In this section, you will be asked to consider tone. Here’s a way to think about tone:

Similar to mood, tone describes the author’s attitude toward his or her material, the audience, or both. Tone is easier to determine in spoken language than in written language. Considering how a work would sound if it were read aloud can help in identifying an author’s tone. Some words describing tone are playful, serious, businesslike, sarcastic, humorous, formal, ornate, and somber.

—Cliff’s AP Prep Guide 

take notes icon The excerpt below is from a speech written by prominent South African civil rights activist Desmond Tutu. In it, he discusses the political situation in his country. As you read the excerpt, find the words that have connotative meaning and write them down using your notes. When you finish, review your list and try to determine the tone or the attitude of Tutu.

“The Question of South Africa”

by Desmond Tutu

I speak out of a full heart, for I am about to speak about a land that I love deeply and passionately; a beautiful land of rolling hills and gurgling streams, of clear starlit skies, of singing birds, and gamboling lambs; a land God has richly endowed with the good things of the earth, a land rich in mineral deposits of nearly every kind; a land of vast open spaces, enough to accommodate all its inhabitants comfortably; a land capable of feeding itself and other lands on the beleaguered continent; a land that could contribute wonderfully to the material and spiritual development and prosperity of all Africa and indeed of the whole world. It is endowed with enough to satisfy the material and spiritual needs of all its peoples.

And so we would expect that such land, veritably flowing with milk and honey, should be a land where peace and harmony and contentment reigned supreme. Alas, the opposite is the case. For my beloved country is wracked by division, by alienation, by animosity, by separation, by injustice, by avoidable pain and suffering. It is a deeply fragmented society, ridden by fear and anxiety, covered by a pall of despondency and a sense of desperation, split up into hostile, warring factions.

Now look carefully at the list you made for the first and second paragraphs. To see some words that you could have chosen from the first two paragraphs, click the “Check Your Understanding” link below. You should notice a difference in the kinds of words you wrote down from the first to the second paragraph. For example, you might write the word “full” that Tutu uses to describe his heart. “Full” is a positive word used to describe a heart overflowing with emotion. This helps you understand that the first part of the essay contains a positive tone.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:
In your word lists, you might have highlighted:

First paragraph: full, love, deeply, passionately, beautiful, rolling, gurgling, clear, starlit, singing, gambling, richly endowed good things comfortably, wonderfully

Second paragraph: milk and honey, peace, harmony, supreme, division, alienation, animosity, separation, injustice, pain, suffering, fragmented, fear, anxiety, despondency, desperation, split-up hostile, warring factions

Read the word list below. Positive words are in orange and more negative words are in black. See if you can find a word to describe the tone of the first paragraph and then another word to describe the tone of the second paragraph.

Angry Sad Sentimental Afraid Sharp Cold Fanciful Detached Upset Urgent Complimentary Contemptuous Silly Joking Condescending Happy Boring Poignant Sympathetic Confused Apologetic Hollow Childish Humorous Joyful Peaceful Horrific Allusive Mocking Sarcastic Sweet Objective Nostalgic Vexed Vibrant Zealous Tired Frivolous Irrelevant Bitter Audacious Benevolent Dreamy Shocking Seductive Restrained Somber Candid Proud Giddy Pitiful Dramatic Provocative Didactic Lugubrious Admiring

take notes icon Using your notes again, write your responses for the blanks in the two questions that follow. Check your understanding when you are finished to see a possible response.

  1. The tone in the excerpt’s first paragraph is _____________.

  2. The tone in the excerpt’s second paragraph is ____________.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

  1. Answers will vary, but possibilities include “happy” or “joyful.”
  2. Answers will vary, but possibilities include “upset,” “angry,” or “sad.”