The Ultimate List Of Tone Words

As a writer, you know how important it is to choose the right word for the meaning you’re trying to convey.

And part of that is knowing what tone words are and which one to use in a particular context. 

The wrong one is like an errant note in an otherwise flawless performance. Even if it has the same dictionary definition, it just doesn’t sound right. 

But where do you go to find the words with just the right tone and cadence to make the sentence flow as it should? 

Welcome to our ultimate list of tone words

What Are Tones in Writing

Tone in writing is like the voice or mood that jumps off the page when you’re reading a story or an article. For example, when listening to your favorite song notice how it can make you feel happy, sad, excited, or calm.

Tone in writing works the same way but through words. It’s the writer’s way of showing their point of view toward the subject or the audience.

Understanding tone is like being a detective for feelings and attitudes, helping you get the real vibe of what you’re reading. It makes reading more colorful and helps you connect with the written words.

175 Words to Describe Tone for Authors

Any tone words list (worth the time it takes to make it) should provide the fuller meaning of each word — i.e., not just the denotation (dictionary definition) but it’s connotations, too. 

For this tone words list, you’ll see each tone word example explained with a short definition or with synonyms that have the same general tone.  

woman hugging dog outdoors List Of Tone Words

All you have to do is open a thesaurus to find synonyms for a particular word to realize that some of those words do NOT have the tone you’re looking for.

Some are obviously negative. Some are positive. And the rest are more or less neutral. 

Related: 111 Negative Adjectives To Describe A Person

The tone word you need for the moment is the one that evokes the right emotions and that allows your sentence to flow without speed bumps.  

Positive Tone Words

Positive tone words are those that evoke positive emotions.

If you hear a person described in words with a positive tone, you’re more likely to think favorably of them, even before you’ve met.

