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Serious vs Humorous Tone

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Serious vs Humorous Tone

When we interact with our different social groups, we inevitably use different tones of voice. For example, we might use a more casual, humorous tone with our friends and a more formal tone with our teachers. Sometimes there is some overlap (sometimes we need to discuss serious things with friends, for example), and we can even switch between different tones within a single interaction.

The specific tones we're going to explore in this article are the humorous tone and the serious tone.

Tone definition

In a nutshell:

Tone refers to the use of pitch, volume, and tempo in your voice during an interaction in order to create lexical and grammatical meaning. What this boils down to is that the qualities we can change about our voices can significantly impact the meaning of the things we say. In writing, where we cannot literally 'hear' voices (pitch and volume don't exist in writing, after all), tone refers to the attitudes or perspectives of the author on a particular subject, and how their writing reflects this.

There are lots of different tones that can be created in both written and verbal communication. We'll now look more in-depth at the humorous tone and the serious tone.

We'll begin with serious tone!

Serious tone definition

The concept of seriousness is something you're probably already familiar with. During your lifetime, you will have been in situations that were deemed serious, and ones that were deemed casual, and you're probably able to distinguish between the two with ease. To recap, let's look at the definition of serious.

Serious meaning

Serious is an adjective, which means it is a word that describes a noun. Serious can have two meanings:

Serious means commanding or requiring careful consideration or application. For instance, a 'serious matter' is one that requires a lot of careful thought.

or

Serious means acting or speaking in earnest rather than in a light-hearted or casual manner. For instance, when someone proposes to their partner, they are (usually!) doing it in a serious way, rather than joking around.

In writing, a serious tone can be used to signal that a pivotal moment in the action of the story is coming, or that something bad or sad has happened. In non-fiction writing, a serious tone can be used when the information being shared is important and requires proper thought and respect.

Serious vs. Humorous Tone, Person looking serious, StudySmarterA serious tone can be created using a range of techniques and strategies, Pixabay

Serious synonyms

The word 'serious' has many synonyms, and because it has two separate meanings, these synonyms can be broken down into two groups:

The synonyms for the first definition of serious as stated in the above section:

  • Important: of great significance or value

  • Critical: expressing adverse or disapproving comments

  • Profound: very great or intense

The synonyms for the second definition of serious as stated in the above section:

  • Genuine: true to what something is meant to be, authentic

  • Sincere: free from pretence or dishonesty

  • Resolute: purposeful and unwavering

Ways to create a serious tone

In verbal communication, a serious tone can be created using:

  • Tone, pitch, and volume of voice to convey different meanings: e.g. Speaking more loudly, or writing in all capitals to mimic a louder volume, can signal urgency which is a common element of the serious tone.

  • Word choices that reflect the seriousness of the situation: e.g. 'There was nothing left to be done. The time had come. James had found himself in dire straits (a very difficult situation).'

  • Questions and exclamations that show serious emotions such as desperation, sadness, anger or trepidation: e.g. 'Do you think I wanted this to happen?', 'How dare you!'

In written texts, a serious tone can be created using techniques such as:

  • Emotive punctuation such as exclamation marks to indicate urgency or a rising voice: e.g. 'Stop! If you touch that fence you'll get a shock!'

  • Strong adjectives that paint a vivid mental picture in the reader's mind: e.g. 'The old man really was a cantankerous (stubborn and argumentative) fossil.'

  • Showing the characters' actions as being carefully considered: e.g. 'Sally paced the room until it felt as though she was making an indentation in the wooden floor.'

Serious tone examples

By this point, you probably have a solid idea of what a serious tone would look and sound like, but to take that understanding even further, we'll now look at some examples of a serious tone in both written and verbal exchanges.

First up, here are some examples of a serious tone in fictional text:

John watched his phone as it buzzed on the coffee table. He was torn. He knew that the chances of good news on the other side if he answered it were slim to none. He also knew that if he didn't answer now, he would regret it for the rest of his life. He took a deep, steadying breath and reached for the phone.

'Hello?' he answered with a mix of trepidation and resignation in his voice, 'Yes, this is he.'

In this example, the character of John is waiting for some news that he assumes is very likely to be bad news. He internally debates whether he should answer the phone or not, and this initial indecision shows that he is taking time to consider his options.

A serious tone is created in this passage through the description of this internal debate, and we get a sense that this is a serious matter for John's character. The evocative adjectives 'deep' and 'steadying' used to describe his breath also suggest that this is a serious situation that John has given a lot of thought to. When John answers the phone, there is no indication of rising volume or pitch as he speaks, which shows us that he is probably speaking in a measured and level tone of voice, which emphasises the sense of seriousness in the text.

Now we'll look at an example of a serious tone in a non-fiction piece of text:

'The death toll in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal has reached more than 300 after devastating floods wreaked havoc in the area. A state of disaster has been declared in the area after some areas saw months' worth of rainfall in one day.'1

This example is taken from a news article on the BBC website and is about flooding in South Africa. The subject matter is evidently serious which already creates a serious tone, but the language used to describe the flood emphasises this. Words and phrases such as 'death toll', 'devastating' and 'state of disaster' create a powerful mental image of how significant the floods have been, and contribute to the creation of a serious tone within the piece.

