Words To Describe The Tone Of An Essay

The tone and mood words listed below are also available as a Word document.

Tone and mood both deal with the emotions centered around a piece of writing. Though they seem similar and can in fact be related causally, they are in fact quite different.

Tone

Tone is the author’s attitude toward a subject. While journalistic writing theoretically has a tone of distance and objectivity, all other writing can have various tones.

If we were to read a description of a first date that included words and phrases like “dreaded” and “my buddies forced me to go on the date”, we could assume that the individual didn’t really enjoy the date.

Some tone words include:

POSITIVE TONE WORDS

NEUTRAL

(+,, or neutral)

NEGATIVE TONE WORDS

admiring

adoring

affectionate

appreciative

approving

bemused

benevolent

blithe

calm

casual

celebratory

cheerful

comforting

comic

compassionate

complimentary

conciliatory

confident

contented

delightful

earnest

ebullient

ecstatic

effusive

elated

empathetic

encouraging

euphoric

excited

exhilarated

expectant

facetious

fervent

flippant

forthright

friendly

funny

gleeful

gushy

happy

hilarious

hopeful

humorous

interested

introspective

jovial

joyful

laudatory

light

lively

mirthful

modest

nostalgic

optimistic

passionate

placid

playful

poignant

proud

reassuring

reflective

relaxed

respectful

reverent

romantic

sanguine

scholarly

self-assured sentimental

serene

silly

sprightly

straightforward

sympathetic

tender

tranquil

whimsical

wistful

worshipful

zealous

commanding

direct

impartial

indirect

meditative

objective

questioning

speculative

unambiguous

unconcerned

understated

abhorring

acerbic

ambiguous

ambivalent

angry

annoyed

antagonistic

anxious

apathetic

apprehensive

belligerent

bewildered

biting

bitter

blunt

bossy

cold

conceited

condescending

confused

contemptuous

curt

cynical

demanding

depressed

derisive

derogatory

desolate

despairing

desperate

detached

diabolic

disappointed

disliking

disrespectful

doubtful

embarrassed

enraged

evasive

fatalistic

fearful

forceful

foreboding

frantic

frightened

frustrated

furious

gloomy

grave

greedy

grim

harsh

haughty

holier-than-thou

hopeless

hostile

impatient

incredulous

indifferent

indignant

inflammatory

insecure

insolent

irreverent

lethargic

melancholy

mischievous

miserable

mocking

mournful

nervous

ominous

outraged

paranoid

pathetic

patronizing

pedantic

pensive

pessimistic

pretentious

psychotic

resigned

reticent

sarcastic

sardonic

scornful

self-deprecating

selfish

serious

severe

sinister

skeptical

sly

solemn

somber

stern

stolid

stressful

strident

suspicious

tense

threatening

tragic

uncertain

uneasy

unfriendly

unsympathetic

upset

violent

wry

Mood

Mood is the atmosphere of a piece of writing; it’s the emotions a selection arouses in a reader.

Some common mood descriptors are:

POSITIVE MOOD WORDS

NEGATIVE MOOD WORDS

amused

awed

bouncy

calm

cheerful

chipper

confident

contemplative

content

determined

dignified

dreamy

ecstatic

empowered

energetic

enlightened

enthralled

excited

exhilarated

flirty

giddy

grateful

harmonious

hopeful

hyper

idyllic

joyous

jubilant

liberating

light-hearted

loving

mellow

nostalgic

optimistic

passionate

peaceful

playful

pleased

refreshed

rejuvenated

relaxed

relieved

satiated

satisfied

sentimental

silly

surprised

sympathetic

thankful

thoughtful

touched

trustful

vivacious

warm

welcoming

aggravated

annoyed

anxious

apathetic

apprehensive

barren

brooding

cold

confining

confused

cranky

crushed

cynical

depressed

desolate

disappointed

discontented

distressed

drained

dreary

embarrassed

enraged

envious

exhausted

fatalistic

foreboding

frustrated

futile

gloomy

grumpy

haunting

heartbroken

hopeless

hostile

indifferent

infuriated

insidious

intimidated

irate

irritated

jealous

lethargic

lonely

melancholic

merciless

moody

morose

nauseated

nervous

nightmarish

numb

overwhelmed

painful

pensive

pessimistic

predatory

rejected

restless

scared

serious

sick

somber

stressed

suspenseful

tense

terrifying

threatening

uncomfortable

vengeful

violent

worried

One good way to see mood (and, to a degree, tone) in action is through genre-crossing movie trailers. In film editing classes throughout the States, a common assignment is to take an existing film (say, a comedy) and create a film preview that presents the film as a different genre (for example, a horror film). This is accomplished through editing and splicing scenes, adding new, anxiety-producing music and sound effects, and adding a new voice-over introduction.

Some of the best examples of this are below.

What is tone?

Tone refers to an author’s use of words and writing style to convey his or her attitude towards a topic. Tone is often defined as what the author feels about the subject. What the reader feels is known as the mood.

