100 Tone Words to Express Mood in Your Writing

June 30, 2023

Have you ever struggled to find just the right word to describe an author’s attitude in a sentence or character in a scene? Or do you worry about repetitiveness in your word choice? Here is where exploring a wide range of tone or mood words will come in handy. Generating a robust inventory of tone or mood words will boost your writing’s analysis and accuracy. In addition, cultivating an arsenal of these terms will help you to more accurately assess the text that you aim to describe. Mastering this tone words list will help you become a better reader and demonstrate that in your writing.

What exactly is a tone word? Tone words help depict the mood or attitude of an author, speaker, or character in a certain context. In some instances, you yourself might use tone words not to describe the writing of another but in your own writing, to set the mood. Overall, tone words depict a kind of emotional quality or the attitude of a part of an argument. We can glean an author’s tone by analyzing their word choice, syntax, sentence structure, and perspective.

Tone vs. Voice

The tone differs from the overall style or voice of a piece. This is because tone can vary from situation to situation, moment to moment, and topic to topic so it’s important to deploy specific language to characterize it most accurately. The tone can be amused in one paragraph, defensive in the next, and lofty in yet another! (*The definition of all bolded terms can be found in the list below*).

Tone words demonstrate analysis and assessment of different kinds of texts. If you say “That op-ed was melodramatic” that means you interpret the article as being excessively emotional and therefore not the most reliable source. On the other hand, if you describe a report as scholarly and incisive, that means that you found the article likely well-researched, accurate, and straight to the point. By effectively terming the tone and mood of a piece, you offer a kind of summary and evaluation for your reader.

What is Tone in Literature?

Using tone words to understand and interpret a text for your reader goes beyond assessing whether an article is a valid source or not. By naming the tone and its shifts across the moment, character, and text you begin to tease out the complexities, layers, and contrasts within a work of art.

As an example of how we match a tone to a tone word , let’s take a look at an excerpt from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (a full analysis of the poem can be found here). The poet writes “long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth.” Here, the words “long I stood” indicate an enduring examination, emphasized further by the next few lines where the poet strains to look and assess as much as possible. We might use the tone words “philosophical” and “pensive” to describe the tone here. But of course, the tone shifts in nuance and gradation throughout the poem. We end on a different tone, where in the last stanza the speaker reflects back on that day and says “I shall be telling this with a sigh.”

Tone Words List (Continued)

This reflection of looking back on the past could be seen as a bit nostalgic for the moments prior to making the choice of which road to travel and perhaps regretful  of the choice he ultimately made, due to the fact that he will tell it “with a sigh.” But digging even deeper, because the short poem does not directly describe feelings or reach a clearly articulated conclusion, we could describe the tone as restrained and even verging toward evasive. By tracking the different tone words we might use to describe each part of a piece of writing, we get a clear picture of the emotional and rhetorical arc.

As you can see, we can interpret tone (and find the appropriate tone word) by analyzing the mood of the descriptive words or plot in a passage. If you’re reading a novel by Dennis Cooper or Toni Morrison you will likely encounter descriptions of and contemplations on death, the dead, and gruesome violence. Based on the description or plot points, you might then say those passages as macabre.

We can also assess tone by interpreting the type of language used. If you’re reading the poem “Having A Coke With You” by Frank O’Hara or “An American Poem” by Eileen Myles, you will likely encounter lines with a lot of everyday and conversational terms and phrases. In accord, you might describe such moments in these poems as colloquial.

Tone and Analyzing Literature

Tone words also emerge from analyzing the formal aspects of a piece of writing. If you’re reading Ernest Hemmingway or Jackie Ess you might encounter passages with a lot of short, unadorned sentences, devoid of excessive language or description. The tone words terse and curt might effectively convey the mood of those sections.

Lastly, tone words are a useful tool for the analysis of any text and might prove immensely powerful to use in your papers for humanities courses. If you are a creative writer, tone words can bolster the force of your storytelling, character development, and world-building. They can also provide you with a range of ways to bring out thematics and emotionality in your poetry with intention.