Serious vs. Humorous Tone, Serious Tone Example of a flood, StudySmarterA significant flood is an example of a serious situation, Pixabay

Finally, we'll look at a verbal example:

Person A: 'This is getting to be a bit ridiculous now. How can you expect to get a decent grade if you never do any work? I just don't get it!'

Person B: 'I know, I know, you're right. I just get so overwhelmed sometimes.'

Person A: 'If you need help with anything, I'm always here. You just need to say.'

Person B: 'I know, thank you. I think I do need some help.'

In this example, Person A is calling Person B out for not doing enough work, and Person B is trying to take accountability for it. A serious tone is created firstly, through the subject matter - getting good grades is important to them both, and in the context of their conversation, it is not a laughing matter. The fact that Person B also admits to needing help shows that the situation has reached a certain point of seriousness. Words like 'ridiculous' and 'overwhelmed' also contribute to the serious tone, and the exclamation mark after 'I just don't get it!' shows that Person A's voice is rising in volume, adding a sense of urgency.

Humorous tone definition

The humorous tone is another one you're likely to be very familiar with and as we mentioned at the top of this article, it is likely a tone you use a lot with your friends and family. Just as we broke down serious and looked at some examples of a serious tone, we'll now do the same with humorous.

Humorous meaning

Humorous is also an adjective!

Humorous means having or showing a sense of humour, or causing amusement or laughter.

In writing, a humorous tone can be created by the writer describing the characters or scene in a funny or comic way, or by using figurative language that evokes entertaining and playful imagery.

The old man was usually about as charming as an eel, but when it came to cricket, he turned into a young boy again, leaping and yelling alongside the field.

Humorous synonyms

Since humorous only has one key meaning, we only need to think about synonyms relating to that definition.

Here are some synonyms for humorous:

  • Amusing: providing entertainment or causing laughter

  • Comedic: relating to comedy, characteristic of comedy

  • Light-hearted: carefree, cheerful, amusing, and entertaining

There are many more possible synonyms for humorous but you get the idea.

Serious vs. Humorous Tone, Laughter as an indicator of something humorous, StudySmarterLaughter is a key indicator that something is humorous, Pixabay

Ways to create a humorous tone

A humorous tone can be created in written texts using strategies such as:

  • Juxtaposition: e.g. a snowball and a fireplace, 'He has about as much chance as a snowball in a fireplace.'

Juxtaposition is when two or more different things are placed together to emphasise how different they are from one another.

  • Short and simple sentences - long, complicated sentences can sometimes lead to meaning getting lost, and if you're feeling confused then you probably aren't going to find something funny!

  • Descriptive depictions of characters and their interactions: e.g. 'Mary was constantly looking for her glasses. Day and night, dark or light, they were never anywhere to be found. This is, of course, because they were already perched atop her head!'

  • Emotive punctuation to mimic the different qualities of a voice: e.g. Fluffy! Get BACK here with my slipper RIGHT now!'

In verbal exchanges, a humorous tone can be created using:

  • Tone, pitch, and volume of voice to convey different meanings: e.g. Talking more loudly or quickly, or raising the pitch of your voice could signal excitement which is an emotion often connected with humour.

  • Hyperbole or exaggeration: e.g. 'If you make that shot, I'll eat my hat!'

Hyperbole is a significantly exaggerated statement that is not meant to be taken literally.

  • telling jokes or humorous anecdotes: e.g. 'Why didn't the skeleton go to the party? He had no BODY to go with!'

Humorous tone examples

Just as we did for the serious tone, we'll now look at a couple of examples for the humorous tone. Firstly, here's an example of a humorous tone in a non-fiction text:

'Harry Potter is like football. I'm talking about the literary, cinematic, and merchandising phenomenon, not its focal fictional wizard. He is not like football.'2

This example is an excerpt from David Mitchell's book, Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse. David Mitchell is a British comedian, so this knowledge already hints to us that his book will take on a humorous tone. However, Mitchell uses other techniques to create and showcase this tone too.

In this example, he likens the Harry Potter franchise to football, which is a seemingly unlikely comparison that initiates a tone of humour. The humorous tone is then ramped up when Mitchell clarifies that the character of Harry Potter himself is 'not like football'. This seems like such an unnecessary comment (I don't think anyone thinks Harry Potter the wizard is anything like football the sport), which makes it all the funnier. The lack of emotive punctuation and the simplicity of the sentences also contribute to the humorous tone by creating a sort of deadpan (expressionless) voice, which is quite amusing.

Now here's a fictional text example:

'Hey guys! Dare me to jump in that massive puddle?' Rory pointed towards a puddle in the road that was about half a meter in diameter. He didn't wait for an answer from the group and started running towards it.

'Rory wait! That's not...' Nicola's protest went unheard, as Rory jumped into the puddle unceremoniously, and disappeared up to his waist!

