from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A sound of distinct pitch, quality, and duration; a note.
  • noun The interval of a major second in the diatonic scale; a whole step.
  • noun A recitational melody in a Gregorian chant.
  • noun The quality or character of sound.
  • noun The characteristic quality or timbre of a particular instrument or voice.
  • noun The pitch of a word used to determine its meaning or to distinguish differences in meaning.
  • noun The particular or relative pitch of a word, phrase, or sentence.
  • noun Manner of expression in speech or writing.
  • noun A general quality, effect, or atmosphere.
  • noun A color or shade of color.
  • noun Quality of color.
  • noun The general effect in painting of light, color, and shade.
  • noun The normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles.
  • noun Normal firmness of a tissue or an organ.
  • intransitive verb To give a particular tone or inflection to.
  • intransitive verb To soften or change the color of (a painting or photographic negative, for example).
  • intransitive verb To sound monotonously; intone.
  • intransitive verb To make firmer or stronger. Often used with up.
  • intransitive verb To assume a particular color quality.
  • intransitive verb To harmonize in color.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • In printing, to grade or soften with a graver, or roulette, or by etching certain parts (especially the edges) of (an illustration, usually an electrotype), as an aid in reducing the quantity of ink caused by pressure in printing.
  • noun In philology, a distinctive quality or pitch forming in some languages a fixed feature of the pronunciation of words, as in Chinese, Swedish, etc.
  • noun In telephonic testing, the humming noise produced by the introduction of an alternating or rapidly alternating current into the line
  • One: originally and usually preceded by the, and usually followed by the tother. See etymology. Compare tother.
  • To tune. See tune.
  • To utter in an affected or drawling tone.
  • To give tone or quality to, in respect either to sound or to color or tint.
  • In photography, to alter the color, as of a picture in finishing it, to give it greater brilliancy or a more agreeable tint.
  • To give a more subdued tone to; reduce or moderate the characteristic opinions or expressions of; render less confident, pronounced, or decided; soften.
  • To take on a particular tone; specifically, to assume color or tint.
  • To harmonize in tone, color, or tint.
  • noun Any sound considered with reference to its acuteness or gravity (pitch), openness, dullness, purity, sweetness, harshness, or the like (quality or timbre), or loudness or softness (strength or volume).
  • noun Specifically In musical acoustics, a sound having definiteness and continuity enough so that its pitch, force, and quality may be readily estimated by the ear, and so that it may be employed in musical relations; musical sound: opposed to noise. See sound.
  • noun Modulation, inflection, or accent of the voice, as adapted to express sentiment, emotion, or passion.
  • noun An affected or artificial style of intonation in speaking or reading; a sing-song or measured rhythmical manner of speaking.
  • noun In music, one of the larger intervals of a diatonic series or scale; a whole step or “whole tone” as distinguished from a half-step or semitone.
  • noun In Gregorian music, a melody or tune traditionally associated with a particular text; an ancient psalm-tune. See chant .
  • noun In medicine, the state of tension or firmness proper to the tissues of the body; the state in which all the parts and organs have due tension or are well strung; the strength and activity of the organs on which healthy functions depend; hence, that state of the body in which all the animal functions are performed with healthy vigor. See tonicity.
  • noun State or temper of mind; mood.
  • noun Tenor; spirit; strain; quality; specifically, the general or prevailing character or style, as of morals, manners, or sentiments, especially a marked degree of such style.
  • noun In painting, the prevailing effect of color, or the general effect produced by the management of light and shade in a picture: as, dark, light, or silvery tone.
  • noun A quality of color; a tint; a shade.
  • noun In chromatics, see the first quotation.
  • noun In photography, the color of a finished positive picture, in many processes due to a chemical operation supplementary to those of producing and fixing the picture: as, a print of a brown, gray, or black tone; also, sometimes, the color of the film of a negative, etc.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English ton, from Old French, from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos, string, a stretching; see ten- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English tone, ton, toon, from the incorrect division of thet one ("the/that one"). Compare Scots tane in the tane; see also tother.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From French ton, from Latin tonus ("sound, tone"), from Ancient Greek τόνος (tonos, "strain, tension, pitch"), from τείνω (teinō, "I stretch")


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word tone.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • "If you can't tone it, tan it." - TP after raging in the Sea Otter Short Track race.

    April 16, 2007