Rising and Falling Intonation - Pronunciation

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Use punctuation to help your pronunciation skills by adding a pause after each period, comma, semi-colon or colon. By using punctuation to guide when you pause while reading, you will begin to speak in a more natural manner. Make sure to read the example sentences on this page out loud using the pronunciation tips provided. Let's look at a few example sentences:

I'm going to visit my friends in Chicago. They have a beautiful house, so I'm staying with them for two weeks.

In this example, pause after 'Chicago' and 'house'. This will help anyone who's listening to you follow you more easily. On the other hand, if you rush through the periods and commas (and other punctuation marks) your pronunciation will sound unnatural and it will be difficult for listeners to follow your thoughts.

Punctuation that marks the end of a sentence also has specific intonation. Intonation means the rising and the lowering of the voice when speaking. In other words, intonation refers to the voice rising and falling. Let's take a look at the different types of intonation used with pronunciation.

Asking questions follows two patterns.

Rising Voice at the End of a Question
 
If the question is a yes / no question, the voice rises at the end of a question.

Do you like living in Portland?
Have you lived here a long time?
Did you visit your friends last month?

Falling Voice at the End of a Question

if the question is an information question - in other words, if you are asking a question with 'where', 'when', 'what', 'which', 'why', 'what / which kind of..', and questions with 'how' - let your voice fall at then end of a question.

Where are you going to stay on vacation?
When did you arrive last night?
How long have you lived in this country?

Question Tags

Question tags are used to either confirm information or to ask for clarification. The intonation is different in each case. 

Question Tags to Confirm

If you think you know something, but would like to confirm it, let the voice fall in the question tag.

You live in Seattle, don't you?
This is easy, isn't it?
You aren't coming to the meeting, are you?

Question Tags to Ask for Clarification

When using a question tag to clarify, let the voice rise to let the listener know that you expect more information.

Peter isn't going to be at the party, is he?
You understand your role, don't you?
We aren't expected to finish the report by Friday, are we?

End of Sentences

The voice usually falls at the end of sentences. However, when making a short statement with a word that is only one syllable the voice rises to express happiness, shock, approval, etc.

That's great!
I'm free!
I bought a new car.

When making a short statement with a word that is more than one syllable (multi-syllabic) the voice falls.

Mary is happy.
We're married.
They're exhausted.

Commas

We also use a specific type of intonation when using commas in a list. Let's take a look at an example:

Peter enjoys playing tennis, swimming, hiking, and biking.

In this example the voice rises after each item in the list. For the final item, let the voice fall.  In other words, 'tennis', 'swimming', and 'hiking' all rise in intonation. The final activity, 'biking', falls in intonation. Practice with a few more examples:

We bought some jeans, two shirts, a pair of shoes, and an umbrella.
Steve wants to go to Paris, Berlin, Florence, and London.

Pause After an Introductory Subordinate Clause

Subordinate clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions. These include 'because', 'though,' or time expressions such as 'when', 'before', 'by the time', as well as others. You can use a subordinating conjunction to introduce a subordinate clause at the beginning of a sentence, or in the middle of a sentence. When beginning a sentence with a subordinating conjunction (as in this sentence), pause at the end of introductory subordinating clause.

 

When you read this letter, I will have left you forever.
Because it's so expensive to travel in Europe, I have decided to go to Mexico for my vacation.
Although the test was very hard, I got an A on it.