Tip: Don’t confuse tone with voice. [Read How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?] Voice can be explained as the author’s personality expressed in writing. Tone = Attitude. Voice = Personality.

Tone (attitude) and voice (personality) create a writing style. You may not be able to alter your personality but you can adjust your attitude. This gives you ways to create writing that affects your audience’s mood. (Click here for examples of tone in a story.)

The mechanics of tone

Tone is conveyed through diction (choice and use of words and phrases), viewpoint, syntax (grammar; how you put words and phrases together), and level of formality. It is the way you express yourself in speech or writing.

How do you find the correct tone?

You can usually find a tone by asking these three questions:

  1. Why am I writing this?
  2. Who is my intended audience?
  3. What do I want the reader to learn, understand, or think about?

In formal writing, your tone should be clear, concise, confident, and courteous. The writing level should be sophisticated, but not pretentious.

In creative writing, your tone is more subjective, but you should always aim to communicate clearly. Genre sometimes determines the tone.

  Tone

     Meaning

Absurdillogical; ridiculous; silly; implausible; foolish
Accusatorysuggesting someone has done something wrong, complaining
Acerbicsharp; forthright; biting; hurtful; abrasive; severe
Admiringapproving; think highly of; respectful; praising
Aggressivehostile; determined; forceful; argumentative
Aggrievedindignant; annoyed; offended; disgruntled
Ambivalenthaving mixed feelings; uncertain; in a dilemma; undecided
Amusedentertained; diverted; pleased
Angryincensed or enraged; threatening or menacing
Animatedfull of life or excitement; lively; spirited; impassioned; vibrant
Apatheticshowing little interest; lacking concern; indifferent; unemotional
Apologeticfull of regret; repentant; remorseful; acknowledging failure
Appreciativegrateful; thankful; showing pleasure; enthusiastic
Ardententhusiastic; passionate
Arrogantpompous; disdainful; overbearing; condescending; vain; scoffing
Assertiveself-confident; strong-willed; authoritative; insistent
Awestruckamazed, filled with wonder/awe; reverential
Belligerenthostile; aggressive; combatant
Benevolentsympathetic; tolerant; generous; caring; well meaning
Bitterangry; acrimonious; antagonistic; spiteful; nasty
Callouscruel disregard; unfeeling; uncaring; indifferent; ruthless
Candidtruthful, straightforward; honest; unreserved
Causticmaking biting, corrosive comments; critical
Cautionarygives warning; raises awareness; reminding
Celebratorypraising; pay tribute to; glorify; honour
Chattyinformal; lively; conversational; familiar
Colloquialfamiliar; everyday language; informal; colloquial; casual
Comichumorous; witty; entertaining; diverting
Compassionatesympathetic; empathetic; warm-hearted; tolerant; kind
Complexhaving many varying characteristics; complicated
Compliantagree or obey rules; acquiescent; flexible; submissive
Concernedworried; anxious; apprehensive
Conciliatoryintended to placate or pacify; appeasing
Condescendingstooping to the level of one’s inferiors; patronising
Confusedunable to think clearly; bewildered; vague
Contemptuousshowing contempt; scornful; insolent; mocking
Criticalfinding fault; disapproving; scathing; criticizing
Cruelcausing pain and suffering; unkind; spiteful; severe
Curiouswanting to find out more; inquisitive; questioning
Cynicalscornful of motives/virtues of others; mocking; sneering
Defensivedefending a position; shielding; guarding; watchful
Defiantobstinate; argumentative; defiant; contentious
Demeaningdisrespectful; undignified
Depressingsad, melancholic; discouraging; pessimistic
Derisivesnide; sarcastic; mocking; dismissive; scornful
Detachedaloof; objective; unfeeling; distant
Dignifiedserious; respectful; formal; proper
Diplomatictactful; subtle; sensitive; thoughtful
Disapprovingdispleased; critical; condemnatory
Dishearteningdiscouraging; demoralising; undermining; depressing
Disparagingdismissive; critical; scornful
Directstraightforward; honest
Disappointeddiscouraged; unhappy because something has gone wrong
Dispassionateimpartial; indifferent; unsentimental; cold; unsympathetic
Distressingheart-breaking; sad; troubling
Docilecompliant; submissive; deferential; accommodating
Earnestshowing deep sincerity or feeling; serious
Egotisticalself-absorbed; selfish; conceited; boastful
Empatheticunderstanding; kind; sensitive
Encouragingoptimistic; supportive
Enthusiasticexcited; energetic
Evasiveambiguous; cryptic; unclear
Excitedemotionally aroused; stirred
Facetiousinappropriate; flippant
Farcicalludicrous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable
Flippantsuperficial; glib; shallow; thoughtless; frivolous
Forcefulpowerful; energetic; confident; assertive
Formalrespectful; stilted; factual; following accepted styles/rules
