The tone of a piece refers to what emotion or sense is conveyed through that writing or visual. Like the contention, the tone of a piece is generally identified in the introduction of a Language Analysis essay.

Sometimes pieces have more than one tone, or the overall tone shifts as the piece progresses. If the tone changes dramatically during the piece, it is appropriate to analyse those tonal shifts much like a persuasive technique.

Identifying the tone

Consider the following excerpt from a review of the 2011 film Water for Elephants:

It’s a tale tastefully told and beautifully filmed, but Water for Elephants suffers from a pronounced lack of chemistry between its leads.

In this example the tone can be described as disappointed, because the writer has communicated that the film was not as strong as what they had hoped. Alternatively, the second half of the sentence can be described as carrying a critical tone and the sentence as a whole as “measured” given its even-handed description of the film’s strengths and weaknesses.

Expanding your tone vocabulary

It’s important to have a broad variety of tone words to choose from when writing your analysis. Use the words below as a starting point!

Accusing blaming, containing or suggesting a claim that somebody has done something wrong

Aggressive attacking and assertive

Agitated anxious, nervous or disturbed

Alarmist spreading fear or warnings of danger

Amiable friendly and pleasant

Amicable characterised by or done in friendliness, without anger or bad feelings

Animated full of liveliness or energy, rousing and inspiring

Antagonistic showing or expressing hostility or opposition

Apathetic indifferent, and unenergetic, not caring about an issue

Appalled feeling or appearing to be shocked by something dreadful or awful

Appreciative expressing or feeling gratitude or approval

Apprehensive hesitating, worried that something bad will happen

Approving to have a favourable opinion of somebody or something

Assertive confident in stating a position or claim

Authoritative reliable, showing deep knowledge, apparently backed by an established authority

Belligerent hostile or aggressive

Bemused bewildered, confused or puzzled

Benevolent showing kindness or goodwill, charitable, caring

Calm without anxiety or strong emotion

Concerned worried and apprehensive or attentive and interested in something

Condemnatory confident that someone or something is wrong and stating that it is unacceptable

Condescending thinking of yourself as better than others, behaving in a way that shows yourself as intellectually superior to others

Confrontational a challenging or hostile encounter of ideas, approaching prepared for a fight

Consoling to provide a source of comfort to somebody who is distressed or disappointed

Contemplative meditative, calm and thoughtful

Contemptuous feeling, expressing or demonstrating a strong dislike or utter lack of respect

Critical not approving, tending to find fault with somebody or something

Cynical distrustful and sarcastic, contemptuous and doubtful of other’s behaviour and motives

Diplomatic showing tact and skill, fairly dealing with multiple people or opinions

Discontented feeling mildly unhappy and dissatisfied

Disappointed unhappy because something was not as satisfactory as expected, or because something hoped for or expected did not happen

Dismayed filled with alarm, apprehensive or distress

Dispirited discouraged or disheartened

Distressed very upset, anxious or unhappy

Eager enthusiastic and excited about something anticipated

Earnest serious and solemn, done with great conviction and sincerity

Forthright direct in speech or manner and very honest, outspoken

Frustrated feeling exasperated, discouraged or unsatisfied

Gloomy a feeling of despair and hopelessness, despondent, offering little hope

Incensed extremely angry, enraged

Incredulous showing disbelief, unable or unwilling to believe

Informative focussed on providing useful information

Jingoistic belligerent nationalism in the form of extreme patriotism

Jovial cheerful in mood or disposition

Measured carefully considered and restrained in emotional expression

Mocking treat somebody or something with scorn or contempt

Nostalgic sentimental recollection, a mixed feeling of happiness, sadness and longing when thinking of the past

Optimistic positive attitude, tending to take a hopeful and positive view of future outcomes

Outraged intense anger and indignation

Pejorative expressing criticism or disapproval

Pessimistic very negative, somebody who always expects the worst to happen

Pleading to make an earnest entreaty, often in emotional terms

Remorseful a strong feeling of guilt and regret

Reflective characterised by deep, careful thought

Regretful feeling or showing remorse for something

Resigned to come to terms with something and acquiesce in it reluctantly

Restrained characterised by control, especially in not being excessively emotional or aggressive

Sanguine cheerfully optimistic

Sarcastic characterised by words that mean the opposite of what they seem to say and are intended to mock or deride

Sardonic disdainfully or cynically mocking

Satirical using wit, especially irony sarcasm and ridicule, to criticise faults

Sentimental mawkish in expression, acutely affected by emotional matters

Shocked the feeling of distress or numbness experienced after something surprising or upsetting happens

Solemn having or showing sincerity and gravity

Sombre serious and melancholy

Supportive giving support through agreement or endorsement

Suspicious inclined or tending to believe that something is wrong

Sympathetic showing, having or resulting from shared feelings, pity or compassion

Troubled displaying worry or distress

Vindictive a desire to enact revenge, or punishment, showing spite