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Tone Of Passage, Find Out Easily

Read this article for ways to know the tone of the passage and how to get better at reading comprehension.

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The tone of the passage is a common question that is asked in the Reading Comprehension (RC) of the CAT. You will have to judge the tone of the passage by analyzing the style of the passage, the writer’s contribution to it, choice of words, and much more.


The questions come in the usual form like:


  • Which is the best description of the tone of the following passage?
  • The tone of the passage is…?
  • The writer’s approach/ tone/ style of writing in the given passage can be termed:


Read on to find out how to find the tone of the passage.


Writers always have a motive when they write something. It may be to persuade a customer to buy any product. It may be to inform the reader about a particular subject, like this article. It may be to show your feelings to someone to convince somebody to do something. Leaders write and deliver provocative speeches to instill a spirit of rebellion in the crowd. Reporters write to convey facts and editors write a feature in newspapers to express an opinion. There are all sorts of purposes for writing.


When writers write to persuade someone to buy a product, they write in a tone that shows that the writer is personally invested in the well-being of the customer. The writer wants the customer to be happy and satisfied.


Authors can write and present a subject without opinions or biases. Such content is called ‘objective’ content. Objective content is free from biases and prejudices. These passages let the reader know nothing other than the unbiased and neutral fact. There is nothing hidden between the lines. There is no ulterior motive. 


Another way an author can write content is by adding their own opinions and views. This is not always easy to notice at first glance. Unsuspecting readers often miss the subtle connotations of biases and prejudices. Sometimes, it needs careful scrutiny to dissect a passage to separate the facts from the prejudices. This type of content is called ‘subjective’ content.


It is oftentimes hard to present any matter in a neutral and unbiased way. You can almost always carefully scrutinize something someone said to find out more than they intend to let you know.


Writers often can change the mass opinion of a fact or a public statement given by a famous person by simply changing the phrasing of the way the statement is presented. They can make the statement either supposed to be taken as a matter of grave concern or a matter of ridicule. 


To find the tone of the passage written, you will have to look at the writer’s contribution to the fact. For example, in the above example, whatever the famous has not said, has been added by the writer. It is important to note the phrasing, words used and voice among other tools.


When you encounter a question that directly asks about the attitude, you should analyze the passage thoroughly for any hidden indicators of tone. For example, often an initially positive tone is modulated later with the expression of doubts; or an initially rather dismissive tone might be rectified later by an honest admission of something worthwhile.


The degree or intensity of tonality also matters. Sometimes it becomes very easy to find out the tone of the passage because the author has made it quite evident and left no doubt about their intonation. For example. An author completely abhors something then it’s safe to say that he ‘’vehemently disagrees’ with it. But sometimes one line in the passage tries to moderate the tone of the previous line. In that case, we can say that the author may have a ‘slightly pessimistic’ attitude about it. 


Similarly, if the author appears to support something with conviction, it may be said that the author ‘completely supports’ it.


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There are some steps you should follow first before you attempt at finding the tone of voice of a passage:


  • Read the passage thoroughly at least 2 times. 
  • Try to answer how does reading the passage make you feel
  • Look at the answers or alternatives to see which option closely resembles what you feel
  • If you can’t say which option for sure, look at the passage again. It usually requires reading the passage multiple times but with practice, you can get much faster. 
  • In case you cannot describe your feeling into proper words or are confused between two or more choices,


    • Notice the adjectives and adverbs. The choice of words can tell you a lot about the tone.
    • Look at the phrasing. Do you think it could have done in any other way? Why is it written in exactly this way then?
    • Notice the comparisons, if any, being made.
    • Notice the structure and narrative of the sentence as a whole.


It is strongly advised that you practice lots of such questions if you think this is not your strong area. You’ll definitely get better. A general tip for the RC section is to read as much English content you can find around. Watch more English movies to learn the communicative form of the language and limit your use of any other language.


It is common in students who haven’t had a lot of exposure to content in English while developing language skills. Generally, students or people in general who watch a lot of English movies or read English books and have been doing that for a long time find it very easy to judge the tone and nuances of the language as well as a native speaker.


To develop your RC skills, you need to follow the same steps followed by a person trying to learn a new language. Surround yourself with as much English content as possible. Avoid using any other language until all the exam processes, like GD and PI, are over. If you have other friends who are preparing with you for the same exam, you can help each other out in this way and it would be good for everybody’s preparation.