In this example, Rory's character is clearly a playful and boisterous person which starts to hint that a humorous event is going to take place. The humorous tone is then emphasised by Nicola shouting at him not to jump into the puddle and being cut off mid-sentence as he does it without listening. The three-dot ellipsis suggests that she was going to tell Rory that it wasn't just a puddle but a deep hole and, because he didn't listen, he pays the price. The exclamation mark after 'waist' also adds to the ridiculousness and humour of the scene.

And finally, a speech example:

Person A: 'Hey I bet I can go lower than you at the limbo.'

Person B: 'Oh yeah? I bet all the money I've ever seen that I can go lower than you.'

Person A: 'You're on!'

Person B: (falls over during turn) 'Ouch!'

Person A: 'Pay up!'

In this example, a humorous tone is created using the competitiveness between the speakers, as Person B uses the hyperbole of 'all the money I've ever seen' and then ends up falling. Person A's response of 'pay up!' also adds to the humorous tone as they were not the one to suggest a monetary bet, yet end up being the one that wins.

Serious vs. Humorous Tone, Comedy Club as a place for humorous tone, StudySmarterA comedy club is a place where you'd find lots of humour! Pixabay

Serious vs. Humorous Tone - Key takeaways

  • The serious tone and the humorous tone are two very different tones that can be used in verbal conversation as well as in writing.
  • Serious means requiring careful consideration, or when someone speaks or acts earnestly.
  • Humorous means having and showing a sense of humour, or making people feel amused.
  • The serious tone is often created through word choices, use of punctuation and evocative adjectives, and through descriptions of characters and actions.
  • The humorous tone is often created using hyperbole or exaggeration, unlikely comparisons, and simple sentence structures.

1. S. Nyoka, Durban floods: South Africa floods kill more than 300, BBC News. 2022

2. D. Mitchell, Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse. 2014

Frequently Asked Questions about Serious vs Humorous Tone

A humorous manner is when someone does or says something that is meant to be perceived as funny or amusing. Telling jokes or acting silly could be considered examples of a humorous manner. 

If you take the word 'humorous' and turn it into a verb (to humour), the past tense of that verb would be 'humoured'. E.g. 'He humoured me by listening to my long story.'

Some words and phrases you can use to mean 'very seriously' include:

  • critically
  • vitally
  • of the utmost importance
  • severely

'Severe' is a synonym for serious and can be used in similar contexts. 

A humorous effect is when someone tells a joke or amusing story, or does something funny, and people react positively to it. When people laugh at something, you could say that that story, action, or joke has had a humorous effect.

Final Serious vs Humorous Tone Quiz

Question

What does tone refer to in verbal interactions?

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Answer

The use of volume, pitch, and tempo of the speaker's voice to create lexical and grammatical meaning. 

Show question

Question

What does 'lexical' refer to?

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Answer

Word choices

Show question

Question

What does humorous mean?

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Answer

Having or showing a sense of humour, or causing amusement or laughter.

Show question

Question

How many definitions are there for the word 'serious'?

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Answer

'Serious' has two definitions

Show question

Question

Which two of these options are definitions of 'serious'?

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Answer

  • commanding or requiring careful consideration or application 

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Question

List three synonyms for 'humorous'.

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Answer

  • amusing
  • comedic
  • light-hearted

Show question

Question

What is juxtaposition?

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Answer

When two contrasting objects or subjects are put together or compared. 

Show question

Question

Which of these are examples of humorous exchanges?

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Answer

Telling jokes

Show question

Question

True or false, a marriage proposal is generally a serious matter.

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Answer

True, marriage proposals have generally required some serious thought.

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Question

What is hyperbole?

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Answer

Hyperbole refers to exaggerated claims that are not meant to be taken literally.

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Question

Is it possible to switch from one tone to another within the same verbal interaction?

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Answer

Yes, we often use different tones within one speech exchange, as sometimes the topic of conversation changes or new participants join in. 

Show question

Question

Which of these would constitute a serious situation?

Show answer

Answer

A business going bankrupt.

Show question

Question

Do pitch, volume, and tempo of voice exist in writing?

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Answer

No, these qualities of sound do not literally exist in writing, although they can be hinted at through punctuation and sentence structure. 

Show question

Question

Are news articles generally serious or humorous?

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Answer

Serious

Show question

Question

When hanging out with your friends, what kind of tone are you more likely to use most of the time: serious or humorous?

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Answer

Humorous

Show question

Question

List three synonyms for the word 'serious' meaning 'requiring careful consideration'.

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Answer

  • important
  • critical
  • profound

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Question

List three synonyms for the word 'serious' meaning 'earnest rather than casual'.

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Answer

  • genuine
  • sincere
  • resolute

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Question

True or false, questions and exclamations can be used to create a serious tone.

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Answer

True

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Question

What kind of word is 'humorous'?

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Answer

Adjective

Show question

Question

Which tone does playful imagery fit more into?

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Answer

Humorous

Show question

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