Positive, Negative, & Neutral Tone Words

Typically, you can categorize tone words into the categories of positive, negative, and neutral. I’ve indicated such connotations, when relevant, with a + for positive, – for negative, and = for neutral. Some tone words might have multiple or all possible connotations, as their meaning might and mood might depend on their context.

100 Tone Words

Below are 100 Tone Words and their definitions to familiarize yourself with and help make you a better writer!

1) Absurd:  unreasonably, ridiculous, illogical (-)

2) Accusatory: suggesting that someone has done something wrong (-)

3) Acerbic: sharply critical or sarcastic (-)

4) Admonishing: firmly warn, reprimand, or urge (-)

5) Amused: entertained, humored, or delighted (+)

6) Apathetic: indifferent; having no emotion or response (=)

7) Bitter: angry, hostile, or resentful (-)

8) Blunt: straightforward, plainspoken, candid (=)

9) Brusque: blunt, abrupt, or impatient (-/=)

10) Callous: uncaring, harsh, or ruthless in indifference (-)

Tone Words List (Continued)

11) Candid: frank, straightforward, honest (=)

12) Colloquial: using everyday, familiar, conversational language (not formal) (=)

13) Commanding: expressing a position of authority; powerful (+/=)

14) Curt: short, terse, often rudely so (-)

15) Concerned: worried, anxious (=)

16) Conciliatory: intending to pacify or appease; peacemaking (=/+)

17) Contentious: argumentative, provocative, controversial (-)

18) Cynical: distrustful, doubtful of sincerity or motives (-)

19) Defensive: trying to defend or protect; anxious to avoid criticism (=)

20) Demeaning: speaking down to someone, disrespectful toward others (-)

Tone Words List (Continued)

21) Derisive: mocking or ridiculing (-)

22) Disdainful: disrespectful, scornful (-)

23) Dignified: speaking in a way worthy of respect; serious, formal (+)

24) Diplomatic: speaking tactfully and conciliatorily in stressful situations; at times to advance one’s own ends (+/-/=)

25) Disparaging: derogatory, speaking poorly about something (-)

26) Earnest: sincere, serious conviction (=/+)

27) Ebullient: cheerful, energetic, exuberant (+)

28) Egotistical: self-absorbed, self-centered, very conceited (-)

29) Effusive: unrestrained and heartful expression of approval or pleasure (+)

30) Empathetic: imagining, relating to, or feeling what another feels; demonstrating a high level of emotional understanding (+)

Tone Words List (Continued)

31) Evasive: intentionally ambiguous, vague, or avoidant; roundabout or not direct (-)

32) Facetious: intentionally joking in attitude and unserious in intent (=)

33) Farcical: absurd, ridiculous, or silly (=)

34) Flippant: glib, unserious, lacking proper respect, dismissive (-/=)

35) Formal: official, professional, academic; thorough and precise (+/=)

36) Grave: evoking of impending threat; serious or solemn (-)

37) Humble: not arrogant, haughty, or egotistical (+)

38) Hypercritical: excessively judgmental, overly critical (-)

39) Impartial: not taking sides, unbiased, neutral (=)

40) Impassioned: great intensity of feeling or zeal (+)

Tone Words List(Continued)

41) Imploring: to frame a request in an urgent manner; to beg (=)

42) )Inane: unimportant, insubstantial, lacking significance (-)

43) Incensed: extremely angered by an injustice or wrongdoing, heated (-)

44) Incisive: clear and direct, trenchant (+)

45) Incredulous: skeptical, not wanting to or able to believe (=)

46) Indignant: upset at an injustice

47) Informative: providing clear information about a particular topic (+)

48) Intimate: warm, friendly, or personal (+)

49) Ironic: not being serious, saying something the author doesn’t mean cynically joking (=)

50) Irreverent: unserious, disrespectfully so; satirical (-)

Tone Words List (Continued)

51) Jaded: cynical or apathetic due to past experience or knowledge (-/=)

52) Jocund: lively, in high spirits, cheerful (+)

53) Judgmental: harsh and critical, at times without reason (-)

