Wednesday, September 23, 2009

English Pronunciation: Intonation for Questions

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Author: Mary Gillespie

Article to help English Speaking and English Pronunciation by PronouncePro American English Pronunciation Writing Staff.

Have a look at these two sentences, and read them out loud to yourself:

1) He goes to school.

2) He goes to school?

Looking at the sentences, you can see clearly by the punctuation that one is a statement and the other is a question. How do we convey that difference when we are speaking?

If you are an experienced speaker of English, you will have noticed something important about what happens to your pronunciation when you wanted to make the question. In both sentences, there was stress on the main words (goes and school). This means that these words were spoken with more emphasis, and the other words (he and to) were not emphasized. The main words were spoken slightly more loudly and longer, and were spoken at a slightly higher pitch than the non-stressed words.

In the question, the same words were stressed, but an additional layer of information was added. Experienced English speakers would have raised the pitch of their voices at the end of the question considerably higher than for the statement. That raised pitch indicates to the listener that a question is being asked.

In fact, turning a statement into a question by raising pitch conveys even more information. The raised pitch tells the listener that the speaker is surprised or even amazed. (What? He goes to school? I can't believe it).

Here are intonations patterns for questions that are important to recognize within American English pronunciation:

1- Rising intonation at the end of a yes/no question:

Do you live in New York?

Are you married?

2- Falling intonation at the end of a wh- question:

Where do you live?

What is your marital status?

Changes in these typical patterns convey extra information. If a speaker's voice falls when asking a yes/no question, the listener may easily interpret it to mean the speaker is annoyed or frustrated. If a speaker's voice rises at the end of a wh- question, the speaker is indicating to the listener that he or she is surprised by the information, or that the information needs to be repeated because it wasn't heard clearly.

Intonation patterns can be confusing for language learners, and it can be difficult to master them. It is important to be aware of them, though, and recognize how they can convey meaning in English. Improving your intonation patterns is a guaranteed way to improve your English pronunciation.

1 comments: on May 31, 2016 at 11:08 AM said...

Every sound of any language is pronounced in a certain way for one reason it's easier to speak this language. If you think that you will break the language then you are doing something wrong. You can also visit

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