This section covers the following topics

  • What is meant by ‘tone’?
  • Various Tones
  • The Tips
  • How do we reach at the final answer?
  • Practice Passage
  • Depth of Tone

What is meant by ‘tone’?

Firstly, what is really meant by tone? The ‘tone’ refers to the feelings or emotions expressed by the author towards an issue. It could also encompass his style of writing. What sentiment does the author express towards the subject? That is the tone. An example would better reflect what we are attempting to state. Consider a title such as ‘The dismal state of Indian hockey’. Now how does such a title express the author’s tone? The answer is that through the usage of the adjective ‘dismal’ here, the author’s sentiment towards the subject of hockey is also conveyed to the reader. We know how the author feels.

Various Tones

Let us take up some examples of tones and discuss how one can recognize these. We shall discuss some important tones that could appear as answer options in the entrance exams.

Descriptive or Informative 

This tone is appropriate when the author has given a lot of figures, facts or data in the passage. The author’ purpose of writing the passage/ article was to increase the reader’s knowledge of the given issue or subject. Hence a lot of details are given.
A characteristic of passages with a descriptive/ informative tone is therefore the presence of data, facts etc and the relative absence of opinions.

Examples of passages where a descriptive/ informative tone is used
• Passages dealing with events in history: giving details of some battle, dates, information about the rule of some civilization, king etc
• Passages dealing with some technology: providing details about some gadget, describing the features of some instrument etc
• Information about some building, landmark, historical place etc. For example, the passage may describe the Qutab Minar, giving information about when it was built, who built it, the material used for its construction etc.



It is typically used for passages when the author expresses his views on some issues and takes a stand-is this person or issue right or wrong? Is this good or bad? Is someone intelligent or dumb? These are all judgements. Therefore the characteristic of such a tone is the presence of opinions or the author’s perception/ views on a person, thing or issue.

Examples of passages where a judgemental tone is used
• An expert giving his verdict on some issue-could be an automobile expert speaking about a car and providing his opinion on what is good or bad about the new vehicle, or a connoisseur of food providing his opinion about a dish, for example,While Kashmiri is more meat-based, Jammu food is largely vegetarian.

  • A follower or fan speaking about an issue close to his heart. For example, someone writing about a particular player. Both Harshal and Avesh played with a lot of heart. The way Avesh rushed it onto the batsmen on this pitch, something world-class bowlers couldn’t do, was impressive.”We know Harshal’s skill set and he took three big wickets, it’s unfortunate he couldn’t play more,” he said.



This is quite an important tone, for there are several passages that appear in Placement Tests where this tone is appropriate as an answer choice. What is the characteristic of such a tone? The characteristic of an analytical tone is the presence of reasons or logic/ justifications to support something. In such passages, the author tries to analyze an issue, presenting the pros and cons, or compares two or more things and tells you why he feels something is better etc.

Examples of passages where an analytical tone is used
• An author stating that he feels something could happen in the future and providing reasons to justify why he feels in that manner
• An analysis of some event in the past-reasons given to explain a certain event, action etc. For example, the author could analyze why India won the last cricket match etc.
• The author comparing two or more things and justifying why he feels something is better
• Passages in which the pros and cons of a certain action are weighed. For example, should Company A acquire Company B? The decision needs to be analyzed and reasons given both for and against the issue.
The next article shall continue with the ‘tone of the passage’ and discuss certain other tones which often appear in the passages given in various exams.

The Tips

The tips for this question type let us explore what tone/attitude stands for. Every author adopts a certain attitude towards the issue he is talking about. Some wish to highlight the facts about a matter (thereby adopting a ‘factual’ tone); some wish to explore the pros and cons of a decision (thereby adopting a ‘critical’ tone); some wish to explore each and every facet, cause, effect and so on with regards to a certain topic (thereby adopting an ‘analytical’ tone); some wish to narrate an instance from their life (thereby adopting a ‘sentimental/narrative’ tone); some wish to express their emotions, happy or sad (thereby adopting ’emotional/happy/grief-stricken’ tones). These different reasons/methods of expressing themselves actually become the tone of the author. Now that you have a basic understanding of tones, the next step is: how do you identify these tones.

Things to consider for the title question

  • Identify the nature of the passage
    The first classification for the passage is that you understand whether the passage is highlighting facts only or does it also reflect the opinions of the author. This is an important classification. Classify all tones that you know of into these two categories. For example, the objective tone is a factual one, and criticizing someone is only possible with the help of opinions.
  • Identify passage sentiment
    The second thing that you need to do is understand the sentiment of the passage i.e.whether the passage can be classified as:Positive: the author is appreciating something

Negative: the author is criticizing something

Neutral: the passage does not fall into any of the above categories

Classify all tones that you know of into these three categories. For example: being appreciative reflects a positive approach, being sarcastic reflects a negative approach and being objective is neutral in nature.