54) Laudatory: full of praise or admiration (+)

55) Light-hearted: easygoing, hopeful, cheerily optimistic (+)

56) Lofty: elevated style or sentiment; potentially condescending or arrogant (+/-/=)

57) Lugubrious: glum, mournful, or gloomy, especially exaggeratedly so (-)

58) Macabre: gruesome and horrifying; at times pertaining to grim death (-)

59) Malicious: intending to harm, embarrass, or upset a person or their reputation (-)

60) Melodramatic: overly emotional, sentimental, or sensationalizing (-)

Tone Words (Continued)

61) Mirthful: joyful, merry, full of cheer (+)

62) Mocking: making fun or someone or something, often by exaggeratedly mirroring them (-)

63) Naïve: unknowing, inexperienced, innocent (-/=)

64) Nonplussed (conventional use): perplexed, surprised, confused; (colloquial use) unimpressed, unfazed (-/=)

65) Nostalgic: affectionately thinking about or desiring the past; yearning to return to the past (=)

66) Objective: impartial, neutral, rational (+/=)

67) Obsequious: overeager to help or agree with someone, adoring and obedient attentiveness (-)

68) Optimistic: having a positive outlook on the future; hopeful about outcomes (+)

69) Outspoken: speaking without reservation; freely speaking; frank (+/=)

70) Patronizing: exhibiting an attitude of superiority toward others; condescending (-)

Tone Words List (Continued)

71) Pedantic: showy about one’s learnedness, concerned with small details, a tone of overly instructive (-)

72) Pensive: thoughtful, contemplative; at times tinged with sadness (-/+/=)

73) Pessimistic: having a negative outlook on the future; belief in a bad outcome (-)

74) Philosophical: calm, contemplative attitude toward possible disappointments or challenges (+)

75) Placid: peaceful, tranquil, serene (+)

76) Pragmatic: concerned with practical, rather than artistic, pleasurable, or decorative, matters; utilitarian (+/=)

77) Pretentious: exaggerated self-importance, particularly self-consciously attempting to appear smart or smarter than others (-)

78) Recalcitrant: Difficult to deal with, undisciplined, disobedient (-)

79) Regretful: sorrowful and apologetic because of what was done, lost, or gone (-)

80) Resentful: upset, bitter, or frustrated in response to mistreatment or wrongdoing by another to (-)

Tone Words List (Continued)

81) Resigned: accepting a negative fate or outcome that you cannot change (-)

82) Restrained: controlled, holding back, not saying the entirety of what might want to say (=)

83) Reticent: shy, reserved, or restrained in speech (-/=)

84) Reverent: demonstrated much respect, worshipful (+)

85) Righteous: strong belief in the correctness of one’s own actions (+/-/=)

86) Sanguine: hopeful, strongly optimistic (+)

87) Satirical: using irony, derision, and wit to make a critique; making fun of the powerful via parody (=)

88) Sarcastic: saying or doing the opposite of what one means in order to mock or insult (=)

89) Scathing: harsh and critical, severe, often unkind (-)

90) Scholarly: elevated, intellectual speech; formal, direct, and objective

Tone Words List (Continued)

91) Sensationalistic: intentionally shocking or exciting through style or content (=/-)

92) Sincere: serious, genuine, not deceitful (+)

93) Solemn: sober or grave (=)

94) Subjective: partial; describing feelings, judgements, or opinions; related to personal experience (=/-)

95) Terse: short, brief; potentially seeming rude or unfriendly (-/=)

96) Unassuming: modest, polite, lacking in arrogance  (+)

97) Virtuous: exemplifying moral excellence, uprightness; at times can mean someone who thinks themselves morally superior (+/-)

98) Whimsical: lightly fanciful, funny; at times motivated by whim or desire rather than reason or need (+/-/=)

99) World-weary: fatigued by or bored with the world (-)

100) Zealous: intense enthusiasm or passion (+)

Tone Words & Mood Words – Additional Resources for High School and College Students

In conclusion, we hope you found this list of 100 useful tone words to be useful. Additionally, you may find the following blogs to be of interest: