Tones of Passages - CatOMania

  • In this article we will learn

    • What do we mean by the tone of a passage?
    • Different types of tones?
    • Discussion of Acerbic, Critical, Informative, Analytical and Introspective
    • Few practice questions

    First things first, What do we mean by the tone of a passage?
    As we already know, every passage is written to put across the author’s thoughts and feelings to the readers. Sometimes it might be very evident from the words used in the passage that what is the tone of the author/writer; but most times it isn’t. We have to read the passage very carefully and weigh all the options in the question so as to come to a conclusion about the tone.

    Does the tone necessarily stay the same throughout the passage?
    Ideally, yes. Having said that, there have been instances in the past in CAT where the author started with one tone and changed into a milder/harsher tone towards the end. In case there is a tone switch, the paragraph in which the tone needs to be analysed will be given. E.g. What is the tone of Para 2 in the above passage? Etc.

    What are the different tones that a writer/author might use to communicate his point to the reader?
    There can be multiple possible tones to a passage. An author might write a passage with a hint of sarcasm; or he could simply be expressing his anger and anguish towards a situation. He/she might be critiquing a piece of work and analysing and comparing the work of various people in a particular field. Not always are options given in words as straight forward as ‘Anger’ or ‘Joy’. Below is a list of some of the most commonly seen options for such questions (Note: This is not a comprehensive list but it does include most, if not all, possible tones).

    S. No. Tones/Options Meaning
    1 Acerbic Harsh, mean, bitter. (Like an acid)
    2 Aggressive Forceful, Choking personal views down reader’s throat, might even be offensive
    3 Belligerent Hostile, trying to pick a fight with someone or the reader
    4 Biased Favoring one party over the other
    5 Caustic A lot like Acerbic. Mean, acidic (like caustic soda)
    6 Commiserating Empathetic, displaying sorrow, pitying someone
    7 Condescending Implying that something is not of superior quality or nature. Demeaning
    8 Cynical Implying that people are selfish or considering only the dark side of matters. Negative
    9 Derisive Displaying contempt. Insulting
    10 Euphemistic Expressing harsh or offensive things in a polite or mild manner
    11 Dogmatic Adamant about opinions, dictatorial
    12 Grandiose Expressive on a very grand and ambitious scale
    13 Critical Analyzing something with the intention of disproving or critiquing it
    14 Incendiary Causing strong feelings
    15 Vituperative Cruel, severe criticism

    These are just 15 most likely ones. There are many more. I will keep adding them as and when I run into them.

    Let’s discuss a few tones in a little more detail

    Acerbic : As the name suggests, acerbic essays are generally filled with strong harsh statements against a set of people to belittle their standpoint on things or to criticize their contribution or intention.
    Some of us might ask how Caustic is different from Acerbic. It isn’t. They are synonyms and the nature and emotion of essays with caustic or acerbic tone is generally similar.


    The "white supremacists" insist on presenting the Negro question as one of race. This makes it possible for them to "justify" the notorious color-caste system in the name of spurious race dogmas which depict the Negros servile status in American life, not as the result of man-imposed prescription, but as a condition fixed by nature. Negro inequality is supposedly due to natural inherent differences. In this credo, Negroes presumably are a lower form of organism, mentally primitive and emotionally undeveloped. "Keeping the Negro in his place" is thus allegedly prescribed by nature and fixed by Holy Writ. Color of skin is made an index to social position. Race, a strictly limited biological concept, becomes a social factor and used as an instrument for perpetuating and intensifying Negro subjugation. The Negro problem is explained in terms of natural conflict between races, the result of inborn peculiarities.

    This hideous distortion, whose roots go back into ante-bellum times and beyond, permeates the entire cultural pattern of the South; this vile calumny is fixed in the South’s folkways, mores and customs, sanctioned in its laws, and, in the last analysis buttressed by violence and lynches terror.

