Definition of tone in English:

tone

noun

  • 1A musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength.

    ‘they were speaking in hushed tones’
    ‘the piano tone appears lacking in warmth’
    • ‘Yes, his name is uttered amongst the musical cognoscenti in hushed tones.’
    • ‘By the time the entrées arrived, I found myself taking tiny bites and talking in hushed tones about the quality of the parsnips in my soup.’
    • ‘She started to laugh, the musical tones reverberating through the halls before quieting.’
    • ‘Kevin and Faith were not far from him speaking in hushed tones.’
    • ‘There was no speaking in hushed tones at this compact dining room full of chatty, laughing customers.’
    • ‘Imagine my surprise when they spontaneously sang with me again, but this time in hushed and reverent tones.’
    • ‘The attractive part of the vocal delivery is the tone, the snotty sneer with which nearly every line is delivered.’
    • ‘Violinist Adela Pena played with a penetrating tone and trenchant musicality.’
    • ‘He opened his mouth and began to say something, but stopped short, and stared at Naomi for a second before continuing in a hushed tone.’
    • ‘He continued to ponder this as he moved across the room to where several of his men were standing speaking in hushed, worried tones.’
    • ‘The darkly resonant tones of the lower strings in the opening Largo were a prelude to the precise, crisp attack of the violins in the succeeding Allegro molto.’
    • ‘It employs a single reed and has a very pure tone with no vibrato although this can be induced by use of the bellows.’
    • ‘The playing throughout is crisp, featuring beautiful, full, round tones and distinct single note lines.’
    • ‘But they soon learned the distinctive sound of each engine and found the familiar tones of the passing traffic a comfort rather than a disturbance.’
    • ‘She also sings rather well, with a husky, sensual tone hinting at a passion lurking under all those crinolines.’
    • ‘On 'The Bird and Phoenix', he achieves an impressionistic, plaintive tone on flute.’
    • ‘The Octet's members placed a high priority on a full singing tone, honeyed legato playing, and warm, genial musicianship.’
    • ‘Oistrakh's warm tone ensures that the concerto's melodic content is not compromised, in spite of his gutsy playing.’
    • ‘She is blessed with the cool, crystalline tone so characteristic of Scandinavian singers.’
    • ‘Gruppman's bracing attack and Kosower's warmly resonant tone enlivened the Allegro finale.’
    timbre, sound, sound quality, voice, voice quality, colour, tone colour, tonality, resonance, ring
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    1. 1.1A modulation of the voice expressing a particular feeling or mood.
      ‘a firm tone of voice’
      • ‘I can see their expression and hear their tone of voice now, clear as anything.’
      • ‘She was excited, but couldn't manage a happy tone of voice to express it.’
      • ‘I could see some of the excitement drain out of her expression and her tone of voice changed.’
      • ‘First she tried sweet-talking him, using a sugary-sweet tone of voice to put him in a good mood and then happily suggesting that he let her out for some exercise.’
      • ‘‘That was how our grandfathers and father lived - those are our rules,’ says one man in a firm tone of voice.’
      • ‘The tone of voice in the transcripts is revealing.’
      • ‘‘I'm turning into a bit of a dragon,’ she says, in a tone of voice that could hardly be less dragon-like.’
      • ‘Try changing your tone of voice to break the pattern.’
      • ‘I can normally tell, just from her tone of voice down the telephone line, how she's feeling.’
      • ‘But I'm sure my tone of voice and facial expression got my point across.’
      • ‘For a moment during this litany, her tone of voice takes on a sharp, exasperated edge.’
      • ‘Despite the dismissive tone of voice, a serious expression crossed her face.’
      • ‘Keeping track of your tone of voice, volume and inflection is also a good idea.’
      • ‘Without the facial expressions and tone of voice that play so great a part in human communication, comments may become at best ambiguous, at worst offensive.’
      • ‘I couldn't hear the sarcastic tone in her voice and I felt jealousy rising in me.’
      • ‘Ah well, you'll just have to imagine what my dulcet tones sound like.’
      • ‘Only Trent noticed the mocking tone in Matt's voice and he hated him for it.’
      • ‘His voice had struck a conversational tone that grated on her nerves.’
      • ‘Her voice held a tone of finality that signaled the end of the discussion.’
      • ‘I didn't know what that meant exactly, but her tone signaled the end of the discussion.’
      intonation, tone of voice, mode of expression, expression, inflection, pitch, modulation, accentuation
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    2. 1.2A musical note or other sound used as a signal on a telephone or answering machine.
      • ‘His mobile telephone rang with a tone indicating he was in Spain but was switched off without a word being said.’
      • ‘The harsh tone of the telephone disrupts my slumber.’
      • ‘I make sure the volume on my beep tone is always turned up as high as it will go.’
      • ‘It took at least three tones before someone answered.’
      • ‘She quickly dialled Izzy's Scottish number but was answered by a busy tone.’
      • ‘The telephone beside Andrew rang, and he answered after a single tone.’
      note, beep, bleep, meep, whine, buzz, warble, burr, signal
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  • 2The general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.

