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Diction and Tone. ESL 015 Wenli Zhang. What’s your understanding of this sentence?. “T he difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. ”. Diction. What is diction?. What is good diction?.

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diction and tone

Diction and Tone

ESL 015 Wenli Zhang

what s your understanding of this sentence
What’s your understanding of this sentence?

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. ”

what is diction


What is diction?
  • What is good diction?

Precise and appropriate --- the words mean exactly what the writer intends, and the words are well suited to the writer’s subject, purpose, and intended audience

Diction refers to a writer’s choice and use of words

denotation vs connotation
Denotation VS. Connotation

What is denotation?

any of numerous scaly, legless, sometimes venomous reptiles having a long, tapering, cylindrical body and found in most tropical and temperate regions

Denotation: literal meaning --- dictionary definition

E.g. snake

what is connotation
What is connotation?

evil or danger

Connotation: secondary meaning --- associations or emotional overtones that words have acquired (tone and attitude)

E.g. snake

how to choose among different synonyms
How to choose among different synonyms?

Tip: Deciding which to use depends largely on the connotations.

E.g. mob, crowd, multitude, bunch

---- There was a _______ at the lecture.

questions need to be considered
Questions need to be considered

Is the language abstract or concrete?

Should I use general or specific word?

When to use jargons?

Is the diction formal or informal?

abstract vs concrete
Abstract vs. Concrete

Love, soda, wisdom, pretty, pancake, freedom, moral, spoon, table, success

Abstract words --- things nobody can touch, see, or hear. (opinions or ideas)

Concrete words --- things can touch, see, hear, smell, and taste (facts)

t ips

Concrete Words

unconvincing and tiresome

Abstract Words

Concrete Words

mundane and dry

Abstract Words

g ood writing
Good Writing

Abstract Words Concrete Words

You cannot argue about concrete things (facts)

g eneral specific words
General & Specific Words

E.g. Drug / Marijuana

Topic? Thesis? Why?

General & Specific words --- context

E.g. Food > dessert > chocolate cream pie

When to use which?

what are jargo ns
What are jargons?

Jargon (technical language) --- special vocabulary of a trade or profession

when to use jargon s
When to use jargons?
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2odtqcZRKc0
  • If the audience is general ---- ?
  • If readers are executives/ experts/ people in the same fields ---- ?
  • Always think about your audience!


These small blue figures are called shabtis (pronounced shabtees). They are made of faience, a type of glazed pottery. Shabtis were believed to help people who died. They were placed in tombs to be servants in the afterlife, working for the dead. Hundreds of shabtis have been found in kings’ tombs. These shabtis are holding hoes used by farmers for digging. They are standing like wrapped mummies, ready to work in the afterlife.

(MFA Magazine)

Johnstone, 2008

Mummy Mask of Paser

One assumes that the mummy of Paser, which has not survived to this day, was clad in a cartonnage ensemble, to which this mask belonged. The features are idealizing and not to be regarded as a likeness, or portrait, of Paser. The mummy, once enveloped in that ensemble, was doubtless placed into Paser’s anthropoid sarcophagus which is on display in this gallery as well. The gilding has a distinctly reddish hue and recalls contemporary ancient Egyptian texts from the New Kingdom which mention “the gold which bled.” It is apparent, therefore, that the ancient Egyptians recognized this property of their gold and appreciated it.

(Informational wall placard)

f ormal or informal
Formal or Informal?


This guy, Hewson, right, he says that people that speak English, like native speakers, don’t think about when to use words like ‘the’, they just do it.

Hewson (1972, p. 132) has called the English article system a ‘psychomechanism’, through which native speakers use articles correctly but unconsciously.

(Miller, JL 2005, ‘Most of ESL students have trouble with the articles’, International Education Journal , ERC2004 Special Issue, vol., 5, no. 5, pp. 80-88)

Formal language is usually used in speeches; reports, essays, and most other nonfiction writings.

Informal language is more generally used in everyday language --- slang or idioms

a ctivity time
Activity Time

Group of three

Each group will get a worksheet.

Finish the worksheet together

  • Tone and mood words.

What is tone?

Tone is the attitude a writer takes towards the subject and the audience.

It is revealed through diction.

tip for you
Tip for you

ALWAYS use an adjective when describing diction and tone.____ diction contributes to the ____ tone.

activity two
Activity Two
  • Group of four or three
  • One handout for each group
  • Think about those questions:
    • What kind of tone does each author try to convey?
    • What kind of diction does each author use to try to contribute to a certain tone?