    The lie of natural, innate and eternal backwardness of the Negro and other dark-skinned peoples is the theoretical foundation upon which rests the whole noxious system of Negro segregation and its corollary, "white supremacy."
    Formerly a rationalization of chattel slavery, it is used to justify the Negros present-day vassalage. Held down by an all-pervasive and absolute system of Jim Crow based on color of skin and curl of hair whose myriad taboos found him from the cradle to the grave the Negro is Americas "untouchable."

    Critical tone : These essays very clearly have one party being criticized and to poke holes in a well believed ideology or dogma. Generally the reader would notice a particular stand being discussed in detail and majorly only the negative points being discussed in an elaborate and analytical manner.


    So many things have been said about the American Dream; so many people have struggled against themselves to prove that it does not only exist but can also be achieved. So many people worked hard and devoted their lives to this dream. Do we really and profoundly feel what it means, or do we keep following the stereotypes that we have created in our very own minds. To make a long story short – What is an American Dream? One of the most brilliant examples revealing a particular point of view on the matter is the outstanding work of Scott Fitzgerald - “The Great Gatsby”. Fitzgerald shows how this dream is full of materialism, how materialism influencing the lives of people makes it hard for them so see the reality objectively. As the result of being so materialistic Fitzgerald’s characters start idealizing not only their way of life but their feelings, too. Their existence seems to be a theatre performance, where the actors are obviously overacting.
    Fitzgerald shares his determination of the “American dream” mainly through the character of Jay Gatsby. Being a man who shows through his own actions that success is his prerogative, he truly believes in the “American dream of success”. He is a man that gets whatever he wants and gets it primarily by the means of money. As Fitzgerald shows Gatsby’s life we see how easily he can change anything with the help of money if he wants to. Therefore we can assume, that psychologically he is not ready to take things for what they are. We suppose that it is the reason for his idealization of love that later on lead to the collapse of his dream, the collapse of the American dream.Scott Fitzgerald shows the Gatsby’s encirclement and he shows the core of “the dream” through their desire to realize it. "Sure I did. I was going to wear it to- night, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars."[Fitzgerald 36] – answers the girl after being simply asked by Nick Carraway if she had accepted a gift. The stress on materialism and mentioning money and material things wherever it is possible is a characteristical trait of people representing the era of Fitzgerald’s “American dream”.

    Analytical tone : Many aspirants confuse critical essays with analytical ones. Analytical essays embrace both the positive and negative points about the matter in discussion. They compare the pros and cons and may or may not give away the personal choice in the end. Unlike critical essays which are more critique than discussion toned essays, analytical ones are generally neutral and written with the intention to share facts and logical implications for all matters in discussion.


    Saul Kassin and Gisli Gudjonsson, in their article for Scientific American Mind, “True Crimes, False Confessions,” argue that “society should discuss the urgent need to reform practices that contribute to false confessions and to require mandatory videotaping of all interviews and interrogations” (2005, p. 26). After analyzing their argument, I shall argue that, although one might object that Kassin and Gudjonsson focus too heavily on the importance of protecting criminal suspects, they provide a compelling argument that social justice requires such reforms as mandatory video-tapping of police interrogations.

    In developing their case for the need to reform interrogation tactics, Kassin and Gudjonsson survey a number of studies regarding the role of confessions in criminal investigations. For example, they are at pains to provide evidence that interrogations are often influenced by a bias on the part of the interrogator. Further concern is found in the fact that Miranda rights, as found in the American legal system, are insufficient safeguards, given that suspects, especially innocent ones, often waive those rights. Finally, Kassin and Gudjonsson note that aggressive interrogation tactics can often produce false confessions.

    What makes these findings most troubling, according to Kassin and Gudjonsson, is the strong correlation between false confession and wrongful conviction. Trial jurors, we are told, are inclined to give disproportionate weight to a confessions, even taking it to outweigh so-called “hard evidence.” As a characteristic example, Kassin and Gudjonsson cite the case of Bruce Godschalk. Even when DNA evidence proved Godschalk could not have been the rapist, the District Attorney of the case refused to release him from prison, stating that “…I trust my detective and his tape-recorded evidence” (Kassin and Gudjonsson, 2005, p. 28). Because of this tendency on the part of jurors and prosecutors, together with the facts listed above regarding the potential for unrestricted interrogations to elicit false confessions, Kassin and Gudjonsson argue for the need to reform police interrogation tactics.