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Common tones of passage in CAT


Below are some of the most common tone of passage that has come or may come in the Reading Comprehension(RC) section of CAT as well in other competitive exams.



  • Acerbic

  • Harsh

  • Caustic

  • Vitriolic

  • bitter

The acerbic tone is when there is an expression of strong dislike and disagreement with an idea, thing, or person. Through an acerbic tone, the author lets us know his loathing with a particular theory or may express his disdain towards a person in an acerbic/bitter/vitriolic tone. This is a hateful tone that is intentionally or unintentionally meant to cause hurt to the subject. Once you identify the tone, you will be able to answer the ‘author agree-disagree’ problems that are asked on the basis of the RC passage. One easy way to remember this is that acerbic refers to ‘acid’. ‘Acid’ is a harsh chemical that can decay anything. It is destructive, just like this acerbic tone.
  • Angry

  • Indignant

  • Aggressive
Anger is known to everyone. It is also a similarly destructive tone like the above type. Anger may be biased or justified. Nonetheless, it is an emotionally charged response to something. How do you describe your anger against an unfair system? You can do that by making some arguments, stating some facts, and instances of injustice as evidence. Similarly, the author aims to validate his anger by mentioning various reasons related to the issue. Such RC passages usually revolve around unjust systems or laws followed by some kind of power. Problems based on these types of passages are generally simple and easy to answer.
  • Apathetic
  • Emotionless
  • indifferent
This is when the author is totally uncaring towards the subject. Whatever he is describing or witnessing has no impact on him/her whatsoever. This is commonly used to show that a privileged person has no care for the struggles of the poor. It is also used to show a government’s lack of attempts at solving a public crisis. At that moment, the government is said to be apathetic/indifferent/emotionless towards the plight of the people suffering. For example, communists always claimed that the bourgeoisie was apathetic to the suffering of the proletariat 
ApologeticAn apologetic tone is used to represent remorse, regret, or guilt for a mistake, failure, accident, tragedy, wrongful act, or anything that may have caused someone else any harm.RC passages based on this tone generally talk of statements related to wars, natural disasters, failures, harm, or other such catastrophes that impacted many people adversely. It is common in these passages to include facts and figures to represent evidence in support of the statement
  • Belligerent
  • bellicose
A belligerent tone is when two parties who are in conflict/battle/war, have a conversation with each other. That conversation is called belligerent/bellicose/hostile. This is when the author adopts a belligerent tone of writing. An example is a conversation that the USA and the Soviet Union had towards each other during the cold war. RC passages of this type of tone are easily understood and let you easily analyze the answers to the questions.


  • Biased
  • prejudiced
A biased or prejudiced opinion or statement is when the author clearly shows allegiance towards one party over the other. Usually by openly supporting every action of one party. The author can also be called a hypocrite in this case. The author’s opinions have clouded his/her judgment and he/she cannot look at the facts objectively. Once you identify the author’s stand, you will be able to figure out the tone of the passage.
  • Commiserating
This type of tone is used to express grief or sympathy for a person or a group of people who have suffered or are suffering from some or other misfortune/trauma/mistreatment/ tragedy. For example, we feel sympathy for the families of the victims of a terrorist attack. The intention of the author is to understand and convey to the reader the suffering undergone by the victims.
  • Condescending
  • Patronizing
A condescending or patronizing tone refers to an attitude of showing the superiority of a particular thing/person/group over an inferior group. As you would expect, such RC statements may portray a snobbish or scornful tone with regard to things or people considered inferior in the author’s view.
  • Contemptuous
  • Derisive
  • disparaging
This kind of tone exhibits the author’s hate or contempt towards the subject. This is different from the condescending tone in the sense that contempt often involves hate directed toward a person as a result of his actions, not because of them being perceived as inferior as in the case of condescending tone. You have to watch out carefully. You will often find such statements treating the subject in a scornful and contemptuous way.


The cynical tone is when you are talking about a person you don’t trust completely. Maybe the author has had a bad experience with the subject or they are just a cynical personality. A cynical tone shows that the author is not convinced by the subject’s words or actions and believes that the subject may turn against and cheat anytime. For example, the cynical tone can be used to reveal the author’s opinion about a political leader’s words. A leader who words the author does not trust.


A dogmatic person has some firm and rigid beliefs and opinions regarding some things or people. These views may or may not agree with the majority. Dogma usually refers to hard and rigid religious beliefs that are forced upon people out of fear.

Here dogmatic tone comes into role. When the author is very assertive regarding his views and perspectives, he uses a dogmatic tone to make his point.