    ‘my friend and I lowered the tone with our oafish ways’
    ‘there was a general tone of ill-concealed glee in the reporting’
    • ‘The general tone of the piece is cynical, morbid and unpleasantly other-worldly.’
    • ‘The general tone of the piece was quite positive.’
    • ‘She'd written most of the lyrics, and it was surprising that he'd caught on about the general tone of the piece.’
    • ‘Interesting images are available through this gateway, and although the content varies from provider to provider, the general tone is one of intelligent, critical inquiry.’
    • ‘A couple of moments might make you jump but overall it's a promise the film just can't keep as tension quickly fades into a tone of general monotony.’
    • ‘That has been the general tone of media reporting of the affair.’
    • ‘I would agree wholeheartedly with the general tone of the article.’
    • ‘I am most happy with the fact that the general tone of your newspaper is moderate and very optimistic.’
    • ‘The show seemed oddly just a little light in tone, at least relative to the general tone of the series.’
    • ‘I'm also a little stunned by the tone of the piece.’
    • ‘Computers crash, characters bicker, and the general tone of the series is somewhat grim, with occasional bursts of humor.’
    • ‘Though he makes some brief excursions into consciously literary forms, the overall tone of his writing is terse, colloquial, practical, laconic.’
    • ‘Nonetheless, I found the general tone of the film to be inspirational rather than offensive.’
    • ‘The general tone of this album is quite serious, heavily laden with food-for-thought political rants.’
    • ‘However, I take exception to the general tone of his letter.’
    • ‘Despite the modern setting, the films are Victorian in tone and atmosphere.’
    • ‘Excessively muted in tone and atmosphere, they seem remote now, as if filtered through gauze.’
    • ‘Throughout all of this, the emphasis is on atmosphere and tone.’
    • ‘The lack of a clear atmosphere or tone turns what could have been passionate into just passable.’
    • ‘He uses everything at his disposal to maintain a moody, atmospheric tone.’
    mood, quality, feel, style, note, air, attitude, character, spirit, flavour, grain, temper, humour, effect
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    1. 2.1informal mass noun An atmosphere of respectability or class.
      ‘they don't feel he gives the place tone’
  • 3

    (also whole tone)
    A basic interval in classical Western music, equal to two semitones and separating, for example, the first and second notes of an ordinary scale (such as C and D, or E and F sharp); a major second.

    ‘the B flat clarinet's part is written one tone higher than the pitch required’
    • ‘He uses this music to introduce octaves, accented rhythms, a whole tone scale and a continuous cross-hand pattern.’
    • ‘At the climax of the third chant, she so subdivides her forces that eventually, all twelve tones of the chromatic scale are encompassed.’
    • ‘The Hellenistic mind of the Byzantines allowed musicians to draw systems of tones from the music of ancient Greece.’
    • ‘For example, a rising whole tone interval is mirrored by a falling whole tone interval.’
    • ‘Ideally, I try to warm-up to a tone or two above the performance's highest note.’
  • 4The particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a shade of a colour.

