Often the definition of words and expressions found in the dictionary differ to the way the words & expressions are actually used.
Communication Tip:Using Correct Intonation
As we saw in the video, intonation can completely change the meaning of a word, phrase, or sentence. Check out the following examples for more examples showing how to use intonation and stress correctly when speaking in English.
In the following dialogue the man says – “That sounds all right with me!” In this context, the expression “all right” is used to express happiness and joy (so his intonation would sound excited (rising), not flat or falling). However, in the dictionary ‘all right’ means ‘satisfactory’. As you can see, it is the intonation and mood of the conversation which changes the meaning of the actual words used.
Dialogue 1 Man: What are you cooking for dinner? Lady: I’m cooking lasagna. Man: Wow! That sounds all right with me!
Dictionary definition = all right (adj.): satisfactory but not especially good Actual use in this context = Wonderful; great Intonation = Rising; excited and happy Gesture = Smiling or looking happy
In the following dialogue you will see another example of how the dictionary meaning of a phrase changes depending on the intonation one uses.
Dictionary definition = not bad (adj.): average; satisfactory but not especially good Actual use in this context = Not good, but not bad – just OK Intonation = Flat or falling; neutral. Gesture = Neutral facial expression or tilting head to the side
Dialogue 2b Man: How’s the coffee? Lady: (Sips coffee) Mmm…Not bad! Not bad at all!
Actual use in this context = Wonderful; great Intonation = Rising; excited and happy Gesture = Looking shocked in a good way or smiling
Finally, here are two more examples to show you how one’s intonation is key to expressing one’s true meaning.
Dialogue 3 Boss: I need you to work overtime tonight. Worker: Great! That makes me so happy.
Dictionary definition = great (adj.): wonderful; fantastic Actual use in this context = This is bad; I’m not happy (“great” is used ironically) Intonation = Flat or falling; neutral Gesture = Frowning or looking unhappy
Dialogue 4 Boss: I’m sorry, but everyone must work late tonight. Worker: Wonderful. That is just wonderful.
Dictionary definition = wonderful (adj.): fantastic; really good Actual use in this context = terrible Intonation = Flat or falling; neutral Gesture = frown or shaking one's head
Tip 1: It is very important to not only use intonation to show your true emotions or intended meanings, but also to help guide your understanding of what other people are really saying. Don’t just rely on the dictionary meaning of the words you hear, as intonation and context could change the dictionary meaning completely.
Tip 2: A lot of intonation comes from your emotions. So, if you want to sound happy – smile and raise your eyebrows! If you want to sound angry – frown and narrow your eyebrows!
As we learned in a previous post, stressing the correct word in a sentence can really help the listener understand your message more clearly. In this post we are going to provide some more examples of how stressing the correct word can be used to give specific information or to clarify something that has been misunderstood.
Examine the following dialogues to get a better understanding of how stress can be used to signal or clarify the key point of a sentence or question.
Situation: Mary’s red bike has been stolen from outside a café. A police officer is interviewing the manager of the café to find out what happened.
Police: Who stole Mary’s red bike? Manager: The man stole Mary’s red bike.
* Stating that it was the man who stole the bike, not the woman.
Police: So a man stole Mary’s red bike? Manager: No. Not a man, the man, stole Mary’s red bike.
* Clarifying that it was a specific man who stole the bike. The man must be present or known because the manager said it was “the” man, not “a” man.
Police: Did you say the woman stole the bike? Manager: No. The man stole the bike.
* Clarifying that it was the man who stole the bike, not the woman.
Police: What did the man do? Manager: The man stole Mary’s red bike.
* Confirming what happened.
The man didn’t crash the bike, ride the bike, or paint the bike. The man stole the bike.
Police: Whose bike did he steal? Manager: The man stole Mary’s red bike.
* Confirming whose bike was stolen. Mary’s bike was stolen, not John’s.
Police: Which one of Mary’s bikes? Manager: The man stole Mary’s red bike.
* Confirming which of Mary’s bike was stolen.
Mary’s red bike was stolen, not her blue bike or her green bike.
Police: What did the man steal? Manager: The man stole Mary’s red bike.
* Confirming what exactly was stolen. Mary’s red bike was stolen, not her car or her watch etc.
Study Tip:Improve Your English Intonation & Stress By Noticing! * Did you notice which word the police officer stressed in each separate question?
* Did you notice which word the manager stressed in each separate reply?
* Did you notice that the manager’s answer was always the same, but different words were stressed?
Bonus Tip: Focus on how people stress different words and then try to figure out why a particular word or phrase was stressed.
Grammar Tip: ‘A’/ ‘An’ vs. ‘The’
The definite article 'the' is used when you are talking about something specific or something known by both the speaker and the listener.
* I saw the man steal the bike. (It was a specific man and it was a specific bike.)
* The professor failed me. (The speaker and the listener both knew which professor the speaker was talking about.)
* The police officer asked me questions. (It was the police officer specifically who asked me questions.)
The indefinite articles 'a' (used with consonants) and 'an' (used when the noun begins with a vowel or a vowel sound) are used when talking about something nonspecific. ‘A’ and ‘an’ are also be used when talking about something you lack full knowledge of.
* I want to eat an apple. (I want to eat any apple you have – the type of apple is not important)
* I saw a dog eat a bone. (In general – i.e. The dog is not important, nor is the bone.)
* A man stole a bike. (A general example – i.e. the specific details are not important or not known)
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