  1. Adoring — loving ardently; worshipping; venerating 
  2. Amused — entertained or diverted; pleased
  3. Animated — lively; full of excitement or enthusiasm; vibrant; spirited; impassioned
  4. Appreciative — grateful or thankful; showing gratitude, approval, or pleasure
  5. Assertive — sure of oneself; brave or fearless; self-confident; authoritative
  6. Ardent — passionate; enthusiastic; fervent; zealous
  7. Benevolent — kind; generous; compassionate; tolerant; well meaning
  8. Blithe — in good spirits; of a sunny disposition; happy; cheerful
  9. Bold — audacious or daring; assertive; fearless or seeming to be fearless
  10. Calm — serene or tranquil; unruffled or unshaken; placid
  11. Candid — honest or truthful; straightforward; unreserved
  12. Celebratory — paying tribute to; glorifying; praising or honoring; making merry
  13. Cheerful / cheery — positive or uplifting; optimistic; salutary; 
  14. Comforting — consoling; healing; warming or calming; soothing
  15. Comicfunny/humorous; amusing or entertaining; diverting
  16. Compassionate — empathetic or sympathetic; nonjudgmental; quick to forgive
  17. Contented — wanting for nothing; grateful; accepting 
  18. Curious — inquisitive or questioning; wanting to know more
  19. Direct — straightforward; blunt; lacking in hesitation
  20. Earnest — serious; wholehearted; sincere or showing deep sincerity or feeling
  21. Ebullient — high-spirited; brimming with enthusiasm or excitement; exuberant
  22. Elated — joyful or jubilant; in high spirits; happy or proud
  23. Elevated — exalted; lofty; honored
  24. Eloquent — beauty or fluidity of expression; 
  25. Empathetic — showing empathy; feeling the emotions of others
  26. Enchant — cast a spell over; entrance; bewitch
  27. Endearing — inspiring warmth or affection
  28. Enthusiastic — excited; energetic; optimistic; bubbling over
  29. Exhilarated — invigorated; enlivened or feeling alive; stimulated; made cheerful
  30. Forthright — straight to the point; frank; outspoken; unambiguous; direct
  31. Gentle — kind; considerate; tender; soft; not severe; gradual; moderate
  32. Hilarious — amusing; uproariously funny; ridiculous or laughable
  33. Inspirationalmotivating; energizing; reassuring; instilling hope; catalyzing
  34. Intimate — familiar; confidential; confessional; private
  35. Joyful — filled with gratitude; elated or exuberant; supremely happy
  36. Laudatory — praising; extolling; recommending
  37. Learned — educated; knowledgeable; erudite; involved in the pursuit of knowledge
  38. Lighthearted — positive; carefree; relaxed; optimistic; in good spirits
  39. Lively — full of life; energetic; vigorous; animated; spirited; sprightly; vivacious
  40. Lofty — exalted in rank; elevated in tone, style, or sentiment
  41. Loving — affectionate; showing deep concern or solicitude for someone
  42. Modest — free from ostentation; unpretentious; showing humility 
  43. Objective — without prejudice; fair; basing judgment on facts rather than feelings
  44. Optimistic — hopeful; cheerful; expecting good; disposed to taking a favorable view
  45. Powerful — potent; efficacious; having or exerting great power; forceful
  46. Reassuring — restoring hope, security, or confidence
  47. Reflective — given to reflection, meditation, or contemplation; thoughtful
  48. Relaxed — calm; free or relieved of tension, trouble, or anxiety
  49. Respectful — full of or showing politeness, sympathy, or deference
  50. Reverent — showing deep respect; holding someone or something in high esteem
  51. Righteous — morally right or justifiable; pious; guiltless; upright
  52. Romantic — imbued with idealism; preoccupied with love, adventure, justice, etc.
  53. Sanguine — hopeful; cheerfully optimistic; confident of a good outcome
  54. Scholarly — learned; educated; committed to furthering one’s education
  55. Self-assured — having or showing self-confidence; bold or fearless; forward
  56. Sincere — honest; truthful; not false or deceitful; free of hypocrisy; genuine
  57. Stable — not likely to fall or give way (as a structure/support); steady
  58. Stately — grand; imposing in size or magnificence; elegant; majestic
  59. Straightforward — honest; straight to the point; not roundabout; direct
  60. Sympathetic — understand what another is feeling; showing compassion
  61. Tender — gentle; soft-hearted; compassionate; kind; delicate; young
  62. Thoughtful — considerate of others; thinking before acting; pensive
  63. Tolerant — open-minded; patient; charitable; sympathetic; lenient; accepting
  64. Tranquil — calm; unruffled; unprovoked; peaceful; placid; serene
  65. Vibrant — full of life and vigor; lively; full of vivid color; vivacious 
  66. Whimsical — playful or fun; offbeat; mischievous; quaint; capricious; fanciful
  67. Witty — quick-witted; entertaining; amusingly clever; intelligent
  68. Wonder — admiration; fascination; awe; curiosity; amazement; admiration

Negative Tone Words

Anything described in negative tone words is likely to leave you with a bad impression, whether the thing described is a place, a book, or a group of people.

Choose your words carefully. If this is a time for honest negativity, this list will help you find the right words.

