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Understanding Tone and Mood in a Reading Passage

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  • 0:02 Picture This
  • 0:57 Mood
  • 1:57 Tone
  • 3:19 Let's Practice
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define the literary terms tone and mood. We will then discuss how to identify each of them, as well as how to identify them in small reading passages.

Picture This

It was a dark and stormy night. I sat alone in the old, dilapidated house staring out the window. The sky was black, the wind was loud, and the rain slammed against the broken windowpane. I shut my eyes, remembering my earlier visit, and I felt so embarrassed and angry. When I opened them, the lightning bolt flashed and lit up the room once more. I had to get out of the house; I had to hide. No one could know my horrible mistake. I opened the door, took a deep breath, and ran into the cold and rain.

What feelings did you have while listening to the previous story? What made you feel this way? What words did you hear that helped create this feeling? By answering these questions, you are on your way to defining the mood and tone. Mood and tone are important because they help create the meaning of a story.

What Is Mood?

Mood is the feeling you get while reading a story. This could be happiness, sadness, darkness, anger, suspicion, loneliness, or even excitement. You can think of mood as the atmosphere of the story.

To describe mood, you should think about the setting and the language used by the author. In the opening story, we saw the setting as dark and the weather angry. The narrator used language that created fear, such as cold and black.

The mood of a story can change how we identify the thesis and the characters. For example, if we read a short story about a lovable nanny, we would expect positive words like cheerful, loving, and caring. However, we could take that same idea of a nanny and make it more of a horror story by changing the atmosphere with aggravated, cold, and enraged. We have the same character, but the author's message and description is much different.

What Is Tone?

Tone is the author's attitude toward a subject. The tone can be identified by looking at word choices and phrases. Take time to look at the language. An author uses words to create meaning. For example, a dog described as a lovable puppy is positive, but one described as a fierce fighter is more frightening.

You should also decide if a word is abstract, concrete, general, or specific. It is important to note if an author is using a general word, like car, or a more specific word, like Ford Focus. An abstract word is one that may carry different meanings, such as pleasant, while a concrete word will show us the meaning.

Finally, look at the details of the story. Language is the first step to finding the tone, but the word choice is just as important. Look how an author describes the setting, a character, or an event. This description will help create the tone.

But, they sound so alike: mood and tone do seem very similar, but they are two separate literary elements. Tone is how the author feels towards the subject. We see this by the way the author describes the subject. Mood is how we feel when reading the story. It is our reaction to the atmosphere described by the author.

Let's Practice

Let's practice. Finding mood and tone in a story can begin by looking at sentences. Doing these short examples will show how looking at word choices and phrasing can help identify both elements.

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