You already know, as a writer, that your choice of words conveys more than the literal meaning. But what are tone words, and what do they add to your writing?
Tone words in literature draw you into someone else’s head by sharing some of the author’s perspective on what they’re describing. Tone words in an essay or blog post do the same.
We’re not as objective as we like to think, after all. Our choice of words gives us away.
But they can also make your work more interesting and relatable to your reader.
What are tone words?
An author’s tone words convey their attitude toward something. It can also communicate a particular character’s attitude. Good tone words can be positive, negative, or neutral.
Tone is often confused with mood, which is the way the reader feels as a result of the tone.
The best way to demonstrate this is by giving examples of tone words in a list that categorizes them by tone.
List of 175 Tone Words for Writers
Positive Tone Words
Adoring — To regard with esteem, love, and respect.
Amused — Finding something funny or entertaining.
Ardent — Passionate; Fervent; On fire
Assertive — Standing up for oneself; outspoken; strong-willed
Awestruck — Filled with or revealing awe.
Bold — Courageous; daring; acting without fear; not hesitating
Benevolent — Kind; Generous; Expressing good will
Calm — Serene; Tranquil; Peaceful
Celebratory — Paying tribute to; Feeling or expressing happiness or pride.
Chatty — Talkative; Cheerful; Sociable; Lively; Conversational
Cheery — Cheerful; in good spirits; positive
Comic or Comical — Humorous or funny
Compassionate — Merciful; Having or showing compassion; Kind
Curious — Eager to know or learn something; Inquisitive
Dignified — Having or showing a composed or serious manner worthy of respect
Diplomatic — Tactful; Using words strategically; Sensitive; Thoughtful
Direct — Honest; Straightforward; Getting right to the point
Docile — Teachable; Compliant; Accommodating
Earnest — Sincere; Serious in intention; Zealous
Ebullient — High-spirited; Overflowing with excitement or enthusiasm
Ecstatic — Rapturous; In a state of ecstasy or happy delirium
Empathetic — Having or showing empathy; Feeling what others are feeling
Enthusiastic — Excited; Ebullient; Filled with happy energy about something
Frank — Honest; Straightforward; Plainspoken; Matter-of-fact
Gentle — Kind; Considerate; Tender
Humble — Modest; Understanding one’s own value; Deferential
Humorous — Funny; Entertaining; Amusing
Impassioned — Filled with emotion; Passionate.
Informative — Giving Information; Educational
Inspirational — Encouraging; Motivating.
Intimate — Private; Familiar; Confidential; Having a close relationship
Joyful — Filled with joy; Happy; Filled with gratitude
Laudatory — Praising; Extolling; Recommending
Light-hearted — Carefree; Laid-back; Fun-loving; Positive
Loving — Full of love and affection; Showing deep concern
Objective — Relying on facts; Without prejudice; Fair; Impartial
Optimistic — Hopeful; Cheerful; Positive
Persuasive — Successful in persuading others or making a strong case; Convincing
Philosophical — Thoughtful; Pensive; Seeking wisdom; Analytical; Rational
Playful — Light-hearted; Fun; Full of good spirits; Jesting
Reassuring — Intended to remove doubts or fears.
Reverent — Having deep respect for something or someone; Deferential
Righteous — Morally right and just; Pious; Guiltless
Sincere — Honest; Genuine; Authentic; Earnest
Sonorous — Full or loud in sound; Resounding; Thunderous
Sympathetic — Understanding how another is feeling; Having fellow feeling
Thoughtful — Reflective; Pensive; Serious
Tolerant — Open-minded; Compassionate; Flexible: Forgiving; Patient
Unassuming — Modest; Genuine; Humble
Virtuous — Consistently showing virtue in word or action; Upstanding
Whimsical — Playful; Mischievous; Fanciful
Witty — Quick-witted; Clever; Amusing
Wise — Discerning; Prudent; Having balanced judgment
Wonder — Awe; Fascination; Surprise mixed with admiration
Negative Tone Words
Accusatory — Accusing; pointing the finger at someone
Aggressive — Pushy; Imposing one’s will on others; Hostile
Apathetic — Showing little or no interest or concern; Indifferent
Belligerent — Combative; Argumentative; Hostile
Bewildered — Confused; perplexed; puzzled
Biting — Sarcastic or cutting; insulting; hurtful
Bitter — Antagonistic; resentful; hostile
Brusque — Harsh or abrupt in manner; rough
Caustic — Harshly critical; Biting; Corrosive
Callous — Unfeeling; Uncaring; Cruel; Indifferent
Cautionary — Raising awareness or warning; Instructive
Churlish — Harsh or critical in a mean-spirited way
Conceited — Proud; arrogant; filled with hubris
Conciliatory — Appeasing; Intended to pacify or placate
Condescending — Arrogant; Talking down to someone; Patronizing
Confused — Bewildered; Confounded; Befuddled
Contemptuous — Showing contempt or loathing; Mocking; Scornful
Contentious — Quarrelsome; Argumentative; Disagreeing
Cruel — Merciless; Mean-spirited; Causing pain or suffering
Curt — Rude or abrupt in speech; Terse
Cynical — Assuming harmful motives; Mocking virtue; Sneering
Defensive — Defending one’s position; Oversensitive; Protective
Defiant — Disobedient; Contentious; Obstinate
Demeaning — Undignified; Attacking someone’s dignity or self-respect
Derisive — Insulting; Snide; Dismissive; Scornful
Desperate — Having an urgent need; Dire circumstances
Detached — Disinterested; Unbiased; Aloof
Diabolic — Fiendish; Evil; Outrageously wicked; Devilish