  1. Abashed — embarrassed or ashamed; humiliated; shy
  2. Abhorring — hating; despising; loathing; abominating; detesting
  3. Abstruse — difficult to understand; esoteric; secret or hidden; obsolete
  4. Absurd — laughable, ludicrous, ridiculous; senseless; illogical; untrue
  5. Accusatory — suggesting someone (else) has done something wrong
  6. Acerbic — biting, abrasive, cutting, or sharp; hurtful; severe
  7. Aggressive — hostile, forceful, argumentative, contentious 
  8. Angry — irate or furious; menacing or threatening; resentful 
  9. Annoyed — irritated; agitated; provoked; disturbed; bothered
  10. Antagonistic — argumentative or contentious; contrarian; belligerent
  11. Anxious — focused on negative thought loops; feeling out of control
  12. Apathetic — indifferent or lacking concern; unemotional; showing little interest
  13. Apprehensive — worried or nervous; expecting the worst
  14. Arrogant — conceited or self-important; overbearing; condescending
  15. Authoritarian — domineering or bossy; insisting on complete obedience
  16. Belligerent — bellicose or warlike; antagonistic; combative 
  17. Bewildered — baffled, confused, or flummoxed; lost
  18. Bitter — angry; acrimonious; resentful or dwelling on past injury
  19. Boorish — dull; pretentious; arrogant or self-absorbed
  20. Brusque — abrupt or dismissive; rough; blunt
  21. Callous — uncaring or unfeeling; indifferent; lacking in compassion
  22. Caustic — making cutting or corrosive comments; intending injury
  23. Censorious — critical or quick to judge or condemn; 
  24. Choleric — quick to anger; short-tempered; hot-blooded; irascible
  25. Churlish — critical in a mean-spirited way; nasty; belligerent; bullying
  26. Cliché — overused; trite; stale; unimaginative; hackneyed; commonplace
  27. Clinical — humorless; detached; unfeeling or uncaring; aloof; cold
  28. Complicated — unnecessarily complex; difficult to comprehend
  29. Condescending — patronizing; talking down to those you consider beneath you
  30. Confounded — confused; befuddled or mystified; bewildered; damned
  31. Confused — bewildered; unable to think clearly; vague; perplexed; disoriented
  32. Contemptuous — hateful; spiteful; quick to hold others in contempt; toxic
  33. Contentious — argumentative or combative; quick to stir the pot
  34. Critical — finding fault; complaining or criticizing; disapproving 
  35. Cruel — causing pain or suffering; unkind; spiteful; devoid of humane feelings
  36. Cynical — critical of motives; quick to assume the worst; mocking or sneering
  37. Derisive — mocking; sarcastic; dismissive or scornful; snide 
  38. Derogatory — insulting or demeaning; disrespectul; unkind 
  39. Detached — aloof or distant; uncaring; unfeeling; frigid; machine-like
  40. Diabolic — demonic or satanic; evil or malicious; 
  41. Diffident — lacking confidence in your ability or worth; timid or shy
  42. Disgusted — appalled; repulsed; repelled; disappointed
  43. Disparaging — critical; scornful; dismissive; insulting
  44. Distressing — saddening or heartbreaking; troubling; disturbing 
  45. Dogmatic — thinking in black and white; intolerant; inflexible; close-minded
  46. Domineering — imposing your beliefs and/or authority on others; tyrannical
  47. Dubious — questionable or having questionable motives; inclined to doubt 
  48. Egotistical — ego-centric; self-centered or self-absorbed; vain; arrogant
  49. Enraged — furious; unhinged; infuriated; extremely angry
  50. Evasive — cryptic or unclear; avoiding; ambiguous; elusive or evanescent
  51. Facetious — inappropriate or impertinent; flippant or dismissive; glib; shallow
  52. Farcical — ridiculous; absurd; mocking; humorous and highly improbable
  53. Fatalistic — pessimistic; expecting the worst as inevitable
  54. Fearful — frightened; afraid; terrified; paralyzed or immobilized; shy
  55. Flippant — casual or thoughtless; glib; inconsiderate; dismissive 
  56. Foppish — dandified; pretentious; vain; excessively refined and fastidious
  57. Foreboding — dread; strong feeling of impending doom or evil
  58. Frivolous — unnecessary and costing more than it’s worth; silly or lacking 
  59. Frustrated — feeling thwarted in your efforts; feeling besieged or undermined
  60. Ghoulish — delighting in the loathesome, perverse, or revolting
  61. Grim — serious or humorless; of dark intent; macabre; depressing
  62. Hapless — unfortunate or appearing to be doomed to perpetual bad luck
  63. Harsh — unkind or unmerciful; unnecessarily painful; unyielding 
  64. Humble — modest; deferential; self-confident; unassuming; respectful
  65. Inane — foolish; stupid; silly or nonsensical; vacuous; empty; insignificant
  66. Incredulous — disbelieving; unconvinced; suspicious; questioning; skeptical
  67. Malicious — having ill intent; mean-spirited; spiteful; vindictive
  68. Naïve — unsuspecting; gullible or easy to deceive; unsophisticated
  69. Narcissistic — self-admiring; pathologically self-centered
  70. Obsequious — fawning; overly submissive or obedient; servile; groveling 
  71. Outraged — furious or extremely angered; deeply offended
  72. Pretentious — affected; artificial; grandiose; flashy; superficial
  73. Satirical — mocking to show a weakness; ridiculing; derisive; scornful
  74. Sarcastic — ironic; saying the opposite of what you mean to mock or ridicule
  75. Scathing — harsh; critical; cutting; unsparing; vicious; harmful or injurious
  76. Sensationalistic — inaccurate; hyped up; exxagerated; provocative
  77. Subjective — biased; prejudiced; based on emotion rather than facts
  78. Sulking — resentful; sullen; bad-tempered; grumpy; self-pitying
  79. Tragic — calamitous; disastrous; catastrophic; devastating
  80. Uneasy — worried; ill at ease; edgy; nervous; unsettled
  81. Vindictive — vengeful; spiteful; petty; unforgiving; hateful
  82. World-weary — bored; tired; cynical; pessimistic