  • Identify the adjectives/adverbs used in the passage
    Make a mental note of the language used by the author, and what kind of adjectives he is using. Adjectives reflect the mood and emotions of the author.
  • Make a note of conflicting attitudes
    Understand and identify where the author changes his attitude and starts to move along different lines. It is important to understand these mood changes, and from this understanding, try to infer the most dominant sentiment in the passage. A common mistake committed by students is that they focus on one particular sentiment only, whereas the author has displayed multiple ones in the passage. Remember, you need to pick the sentiment which dominates the passage and co-related with the central idea of the passage.
  • Make a list of all relevant adjectives you discover: make your own ‘tone’ list
    It is easy to find a list of common RC tones but you are advised to make your own list of tones, and put in all the relevant adjectives that you discover in tests, mocks and so on. Having your own list will gel with your vocabulary levels and ensure that all bases are covered for you.

How do we reach at the final answer?

  • Identify the nature of the passage (facts or opinion), and eliminate the options that do not match with your analysis.
  • Identify the passage sentiment and again eliminate options that do not match with your analysis.
  • Identify the main idea of the passage, and co-relate it with the tone of the passage (there should be synergy between the two).
  • Keep 3 and 4 in mind while marking your answer.
  • Also, you should try to label the tone of the passage in your own words, and see which one co-relates with the author of the passage.
  • Eliminate options. Do not select an answer, always eliminate options and be sure why you are rejecting a particular option.

The above forms some of the basic things that you should be doing for a Reading Comprehension tone question. Using these tips and strategies will surely going to help us master this question type.

Remember Passages can be branded into three broad categories of tone Explanatory, Analytical or Opinionated. Explanatory, which can also be considered descriptive, is characterized by an arm’s length relationship between the author and the topic. The author offers no opinion, suggestion or analysis of the issue at hand. Analytical is the tone when the author wants to analyze a situation or topic. The tone will not necessarily be overt, but it will be somewhat suggestive and may contain some subjective passages. Finally, the tone can be characterized as opinionated if the author is clearly presenting their opinion or evaluating a hypothesis.

Let’s look at a passage and answer a question using the tone as a guideline:

Practice Passage

Young Enterprise Services (YES) is a federal program created to encourage entrepreneurship in 14-18 year olds who have already shown a clear aptitude for starting business ventures. The program, started in 2002, has provided loans, grants, and counseling – in the form of workshops and individual meetings with established entrepreneurs – to over 7,500 young people. The future of YES, however, is now in jeopardy. A number of damaging criticisms have been leveled at the program, and members of the Congressional agency that provides the funding have suggested that YES may be scaled down or even dismantled entirely.

One complaint is that the funds that YES distributes have disproportionally gone to young people from economically disadvantaged families, despite the program’s stated goal of being blind to any criteria besides merit. Though no one has claimed that any of the recipients of YES funds have been undeserving, several families have brought lawsuits claiming that their requests for funding were rejected because of the families’ relatively high levels of income. The resulting publicity was an embarrassment to the YES administrators, one of whom resigned.

Another challenge has been the admittedly difficult task of ensuring that a young person, not his or her family, is truly the driving force behind the venture. The rules state that the business plan must be created by the youth, and that any profits in excess of $1,000 be placed in an escrow account that can only be used for education, investment in the venture, and little else, for a period that is determined by the age of the recipient. Despite this, several grants had to be returned after it was discovered that parents – or in one case, a neighbor – were misusing YES funds to promote their own business ideas. To make matters worse, the story of the returned monies was at first denied by a YES spokesperson who then had to retract the denial, leading to more bad press.

In truth, YES has had some real success stories. A 14-year old girl in Texas used the knowledge and funding she received through the program to connect with a distributor who now carries her line of custom-designed cell phone covers. Two brothers in Alaska have developed an online travel advisory service for young people vacationing with their families. Both of these ventures are profitable, and both companies have gained a striking amount of brand recognition in a very short time. However, YES has been pitifully lax in trumpeting these encouraging stories. Local press notwithstanding, these and other successes have received little media coverage. This is a shame, but one that can be remedied. The administrators of YES should heed the advice given in one of the program’s own publications: “No business venture, whatever its appeal, will succeed for long without an active approach to public relations.”

The author of the passage would most likely describe YES as a _______

  1. A) Failed enterprise that is beyond repair
    B) Noble effort that has been hampered by external factors
    C) Limited success that can be improved through greater fiscal responsibility
    D) Potentially worthy program that has been mismanaged
    E) Waste of public resources that should never have received funding


Before diving into the question, let’s analyze the author’s tone and try and determine which of the three major categories it should fall into (explanatory, analytical, opinionated). It should be fairly clear that this passage is not explanatory: the author often interjects his opinion (“YES should…”) and uses personal opinion liberally (“this is a shame…”). Furthermore, the fourth paragraph reads like the conclusion of an opinionated editorial in the newspaper: “YES should heed the advice given in one of the program’s own publications.” The author clearly believes strongly in the advice he’s dispensing. This passage should be categorized as opinionated, as the author certainly does not shy away from presenting his thoughts on YES’ current predicament.

Looking again at the question, the author of the passage would likely describe YES as some kind of program with a good idea that hasn’t executed properly. Answer choice A contradicts the entire point of the fourth paragraph wherein the author lays out his plan to save the program. Answer choice E also takes it way too far and is borderline hateful. Neither of these options captures the author’s tone. Thus, we can easily eliminate them.