Disappointed — Unhappy because expectations were not met
Disbelieving — Rejecting or lacking belief in something; skeptical
Disdainful — Expressing contempt or a strong dislike
Disgusted — Feeling nauseated or appalled by something or someone
Disrespectful — Showing a lack of respect or deference
Distressing — Alarming; Troubling; Heartbreaking
Disturbed — Showing symptoms of mental illness
Doubtful — Having or expressing doubts; Uncertain; Questioning
Dramatic — Expressing oneself with an excess of drama or extreme emotion
Dreary — Causing sadness or draining of energy; Gloomy
Effusive — Overly demonstrative; Unreserved; Over the top
Egotistical — Acting or speaking to serve the ego; Egocentric; Self-centered
Embarrassed — Feeling self-conscious or ill at ease
Enraged — Infuriated; Furiously angry; In a rage
Evasive — Avoiding; Ambiguous; Unclear; Cryptic
Facetious — Flippant or inappropriate
Flippant — Shallow; Thoughtless; Glib; Superficial
Frustrated — Discouraged or annoyed
Ghoulish — Delighting in the loathsome or revolting
Grim — Serious; Depressing; Lacking humor; Gloomy or macabre
Gullible — Easy to deceive; Too quick to believe or trust; Naive
Hard — Unfeeling or uncaring; Hard-hearted
Hypercritical — Nitpicking; Unreasonably critical; Judgmental
Imploring — Begging or pleading
Impressionable — Naive; Credulous; Trusting; Childlike
Inane — Silly or foolish; Nonsensical; Stupid
Incensed — Angry; Furious; Enraged
Incredulous — Disbelieving; Suspicious; Unconvinced
Indignant — Angry; Annoyed; Offended
Inevitable — Unwanted but unavoidable; Just a matter of time
Irreverent — Lacking reverence for things generally held in reverence or sacred
Jaded — Bored; Cynical; Lacking enthusiasm
Judgmental — Quick to judge or find fault with others; Disparaging
Macabre — Frightening; Gruesome; Dark
Malicious — Wanting to harm others or see them suffer; Spiteful; Malevolent
Mean-spirited — Bearing and/or acting with ill will; Uncharitable
Mocking — Insulting; Belittling; Scornful; Ridiculing
Naive — Innocent; Immature; Unsophisticated; Unworldly
Narcissistic — Self-centered or egocentric; Self-pitying; Self-admiring
Nasty — Unpleasant; Mean-spirited; Unkind; Abusive
Negative — Pessimistic; Unhappy; Focusing on the negative
Obsequious — Overly submissive; Fawning; Grovelling
Outraged — Angered; Resentful; Furious
Pathetic — Arousing pity; Vulnerable
Patronizing — Portraying a feeling of superiority; Condescending
Pessimistic — Tending to see the worst in things
Pretentious — Showing off; Affected; Flashy
Resentful — Feeling or expressing bitterness
Sarcastic — Cutting; Insulting; Snide
Satirical — Mocking; Poking fun to show a weakness; Ridiculing
Sensationalistic — Inaccurate; Distasteful; Provocative
Scathing — Severely critical; Harsh; Injurious
Submissive — Obedient; Compliant; Passive
Sulking — Grumpy; Resentful; Sullen
Uneasy — Causing or feeling anxiety; Uncomfortable
Vindictive — Petty; Seeking to punish; Spiteful; Unforgiving
World-weary — Cynical; Bored or tired of life
Worried — Anxious; Troubled
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Sad Tone Words
Abashed — Embarrassed or ashamed
Aggrieved — Distressed; Wronged or Injured
Depressing — Causing sadness or apathy; Melancholic
Disheartening — Discouraging; Saddening; Demoralizing
Hopeless — Desperate; Discouraging; Despairing
Mourning — Grieving; Processing emotional pain
Morose — Sullen and ill-tempered
Regretful — Feeling or showing regret
Resigned — Showing acceptance to something unpleasant
Somber — Grave; Serious; Dark or dull in color or tone
Tragic — Causing extreme sorrow
Wretched — Miserable; Despairing; Sorrowful
Neutral Tone Words
Absurd — Silly; ridiculous
Blunt — Abrupt in manner; lacking in subtlety
Candid — Frank; Outspoken; Honest.
Colloquial — Informal; Casual; Using familiar, everyday language
Commanding — Imposing; Impressive; Having a strong presence
Complex — Not simple; Having many varied characteristics
Compliant — Acquiescent; Flexible; Pliable; Submissive
Concerned — Caring; Worried; Anxious; Apprehensive
Dispassionate — Impartial; Unsentimental; Indifferent
Forceful — Powerful; Spoken with force and energy.
Formal — Factual; Respectful; Following acceptable customs and rules.
Impassioned — Ardent; Filled with Emotion; Passionate
Informative — Educational; Factual; Instructive
Intense — Passionate; Concentrated; Deeply felt; Over the top
Ironic — Saying the opposite of what is meant
Nostalgic — Thinking fondly about or wishing for something from the past
Objective — Without discrimination; Based on facts.
Pragmatic — Realistic; Sensible.
Restrained — Controlled; Unemotional; Disciplined
Sentimental — Emotional; Thinking about feelings; Fondly remembering
Skeptical — Unbelieving; Questioning; Doubting
Solemn — Serious; Without humor.
Urgent — Requiring immediate attention; Pressing
Use this list of tone words to improve your writing
Now that you’ve looked through the tone words list, you probably recognized some of your favorites — as well as some you rarely use.
When you look through your current work in progress, what tone words do you notice, and what do they say about your attitude or that of your characters?
Are there any you use too frequently? And are your chosen words as clear or as powerful as they need to be?
If you’re not sure, check out our post on the best thesauruses for writers. And you can always skim through this post for ideas or to get some clarity on your word choice.