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Sad Tone Words

Some negative tone words leave you with an impression of sadness rather than disgust or anger.

Here’s a sampling of these, most of them described using other sad tone words.

  1. Apologetic — full of regret or remorse; repentant; acknowleding failure 
  2. Depressed — lacking in energy or buoyancy; apathetic; emotionally blunted
  3. Despairing — hopeless; sinking without an attempt to rise; seeing only darkness
  4. Disheartening — discouraging; depressing; demoralizing; undermining; sad
  5. Gloomy — depressing; dreary; discouraging; sad or low-spirited; pessimistic
  6. Grave — serious; morose or moribund; solemn; weighty; important
  7. Hollow — lacking substance; empty; meaningless; joyless
  8. Melancholy — sad or prone to sadness; having a gloomy outlook
  9. Pathetic — evoking pity; marked by sorrow or sadness; pitifully inadequate
  10. Somber — gloomy; solemn; grave; melancholy; depressing 
  11. Wretched — miserable; sorrowful; distressed or in agony; despairing

Neutral Tone Words

When you want a neutral tone in writing, it can be hard to find.

It doesn’t take much for us to associate words with an emotion or to feel the emotional undercurrent of a word — whether positive or negative and to whatever degree. But some neutral words remain. 

  1. Ambivalent — uncertain; having mixed feelings; undecided
  2. Cautionary — raises awareness; gives warning; admonishing
  3. Compliant — in conformity with rules/expectations; flexible; acquiescent
  4. Conciliatory — meant to pacify or placate; seeking to please 
  5. Colloquial — familiar; everyday language; casual or informal
  6. Defensive — defending or guarding a position; watchful; preventing aggression
  7. Formal — respectful; following accepted rules/styles; preserving form/custom
  8. Impartial — objective; not favoring either side over the other
  9. Intense — deeply felt; concentrated; passionate; earnest; extreme
  10. Introspective — inward-focused or turning inward; contemplative
  11. Pensive — lost in thought; introspective or reflective; contemplative
  12. Pragmatic — realistic; dispassionate or detached; ruled by logic; practical
  13. Solemn — serious; not funny; in earnest; sober; reverent; grave; mirthless
  14. Urgent — insistent; implying something must be done as soon as possible

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve looked through our list of tones, which ones stood out for you the most? What kind of tone did those words have (positive, negative, or neutral)? 

Sometimes, our moods make certain words stand out for us as more fitting or more resonant. And sometimes we just see them because we’ve used them or heard them used recently — in a way that made them stick.

I hope your life gives you plenty of reasons to use positive tone words. But some situations and contexts call for the opposite. Your current work in progress might call for plenty of the opposite. 

And in certain contexts, even the neutral tone words sound more negative than otherwise. The right context can even change the tone of words that are usually considered positive.

I hope the words you use to describe yourself are kind and encouraging. And at the end of the day, may the balance of your words leave you with a smile. 

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