Rising and falling intonation

I have been told that rising and falling intonation can change the meaning of a sentence. For me as a non-native speaker of English this may sometimes cause misunderstanding. In the following construction, can be there any differences in meaning in terms of using rising or falling intonation?

  1. Do you want me to call Tim’ or Jack?

  2. Do you want me to call Tim or Jack’?

  3. Do you want me to call Tim’ or Jack’?


All spoken languages use intonation, either for meaning of sentences, meaning of words, or as a byproduct of pronunciation. That said, each speaker will have their own way of intoning words and phrases that fits their personality or mood-at-the-moment. Generally speaking, though, your first sentence, in English, is an “either or” tone structure. Usually, the first choice is spoken with rising intonation and the second with descending:

Would you like X (up) or Y (down)?

What is confusing for foreign speakers is that they are told that in English, sentences are designated as question sentences with a rising intonation at the end. This is only partly true and depends on the accent of the speaker. For example, in the question,

“Where is the bus stop?”

The rising intonation happens on the interrogative, “where,” and not on “stop.” However, I have heard people with an Irish accent speak the sentence with a rising tone on “where” and “stop,” which for me seems unnatural. I teach American English with a “Chicago Broadcast” accent.

In examples 2 and 3, the names “Tim” and “Jack” are being emphasized. I don’t know the situation, so I can’t really say why those would be stressed, but they seem unnatural to me. One thing I have noticed is that when trying to see if something “sounds right,” the repetition tends to make anything “sound right.” Example 2 seems like a speaker trying to impose question intonation on a sentence which should have “either or” intonation.

If you’d like to explore this subject more there are a few books. I have used this book for several years, and found it very helpful. Also, I have followed this Youtuber for a while and she has good information. Keep in mind that English is spoken in many different ways, so a British speaker (and there are hundreds of accents) has different intonations that an American or Australian or someone from India.

Source : Link , Question Author : Mohamed Ali , Answer Author : michael_timofeev

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