 23 Aug. 2019 In Year 2, those within the Bears organization see Robinson emerging as one of the team’s best tone-setting leaders. Dan Wiederer,, "Allen Robinson brought his A-game to the Bears’ biggest game last season. And that sets the stage for a big 2019: ‘The ball is going to 12.’," 13 Aug. 2019 Jurgenson peppers his discussion with references to theorists on culture and photography, Walter Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, Georges Bataille and more, but manages to strike an accessible tone just shy of academic. Leah Ollman, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Writing the book on selfies — sociologist reframes social photos," 10 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Those microbes and parasites found ways to recalibrate our immune systems, toning down the inflammatory responses of our bodies to ensure their own survival, and protecting us, too, from the consequences of a too-strong immune response. Viviane Callier,, "How gender makes a difference in disease," 30 Aug. 2019 Kendall Jenner looks tan and toned in a recent mirror selfie the model snapped before returning home from a vacation. Georgia Slater,, "Kendall Jenner Shows Off Her Toned Body in Leopard Bikini Snap," 28 Aug. 2019 Cardi B is known for her outlandish manicures, but the Press rapper toned down her nails Monday night for the MTV Video Music Awards. Jennifer Ford, Essence, "Here's How To Get Cardi B's VMA Nails," 27 Aug. 2019 Some are sticking with the team, some are toning down their fandom, and others are trying to move on. Joe Nguyen, The Denver Post, "Broncos vs. 49ers: A roundup from Monday’s NFL preseason game," 20 Aug. 2019 Besides being fantastic for your mental health, the practice is a great tool for building strength, toning your body and improving your overall flexibility. Stephanie Mansour, NBC News, "A 31-day yoga routine to help you reduce stress," 1 Aug. 2019 The show will include toned-down sound and lighting effects and other considerations. San Diego Union-Tribune, "PigPen Theatre is back at the Old Globe Theatre with world-premiere musical adaptation ‘The Tale of Despereaux’," 7 July 2019 Middle East tensions appeared to ease over the weekend after the Trump administration moved to de-escalate two weeks of crisis, while Saudi Arabia and Iran toned down their threatening rhetoric in an attempt to avoid military conflict. Jared Malsin, WSJ, "Saudi Arabia, Iran Say They Don’t Want War, but Are Ready to Fight If Provoked," 19 May 2019 That might result in some chin music, but Baez likely won't tone it down anytime soon. Chris Bumbaca, USA TODAY, "Celebrating National Hot Dog Day by examining the biggest hot-doggers in sports," 17 July 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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Learn More about tone

Dictionary Entries near tone

tonca bean





tone accent


Statistics for tone

Last Updated

8 Sep 2019

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 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tone

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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

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).


to make a temporary encampment

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