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1. What is Intonation?

Intonation is where the pitch of your voice changes, such as when it rises and falls.  It is an important part of your speaking as it can help indicate meaning, especially when you want to express emotions like being annoyed, surprised, doubtful, etc.  This is an area that you should also consider in your IELTS preparation, as pronunciation is worth 25% of your speaking score.  In addition, being able to pick up intonation can help you with questions in your IELTS Listening test.  This is especially the case in Section 3, where you often have to identify the mood of the speaker, such as whether they agree or disagree with an issue.  Let’s have a look at intonation in a little more detail by breaking it down into three parts:  rising, falling and fall-rise.

Rising intonation↗

We use rising intonation in questions when we expect the answer to be either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. E.g.       

Are you ↗French↗?      

Can you speak  ↗Thai↗?

It can also be used when clarifying what you have heard.  E.g.

A: Would you recommend taking public transport?

B: In my ↗country↗?

A: Yes.

B: The large cities in my country have a good network of trains and buses. You can take a tram, but just in the city centre, and um … Sorry, what was the question ↗again↗?

We can also use rising intonation when making lists.  E.g.

The main type of pet that people like to keep in my country are typical domestic ↗cats↗, small to medium-sized ↗dogs↗, birds in ↗cages↗ and fish in tanks.

Falling Intonation↘

When using Wh- questions (e.g. Who, What, Where, When, Why, Whose, Which) or questions with ‘How’, the tone falls at the end of the question.  E.g.

What is the capital city of your ↘country↘?

Where is the best seafood restaurant in your ↘hometown↘?

Who do you respect the ↘most↘?

Fall-rise Intonation ↗↘

When using more complex sentences, you can have both rising and falling intonation at the end of a clause before connecting to the next clause.  This is useful to indicate a contrast.  E.g.

Although the weather can be quite ↗humid↘, it is still useful to do outdoor activities like hiking.

Public transport here is hardly used at all, despite the fact it is so ↗affordable↘.

We can also use this at the end of a sentence when there is some doubt or when more could potentially be added.  E.g.

I’m not going to change jobs for the ↗time being↘ (but maybe in the future).

I barely did any preparation for the ↗assessment↘ (but I passed anyway).