Answer choices B, C and D all speak of how the program is okay but has had some troubles, so let’s examine them one by one. Answer choice B mentions that this noble effort has been hampered by external factors, which is incorrect. All the problems illustrated have been internal factors. It wasn’t the government, the economy or the Republic of Wadiya that have caused problems; it was the administrators and management within the company. This leads us towards answer choice D, which is roughly analogous to B with the word “external” being replaced by “internal.”

What about answer choice C, though? The limited success part seems correct, but again the reasoning that greater fiscal responsibility will resolve the underlying issues is unsupported by the text. The author meticulously made the case that management needs to respect their own criteria and work at improving their public relations image. The financial side of the business never really came up, so it won’t help atone  for the poor choices that have been made in the past. Answer C can be eliminated, leaving only answer choice D, which already seemed like the correct response.

When it comes to reading comprehension, it is important to understand the words written on the page, but also to pay attention to the author’s tone. Often questions concerning tone won’t ask you to regurgitate information written on the left-hand side of the screen, but rather to make a classification of the author’s opinion or thoughts. When such questions arise, understanding the author’s tone helps you a ton.

Depth of Tone

We introduced the concept of ‘tone of the passage’ and explained what it means. We stated that the ‘tone’ of the passage refers to the feelings or emotions expressed by the author towards an issue. It could also encompass the author’s style of writing. I also discussed the descriptive/ informative, judgmental and analytical tones.

This time, we shall discuss certain other important tones.

Sarcastic/ Satirical

Such a tone is used for passages where the author has subtly made fun of a person, the way an issue is being handled or situation. This is the major characteristic of such a tone.

A good example of satire would be the cartoons that one sees in newspapers. Consider the well-known ‘You Said It’ cartoon that commonly appears in the Times of India. RK Laxman’s satire is there for all to see-the manner in which he gently portrays the issues facing the common man and highlights the fallacy of statements made by politicians etc.

The following statement reflects sarcasm
“Too often sports bodies in our country are in the hands of politicians. And you know how our politicians are.” Do you notice the somewhat subtle attack on politicians in the statement? Reading a few passages demonstrating sarcasm or satire would help you immediately recognize such a tone. Such passages could be on any topic, whether it is politics, economics, sports, social issues etc. What matters here is not the subject per se, but how the author writes about it and makes fun of the situation-not openly or in a blatant manner but subtly.


 Bemoaning/ Regret/ Lamenting

These words are more or less synonyms, used to express a similar sentiment-that of loss. This tone is appropriate when the author wishes to express regret or sorrow about a particular issue. The author feels sorry for something, someone or about something. For example, one could regret the loss of life in terrorist attacks or the presence of corruption etc. A traditionalist might lament the loss of traditions, cultural values etc.
The characteristic of this tone is therefore the presence of sentiments associated with loss and the author feeling sorry or sad about something.

Examples of passages where this type of tone is used
• A passage where the pain or anguish over the loss of something is expressed-could be a loss of lives, values etc
• A passage in which the author expresses his strong disapproval over something-could again be the loss of values, the prevalence of corruption etc



The word ‘candid’ means to be open, frank, honest or upfront. Nothing is kept hidden. Thus the word candid is appropriate as the tone for passages in which the author has admitted something, while being frank and open about his views. The characteristic of this tone is thus forthrightness, openness and being frank. It is almost like a confessional statement being made.
For example, a student may admit that his preparation for an exam was not good enough; a CEO may admit that the product his company launched was a failure etc

Examples of passages where a candid tone is used
• The CEO or a high-ranking official of a company admitting that there were problems in the company/ with a particular product etc
• A scientist admitting that his experiments were a failure or a particular technology didn’t work
• Somebody writing that he admits that he was wrong etc.


 Prescriptive/ Sermonizing

This tone is appropriate when the author has told the reader to do something-the author gives advice, recommendations or suggestions.
A prescription is similar to the advice a doctor gives you-he tells you to do certain things: for example, a doctor may advise you to take rest, or take a certain medicine a certain number of times in a day and for a certain number of days. A sermon is the talk given by a religious teacher, often telling his followers to believe in something, live their lives in a particular way, follow some practices etc. Think of Jesus Christ’s ‘The Sermon on the Mount’.
The characteristic of this tone is thus the presence of certain advice or suggestions given by the author to the reader.

Examples of passages where a prescriptive/ sermonizing tone is used
• A religious discourse in which a spiritual guru gives certain advice to his followers
• An expert in afield giving advice or suggestions to individuals or corporates or others on any matter in which he is a recognized expert
• A teacher telling a student how much to study/ how to study, what he should or shouldn’t do etc


 Critical/ Extolling

These ones are relatively easy, and you should not have much difficulty in identifying when the other has criticized something or someone or has praised it (the word ‘extol’ means ‘to praise’.



So, we have discussed some of the tones that we may come across while attempting RC passages in the Placement or other exams. Do not forget that the more we read and practice, the easier it shall become for us to understand which tone has been used by the author. As we often hear, there is no substitute for reading!