From Teflpedia

Intonation is the rise and fall of the voice when speaking,[1] the melody of a spoken language.

English is a stress-timed language. Sentence stress patterns are completely flexible, that is, the number and position of stressed words is not fixed and can depend on the speaker’s attitude, i.e. if they are angry, excited or being sarcastic.

Other typical cases of this are when emphasising, expressing surprise or irony, or asking a question.

Stress patterns[edit]

The key to understanding stress patterns is context. So, remember: stressed word = key information:

  • Where did you go on holiday last summer? – I went to Egypt on holiday last summer;
  • Did you go to Italy on holiday last Easter? – (No,) I went to Egypt on holiday last summer;

Unstressed words[edit]

In order to maintain the rhythm of the sentence, the unstressed words have to “fit in”. To do this, English makes liberal use of contractions, elision, linking, and weak forms:


I’ve, she’s, we’d, I’d’ve, you’ll, etc.;


In the example sentences above, went to is pronounced "wento"; to Egypt is pronounced [tuwˈiːdʒɪpt]; Egypt on sounds more like "egyp ton"; and last summer is pronounced "lassummer"; [aɪ ˈwen tuwˈiːdʒɪp tɒn ˈhɒlədeɪ lɑːs ˈsʌmə]

Weak forms[edit]

Weak forms occur when the “schwa” is used or another vowel change takes place, e.g. can sounds like /kən/ instead of /kæn/;

Intonation patterns[edit]

Rising intonation[edit]

We often use rising intonation in polar questions: Do you like tea?

Falling intonation[edit]

  • We often use falling intonation in answers to polar questions: No, there isn’t.
  • We use falling intonation in negative statements: I don't like milk.
  • We often use falling intonation in questions using question words: Where’s my book?