    ‘stained glass in vivid tones of red and blue’
    mass noun ‘an attractive colour which is even in tone and texture’
    • ‘The paintings seem at first to be sombre in tone, coloured mostly by umbers and sepia-like hues.’
    • ‘His visible brushstrokes in the foreground and creamy subdued tones interspersed with bright oranges and red hues are very seductive.’
    • ‘Other than delicate pink flesh tones, heavenly shades of blue predominate, accented with green and white.’
    • ‘John finds that artist pencils allow him to better express his artistic creativity than the brush because of the aspect of detail and layers of tone and texture which can be obtained.’
    • ‘Extraordinarily subtle gradations of hue and tone at the perimeters heighten the ethereal appearance of the whole.’
    • ‘Their neutral tone will balance the bright hues of the coolest polo shirts of the season, and offset your trendy jeans.’
    • ‘Light pink gets lost next to the yellow and dark pink is too close in tone to the red.’
    • ‘Her trademark knitwear combines earthy tones with vivid colourful trims.’
    • ‘After the war his painting lost much of its intensity, with pastel tones replacing the bold, sometimes harsh colours he had earlier used.’
    • ‘Building on continental lessons, he developed a technique of using thin washes of colour in muted tones to create an impression of transparency.’
    • ‘Alternate different tones of green to prevent them from becoming completely camouflaged.’
    • ‘I enjoy the search for new shades of established colours, and I look forward to merging them with my base tones and creating a different vision of how I perceive things to be.’
    • ‘The temperature is just right, there's a clear scent in the air, and the colours and tones of the falling leaves is absolutely beautiful to me.’
    • ‘We often take color for granted, not bothering to notice the subtle hues, tones and intensities that surround us.’
    • ‘No matter what the bright colours, whether orange, sweet pink tones, neutral colours or just black and white, they will all be widely seen.’
    • ‘A student of the subject at A-Level, he favours a mixture of painting and printing techniques, and his pictures suggest a preference for modern art as well as earthy colours and tones.’
    • ‘The palette also includes colours inspired by skin tones: blush, flesh, coffee, caramel, nut and cinnamon.’
    • ‘The walls, adjustable lighting and curtains are all in warm colour tones to ease anxiety.’
    • ‘The neck is longer and more elegant, the underglaze blue cobalt lighter and purer in tone, and the porcelain itself whiter and with fewer occlusions.’
    • ‘The drawing is notable for its wonderful use of soft pencil, which permits fine gradations of tone and texture.’
    tint, shade, colour, hue, tinge, cast, tincture
    harmonize, go, go well, blend, fit, coordinate, team, accord
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    1. 4.1mass noun The general effect of colour or of light and shade in a picture.
      • ‘Here Turner had moved away from recording topography and was preoccupied with achieving specific effects of light and tone.’
      • ‘I'm sure the genius that was Joseph Mallord William Turner, landscaping master of light, tone and shade would fully endorse some of the previous groundbreaking entries.’
      • ‘Light's bleaching glare may saturate the picture plane, obscuring tone, details and minute particulars.’
      • ‘His use of shade, tone and colour is different from many of his stylised drawings of the past, where the simplicity of line seemed to dominate over the human subject.’
      • ‘Murray's handling of paint, tone and colour is flawless.’
      • ‘In its details and rich nuances of tone and texture, the drawing is an impressive demonstration of Rembrandt's genius.’
      • ‘Picasso is not interested in describing tone, depth, or form.’
      • ‘This work is stark and reductive in colour and tone.’
    2. 4.2A slight degree of difference in the intensity of a colour.
  • 5Phonetics
    (in some languages, such as Chinese) a particular pitch pattern on a syllable used to make semantic distinctions.

    • ‘Ethnic Liberian languages usually contain two or three distinct tones, based on pitch, which indicate semantic or grammatical differences.’
    • ‘Chinese pronunciation involves four tones, each indicated by a tone mark.’
    • ‘Every syllable has an associated tone or pitch - high, low, medium, falling, rising, or whatever.’
    • ‘Its lingua franca is Cantonese, a dialect that has six tones compared to the four tones of standard mandarin Chinese.’
    • ‘Hmong is monosyllabic and tonal, meaning that it consists mainly of one-syllable words and that the tone of a word affects meaning.’
    1. 5.1(in some languages, such as English) intonation on a word or phrase used to add functional meaning.
      ‘In English, these tones suggest finality, the fall frequently occurring at the end of a statement, the rise at the end of a yes-no question.’
  • 6

    (also muscle tone)
    mass noun The normal level of firmness or slight contraction in a resting muscle.

