English Intonation

English Intonation English tone, stress, pitch and scale as communicative means. Development of speech melody.

Intonation is a complex unity of melody, stress, temporal components (tempo, length, pausing), rhythm and voice timbre color. Intonation formalizes expression, conveys speaker emotions and attitude to an interlocutor/subject.

Choice of speech intonation means depends on a range of factors. Communicative character and situation affect expressive intonation – friendly chat differs from business/official conversation.

Phrases are pronounced differently depending on speaker intention to inform, ask or request info. Expressive intonation changes in monologues, dialogues and polylogues.

Speaker emotionality also influences intonation form – neutral speech differs from emotional.


A speech phrase excerpt as a meaningful, grammatical and rhythmic unity. It may equal a sentence or its part. Syntagmas separate with pauses.

All syntagmas have own melody – successive voice pitch change at stresses/unstressed syllables. A basic phrase melody element is a terminal tone closing syntagmas. Termination as voice pitch change at last stressed syllables defines communicative phrase intention, phrase type – statement, question, order, request – and highlights its communicative center.

Syntagmas also feature a scale (pre-terminal part). Scales begin with first stressed syllables and end at last syllables before terminal tones.

So syntagmas feature the following parts:

  • prehead (pre-stressed syntagma start)
  • scale
  • termination
  • tail (unstressed syllables after syntagma termination).


The following symbols show intonation:

2 parallel lines for voice range as its upper/lower borders with stressed syllables on appropriate levels inside. Calm and reserved utterances sound at mid pitch. First stressed syllables here are 2/3 above lowest pitch.

Dashes show stressed syntagma syllables.


Dots show unstressed syntagma syllables.

/ \

Curves show rising/falling terminations at last stressed syntagma syllables as in no.

_ .· \ . .

Curves with dots show rising/falling termination when unstressed syllable(s) follow last stressed syllables as in yesterday.

Syntagma pauses: § – semi-pause, | – pause, || – a long pause (usually at sentence ends).

Low Fall

Usual melodic termination in English intonation. Voice falls in stressed syllables starts at mid or lower pitch down to the bottom.

Low fall is textually shown as a down dash below before stressed syllables as in \Lizzy. Low fall sounds categorical, reserves, confident and complete.

Low Rise

English low-rise termination starts at lowest pitch and smoothly rises almost up to mid pitch. Low rise is shown as an up dash below before stressed syllables as in Ellie.

Low rise sounds hesitant, unconfident and incomplete. Low-rise sentences sound inquiring, ready to talk on, as a polite approval.

Step Fall

Gradually descending stepping scale is most common in monological and neutral dialogical speech. First stressed syllables are pronounced with a usual flat tone at high pitch. Following stressed syllables are pronounced lower forming syllable stairs. Unstressed syllables are usually pronounced at the same pitch with a previous stressed one.

High Fall

In high-fall termination voice fall starts above mid pitch and ends lowest within wide fall range.

High fall is shown as a down dash above before stressed syllables as in



High-fall phrases sound lively, friendly and well-wishing. This termination is often heard in dialogical speech.

Upbroken Fall

Gradually descending stepping scales may sound so that voice pitch fall breaks at a stressed syllable usually pronounced higher than previous ones. It’s upbroken descending scale with the stressed syllable sounding unexpectedly higher and featuring uplifted stress (special rise). Breaking voice pitch fall may happen at any stressed scale syllable after the first stressed one.

Upbroken fall is textually shown as ↑ before uplifted syllables as in She |went to the |post office ↑every \day.

Upbroken descending scale highlights syntagma words usually in neutral speech and descriptions.


Quite typical of English intonation. Fall-rise is a complex tone with voice pitch falling lowest and then rising. Fall-rise may cover 1/several syllables.

Fall-rise highlights words in communicative statements and syntagma/phrase incompleteness. It suggests an implication – polite correction, apology, regret, doubt, contrast.

Fall-rise is shown as before stressed syllables as in Generally

\ . ./