Let’s look at all you can do with a simple word that is incredibly common in American English: really.
This two-syllable word can be used to express strong emotions and attitudes, all by changing the tone of your voice.
Listen to how we show mild doubt, surprise, extreme disbelief, and curiosity by changing our pitch and lengthening the stressed syllable.
You can also use the word “really” to tease or poke fun at another person.
Last but not least, you can use the simple word to affirm something, or say yes when someone has expressed disbelief!
As you’ll learn, you can change your stress and choose a different intonation pattern to show a variety of emotions, including interest, excitement, concern, worry, sympathy, and annoyance.
(Watch the video once, and then go back, repeat the video, and pause to practice as many times as necessary. I summarize the intonation patterns below, but you need to hear them to get the full effect!)
Remember, you may need to replace the default intonation you’ve developed over time.
With practice, the different patterns will become more familiar to you, and you’ll notice that you sound more expressive.
You can also apply these intonation patterns to similar words like, “Seriously?”
Neutral Intonation on “Really”
Let’s take a look at the normal, neutral intonation pattern we use with “really.”
Really is a two-syllable word, which means the first syllable is longer, louder, and higher in pitch: REAL-ly.
When I say something like “I’m really cold” or “I’m really tired,” I simply emphasize the first syllable and my pitch will only rise one step to indicate the stressed syllable.
(For more details on how to change your pitch to indicate word stress, check out my video on word stress in American English)
In a normal sentence, “really” will not stand out more than the rest of the words.
However, I can use the word “really” on its own in order to express different emotions and attitudes, which is extremely common in American English.
So let’s take a look at a couple of ways you can use “really” in order to share your ideas.
How to Express Disbelief with a Rising Tone
When I’m not sure if I believe somebody or I’m questioning what they have to say, I will change the tone of my voice in order to indicate this feeling of disbelief.
When I say “really” in this way, I start low and raise my voice high to show that what I heard is hard to believe.
If something’s incredibly hard to believe, I might even show more surprise through my voice by starting my pitch higher than normal and then continuing to raise it even more.
When saying “really” with such a high pitch, my tone communicates that I don’t believe what the other person has to say whatsoever and that I’m incredulous!
How to Show Surprise and Curiosity with Your Tone
If I want show surprise through my voice, like the word “Wow!” I’m going to start saying “really” with a lower pitch, raise high, and then drop at the end.
This tone expresses that I’m surprised, but that I do believe what the other person has to say.
If I want to show curiosity along with my surprise, and even tease or poke fun at the other person for something that they’re telling me, I’ll make the syllable “real” extra long and enthusiasm and amusement in my voice: reeeeaaaalll-
The reason you hear that drop at the end because “really” is not a question, but a statement of surprise.
How to Affirm or Confirm What You Said With Your Tone
Last but not least, you can use the word “really” in order to affirm, to say “yes” to something, or to confirm what you said is true.
If you’re telling a story, and someone expresses disbelief, and you want to affirm that what you’re saying is true, you can put a little more emphasis on the first syllable of “really.”
Your tone will rise on “real” and fall on “ly” as normal, but you’ll say the entire word as a complete statement. This means “real” will be held longer and there will be a steeper drop on “ly.”
This affirmative tone clarifies that you’re using the word “really” to say yes.
Now that you’ve learned four distinct intonation patterns that change the meaning of this one word, be sure to repeat them. Mastering these intonation patterns takes practice.
Listen to the video a few times and copy the differences in stress and tone I demonstrate with my voice.
You’ll soon be able to express different feelings with this incredibly common word.
If you like this lesson, there are 29 more inside the 30 Days of Intonation program. Over the course of a month, you’ll learn a variety of intonation patterns on useful words, phrases, and expressions so that you can feel more confident about the way you’re communicating your meaning in English.