    ‘a reduction of muscle tone’
    ‘a certain amount of daily exercise is essential to maintain proper body tone and function’
    • ‘The Apgar score was based on heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, reflex irritability, and skin color.’
    • ‘I agree with him that upper airway muscle tone is decreased during sleep and is an important component of obstructive sleep apnea.’
    • ‘Physical exercise also is encouraged to assist in weight reduction and increase muscle tone.’
    • ‘This program consisted of ambulation with portable oxygen and arm exercises to maintain muscle tone.’
    • ‘Norepinephrine and serotonin are involved in the loss of muscle tone during REM sleep.’
    • ‘Walker is intent on maintaining muscle tone in his lower body.’
    • ‘Other infants may develop low muscle tone, seizures, heart failure and coma, often following an illness.’
    • ‘These children tend to be underweight and emaciated, with decreased muscle tone.’
    • ‘His muscle tone was mildly low but within the reference range.’
    • ‘Many signs are noticeable at birth, such as low muscle tone, small nose, short fingers, and flexible joints.’
    • ‘Babies with achondroplasia have poor muscle tone, often leading to delays in learning to sit, stand and walk.’
    • ‘With that low activity level, they are likely to lose muscle tone throughout their body.’
    • ‘His muscle tone is normal for gestational age and response to stimulation is good.’
    • ‘Drinking water also helps maintain proper muscle tone, which aids muscle contraction.’
    • ‘These children should be followed closely from birth and their development and muscle tone should be evaluated on a periodic basis.’
    • ‘The electroencephalogram, eye movements, and muscle tone are monitored.’
    • ‘Staying active will help to maintain muscle tone and function.’
    • ‘Physical boosts in endurance, muscle tone, body composition and blood flow can all improve sexual functioning.’
    • ‘They improve muscle tone, circulation and physiological efficiency and build up strength, stamina and flexibility.’
    • ‘Tetanus causes increased muscle tone and spasms especially in the neck and jaw muscles.’
    1. 6.1Physiology The normal level of activity in a nerve fibre.
      ‘vagal tone’
      • ‘Abnormal exams included clearly severe abnormalities in motor tone, levels of activity, or delays.’
      • ‘Apparently, the increase in ectopic beats might be related to the increase in vagal tone.’
      • ‘An increase of vagal tone after exercise occasionally can lead to episodes of atrial fibrillation.’
      • ‘Sinus node dysfunction can occur perioperatively because of increased vagal tone caused by anesthesia or surgical intervention.’
      • ‘Sinus bradycardia is common in normal individuals during sleep and in those with high vagal tone, such as athletes and young healthy adults.’

verb

[with object]
  • 1Give greater strength or firmness to (the body or a muscle)

    ‘exercise tones up the muscles’
    • ‘Kata training is great for defense, raising your level of fitness, toning your body muscles and releasing those dangerously high levels of stress.’
    • ‘It strengthens and tones your muscles, raises your body's metabolism and knocks up to six inches off your waist, hips and stomach measurement in a single session’
    • ‘It is also great for toning your upper body, arms and leg muscles.’
    • ‘They're not heavy enough to strengthen and tone your muscles, and they won't do much to boost the intensity of your cardio workouts, either.’
    • ‘The goal is to strengthen and tone muscles while improving balance, coordination, core strength and body awareness.’
    • ‘They find that the hip movements are beneficial - they strengthen and tone the body.’
    • ‘It seemed like every muscle in her body was perfectly toned and tanned, and she looked amazing.’
    • ‘Bitter herbs also tone the smooth muscles in your gastrointestinal tract.’
    • ‘Pilates has been hailed as the best overall exercise for toning your body and freeing your mind.’
    • ‘A great glute and thigh strengthener, this exercise tones the abs and lower back muscles in a highly original way.’
    • ‘It depends on the individual, on how confident they feel and how toned their body is.’
    • ‘Here's how to tone your body in all the right places.’
    • ‘It tones the entire body while strengthening the cardiovascular system.’
    • ‘When you feel how much this strengthens and tones your lower body, especially your glutes and thighs, you'll be in an even better mood.’
    • ‘This will stretch and tone the arm muscles, while loosening the back and shoulder muscles.’
    • ‘The backstroke is ideal for toning the upper body, while the breast stroke works those hard-to-tone inner thighs.’
    • ‘It tones up the muscles of the face and improves facial expressions.’
    • ‘It stretches and tones up just about every muscle in the body.’
    • ‘Jeff tones up his clients' muscles with some regular gentle weight-lifting.’
    • ‘Walking, cycling and swimming, especially breaststroke, also work your bottom muscles and tone up your thighs.’
    1. 1.1tone upno object (of a muscle or other bodily part) became stronger or firmer.
      ‘his leg muscles had toned up’
      • ‘He had a lot to say about muscle, tissue and toning up.’
      • ‘But Alex warns that weight isn't always a reliable indication of how effect your fitness regime is; you could be toning up and turning muscle to fat, but it won't necessarily show on the scales.’
      • ‘Even after just a few sessions, you will see your muscles tone up, fatty places firm up and even a few pounds fall away.’
      • ‘And if you haven't been diligent with your workouts, you can still get trouble areas toned up in time to enjoy the warm weather.’
      • ‘I also added a light weight-training routine to tone up and build strength for labor.’
      • ‘I began to tone up and had a little muscle definition in areas I never had before.’
      • ‘He will tone up a little bit more and he will look more built, although he is still a big guy at the moment.’
      • ‘Your goal should not be to bulk up like a body builder, just to tone up and become leaner and stronger.’
      • ‘After losing 100 pounds and toning up, I couldn't wait to wear a tank top that showed off my sculpted arms and skirts that flattered my slimmer legs!’
      • ‘Prior to joining the center, she lost 40 pounds through a diet, but after joining the club, she lost another 25 pounds and is eating healthier and toning up.’
      • ‘Just eat your three squares and spend a bit more time in the gym toning up.’
      • ‘The real focus this week has been Pilates, and toning up.’
      • ‘Getting fit and toning up doesn't mean being confined to a sweaty gym or paying homage to stretch latex in an aerobics studio.’
      • ‘The main difference I have noticed is my shape and how much I've toned up.’
      • ‘Tony's attitude is toned down, while his body is toned up.’
      • ‘‘I know all my customers personally and assure them I will get them toned up,’ he said.’
      • ‘She began weight training three or four times a week to tone up.’
      • ‘If you do these classes you will get fit and tone up - as well as increasing your flexibility.’
      • ‘What I want to do is lose some weight and tone up - I just wish I could get some more help.’
      • ‘I don't necessarily advocate such a diet for my training clients who are looking to tone up and drop some fat.’
  • 2tone withno object Harmonize with (something) in terms of colour.