Frankhonest; direct; plain; matter-of-fact
Frustratedannoyed; discouraged
Gentlekind; considerate; mild; soft
Ghoulishdelighting in the revolting or the loathsome
Grimserious; gloomy; depressing; lacking humour;macabre
Gulliblenaïve; innocent; ignorant
Hardunfeeling; hard-hearted; unyielding
Humbledeferential; modest
Humorousamusing; entertaining; playful
Hypercriticalunreasonably critical; hair splitting; nitpicking
Impartialunbiased; neutral; objective
Impassionedfilled with emotion; ardent
Imploringpleading; begging
Impressionabletrusting; child-like
Inanesilly; foolish; stupid; nonsensical
Incensedenraged
Incredulousdisbelieving; unconvinced; questioning; suspicious
Indignantannoyed; angry; dissatisfied
Informativeinstructive; factual; educational
Inspirationalencouraging; reassuring
Intenseearnest; passionate; concentrated; deeply felt
Intimatefamiliar; informal; confidential; confessional
Ironicthe opposite of what is meant
Irreverentlacking respect for things that are generally taken seriously
Jadedbored; having had too much of the same thing; lack enthusiasm
Joyfulpositive; optimistic; cheerful; elated
Judgmentalcritical; finding fault; disparaging
Laudatorypraising; recommending
Light-Heartedcarefree; relaxed; chatty; humorous
Lovingaffectionate; showing intense, deep concern
Macabregruesome; horrifying; frightening
Maliciousdesiring to harm others or to see others suffer; ill-willed; spiteful
Mean-Spiritedinconsiderate; unsympathetic
Mockingscornful; ridiculing; making fun of someone
Mourninggrieving; lamenting; woeful
Naïveinnocent; unsophisticated; immature
Narcissisticself-admiring; selfish; boastful; self-pitying
Nastyunpleasant; unkind; disagreeable; abusive
Negativeunhappy, pessimistic
Nostalgicthinking about the past; wishing for something from the past
Objectivewithout prejudice; without discrimination; fair; based on fact
Obsequiousoverly obedient and/or submissive; fawning; grovelling
Optimistichopeful; cheerful
Outragedangered and resentful; furious; extremely angered
Outspokenfrank; candid; spoken without reserve
Patheticexpressing pity, sympathy, tenderness
Patronisingcondescending; scornful; pompous
Pensivereflective; introspective; philosophical; contemplative
Persuasiveconvincing; eloquent; influential; plausible
Pessimisticseeing the negative side of things
Philosophicaltheoretical; analytical; rational; logical
Playfulfull of fun and good spirits; humorous; jesting
Pragmaticrealistic; sensible
Pretentiousaffected; artificial; grandiose; rhetorical; flashy
Regretfulapologetic; remorseful
Resentfulaggrieved; offended; displeased; bitter
Resignedaccepting; unhappy
Restrainedcontrolled; quiet; unemotional
Reverentshowing deep respect and esteem
Righteousmorally right and just; guiltless; pious; god-fearing
Satiricalmaking fun to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive
Sarcasticscornful; mocking; ridiculing
Scathingcritical; stinging; unsparing; harsh
Scornfulexpressing contempt or derision; scathing; dismissive
Sensationalisticprovocative; inaccurate; distasteful
Sentimentalthinking about feelings, especially when remembering the past
Sincerehonest; truthful; earnest
Scepticaldisbelieving; unconvinced; doubting
Solemnnot funny; in earnest; serious
Subjectiveprejudiced; biased
Submissivecompliant; passive; accommodating; obedient
Sulkingbad-tempered; grumpy; resentful; sullen
Sympatheticcompassionate; understanding of how someone feels
Thoughtfulreflective; serious; absorbed
Tolerantopen-minded; charitable; patient; sympathetic; lenient
Tragicdisastrous; calamitous
Unassumingmodest; self-effacing; restrained
Uneasyworried; uncomfortable; edgy; nervous
Urgentinsistent; saying something must be done soon
Vindictivevengeful; spiteful; bitter; unforgiving
Virtuouslawful; righteous; moral; upstanding
Whimsicalquaint; playful; mischievous; offbeat
Wittyclever; quick-witted; entertaining
Wonderawe-struck; admiring; fascinating
World-Wearybored; cynical; tired
Worriedanxious; stressed; fearful
Wretchedmiserable; despairing; sorrowful; distressed

 

Helpful Tip:Finding the correct tone is a matter of practice. Try to write for different audiences. Even if you only want to write novels, it is an apprenticeship of sorts. Write press releases. Write opinion pieces. Write interviews. Write copy. Write a business plan.

The more you write, the better you will become at infusing your work with the nuances needed to create the perfect book. If you want to receive a daily prompt, click here to join our mailing list.

by Amanda Patterson

  1. 15 Questions Authors Should Ask Characters
  2. 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story
  3. 7 Choices That Affect A Writer’s Style
  4. 5 Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell
  5. Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

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  • Posted on 27th June 2014
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