    Informative Tone: Passages that have an informative tone are quite similar to analytical ones, except that they have more data points and, in many cases, numbers to discuss than views. Informative essays are filled with facts and figures to inform the reader and make them aware of all the facts to analyze and make their own view.


    The Great War, more commonly known as World War I, influences F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel in many important ways. The War directly causes Gatsby to lose his lover Daisy and is responsible for his Montenegro medal and significant “Oxford education”.

    World War I forced many young American men to leave their family to fight a war in unfamiliar European territory. Unexpectedly drafted into a conflict that they had little concern for, the War inexplicably altered the lives of millions of Americans. Faced with terrible conditions and unbridled inhumanity many soldiers returned home insane or permanently shocked from their war experiences. To add insult to injury, the government failed in its duty to assist veterans economically after they returned from the War. For Gatsby, World War I meant that he would have to leave his sweetheart Daisy behind while he fought overseas. Though they regularly sent letters to each other at first, Daisy eventually grows tired of waiting for Gatsby and marries Tom Buchanan; Gatsby literally loses Daisy to the War. When Gatsby returns he is extremely poor, barely surviving from day to day. He is forced to wear his military uniform for months after his return because he is unable to purchase civilian clothing. When offered lunch by Meyer Wolfshiem, Gatsby “ate more than four dollars' worth of food in half an hour” (179). Without money Gatsby could no longer attract Daisy like in his youth. Gatsby’s sad story was echoed by an entire generation of American veterans.

    Introspective writing : “Introspective" means looking inward or reflecting. In an introspective essay, the writer would generally be talking about their own experiences, shortcomings and, in some cases, regrets. They would typically tell the reader about how they feel about their reaction in a particular case or their nature in general.

    Here is an example:

    I was born Shannon Patrick. My middle name depended on whether my mother was sober or not, but since she was never sober, it was mostly Cathalina. She looks like me, my mother does, and loves literature and art. Unfortunately fortunately, she loved alcohol more than she loved me. Tom, my biological father, is even more terrible, psychotic and abusive. When I was six years old, I was adopted alongside my biological brother, Robbie, was dropped headlong into a melting pot that today simmers with Polish, German, Irish, Native American and African American ingredients, and became Shannon Tristan Markiewicz. My middle is Australian, interestingly enough. I am proud of my family. But not of myself. It makes me uncomfortable to write this, to wonder what the reader will think as I open up and pour my soul/heart/mind out onto paper.

    One reason for this is because socially, I am a fraud, a fake. I cannot handle many normal situations, like walking down the halls, entering classrooms, participating in discussions, drinking water, going to my locker—in short, I am always nervous, am nervous writing this. I hate myself and I have very few friends; thank God they are at least good ones, are at least supportive. Still, I often find myself being terribly ungrateful for them. I prefer to be alone, generally, reading/writing. I prefer to be around people who love me, too. I prefer to watch a movie with my mother, to laugh with my friends, to talk to my sister, to talk about literature with a teacher. Those are times when I am almost never nervous. My life is a lie. I smile when I want to cry, act nonchalant when my heart splits apart in fear, wear colorful clothes when, in the morning, I instinctively reach for black/blue. I am honest about very little, keeping many things a secret. I do not talk much about my past and how it affects me today, like how I become uncomfortable around other guys sometimes when they get too close to me. I was sexually abused by my birth father is why. I used to think this was okay, this pseudo self I presented to everyone, minus that fact that I have lied/attempted suicide/cut/wreaked destruction/created disaster. Minus the fact that no one was able to see that which I strove to hide: me.

    These are just a few confusing yet important tones.

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