    ‘the rich orange colour of the wood tones beautifully with the yellow roses’
    • ‘Keep the floor simple by sanding and add blocks of colour in rugs in pastels that tone with billowing curtains on poles in chintz and damask.’
    • ‘Some men had shirts made to measure to tone with the suit.’
    • ‘The colors were perfectly toned with his skin and hair and eye color.’
    go with, coordinate with, complement, harmonize with, blend with, tone with, team with, be the same as, be similar to, suit
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  • 3Photography
    Give (a monochrome picture) an altered colour in finishing by means of a chemical solution.

    ‘it's a good idea to sepia tone the whole print first’
    • ‘With the toner used at full strength, the print should be fully toned in about six to eight minutes.’
    • ‘Unlike selenium, which selectively tones the low values first, gold toners tend to affect the entire image at once.’
    • ‘Sepia toning originally was developed to extend the archival life of early black-and-white silver-based prints.’
    • ‘The print is then toned in sulphide or selenium and often hand coloured with oil paints to create the final result.’
    • ‘Below is the same test strip reduced in iodine reducer and toned in three different toners.’

Phrasal Verbs

    tone something down
    • 1Make something less harsh in sound or colour.

      ‘a green-tinged moisturizer helps to tone down a ruddy complexion’
      • ‘I would suggest toning the colours down a bit, so it's not quite so harsh on the eyes’
      • ‘We have gone away from the bright colour scheme and toned it down slightly.’
      • ‘Would it really have detracted if the big keyboard synth sounds had been toned down to a minimum?’
      • ‘Instead of her usual style where bright, fluorescent colours stand out, this time the colour palette is toned down and the concentration is on darker shades.’
      • ‘The synths had been toned down, replaced with tired guitar sounds.’
      • ‘Susan picked this colour for the walls, and toned it down with white to produce the shade she wanted, and the result is admirable.’
      • ‘Coat lipstick with a darker lip gloss to tone it down.’
      • ‘The second way is to spot meter the scene calculating the dark area that you want to expose for and also the highlight area that you want to tone down.’
      • ‘When you've been sunbathing and your skin has a slight lobster tinge, don't wear a light colour that night - dark colours will tone down the burnt effect.’
      1. 1.1Make something less extreme or intense.
        ‘I just hope we can now begin to tone down the rhetoric’
        • ‘Critics last night claimed the report had been toned down because of concerns that its most ‘extreme’ findings would ruffle too many feathers within the establishment.’
        • ‘Next time, boys, it may be possible to tone it down just a notch without losing any of the entertainment value.’
        • ‘Brendan heard himself being melodramatic and toned it down a couple of notches.’
        • ‘When every other punk band was playing as fast as they could and spewing left-wing rhetoric, these guys were toning it down a notch, providing a more emotive and reflective tone and a poppier sound.’
        • ‘I think that they could pull the country together a lot better by just toning the rhetoric down a bit.’
        • ‘Even though they said they wanted to shock and offend, when it came right down to it, the network toned the content down.’
        • ‘When she realized how flirtatious that sounded, Jessica toned it down a bit.’
        • ‘We had some very bruising sessions, so bruising that Clive had to step in and ask the players to tone it down.’
        • ‘My mother asked if it was possible for me to tone the show down a bit for her.’
        • ‘To move to the next level, however, the chain needed to tone down its image a bit.’

Origin

Middle English from Old French ton, from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos ‘tension, tone’, from teinein ‘to stretch’.

Pronunciation

tone

/təʊn/