Emotional tone is an umbrella term for many different types of tones. It may be vague in comparison to other options so take caution. Emotional tone involves a description of feelings while making the point, or describing a story or an incident. It is better to read the passage again to find a more specific answer to what the tone might be.


Ethical means doing the right thing. Often what is ethical and what is not is decided by a person’s conscience. It can be simply explained as something morally right or wrong. The issues of ethics in every sphere like business, politics, and arts have assumed great relevance. Many people sacrifice ethics in order to grow faster. There is a lot of debate about many things as to whether they are ethical or not.RC passages having ethical tone are a common feature in the CAT. The author uses an ethical tone to focus on the issues of morality and honesty.


Euphemism is when you show your dislike without being offensive or showing clearly. Euphemism may or may not be amusing. It may also be used when the author does not want to say something directly. RC passages containing tone of euphemism make use of indirect and implicit sentences.


As the name suggests, a grandiose type of tone is adopted in passages written in a descriptive or grand style. The passage may appear more elaborative than usual. It may be used by the author while describing something like a castle or a palace.


A humanistic tone of writing is most suitable to issues related to welfare, philanthropy, and other such human affairs. For example, when an author describes human values like self-respect, ambition, etc. that are also requirements of a person.


Probably the most interesting tone of writing, a humorous tone is funny and witty at the same time. This is also easy to catch because they usually induce laughter. Although humor can be subjective as some things may be funny to one person but not to the other person. The example of a humorous tone can include instances when there are comparisons being made between two unlikely things.  


The introspective tone is when the author is talking about their feelings and thoughts. Introspective thoughts are a result of self-reflection and deep contemplation. For example, it may raise a question about life and the universe, or meaning to things we do.

Incendiary/ provocative

Have you ever heard a speech of a powerful orator and found yourself deeply moved and ready for action. This is an example of a provocative or incendiary tone. Words are a powerful tool and can be used to rouse masses as has happened in all the past revolutions and battles in history. Soldiers are regularly subjected to provocative tone when in a war to rouse their anger. It is also a common tone used during election rallies to garner votes.





To laud means to praise. A laudatory tone is used to praise or admire something or someone. When the author is lauding someone’s achievements or winning an award or just out of pure admiration, he/she uses a laudatory tone. Celebrities are often lauded before their entrance on a show.


The motivating tone is also a tone that is used to induce action in a person. But the difference between motivation and provocation is the intent. Motivation is positive and beneficial for work. Motivation is personal. Examples of motivational tone ask us to be a better version of ourselves and urge us to perform better. It is usually used in the context of sports and personal goals.


When a passage seems to appear neither interesting nor complex to you, it probably has a pedestrian tone of writing. In other words, this pedestrian tone is used when the RC passage mentions commonplace topics, things, and ideas.


As the name says, a populist tone is used to talk about theories, phenomena, and characteristics exhibited by the general populace. Populist ways are often popular among the masses, but they may or may not be rational. The author uses a populist tone to convey things that are favored by the masses or the majority.    


A romantic passage or tone contains fanciful language and a bit of exaggeration. The purpose of a romantic tone is to portray an image that is grander than reality. It is quite subjective. It is easy to detect such tones in the RC passages.  
  • Sarcastic

  • Satirical

  • Ironical

  • taunting

Sarcasm is a little different from a humorous tone. Sarcasm also induces laughter but in a subtle way. Sarcasm contains undertones of dislike and dissatisfaction. It often sounds like a taunt. Sarcasm is a jibe at the subject. The author expresses his disagreement with the help of a sarcastic and satirical tone without being directly hurtful. 


Speculation is when we try to forecast or predict future events. Like the trends of the stock market or the new policies in a budget or some weather forecasts. We find various speculations in newspapers- economic, climate, political, etc. Similarly, RC passages talking about any such phenomena adopt a speculative tone of the passage. Such passage often contains expectations on the basis of calculations.
TechnicalTechnical writing contains matter specific to a subject. It is often full of technical jargon pertaining to that particular subject. The author of the technical passage tends to use technical terms while using this tone. This type of tone is usually used to discuss the core ideas of particular fields of study, like rocket science. Such passages are generally supported by lots of facts and figures.

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Gaurav is a Content Writer at IIM Skills. He has a B.Tech. degree but then he switched to the creative side by doing his master's in advertising and public relations. Gaurav is also a part-time blogger and graphic designer currently living in Mumbai

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