27 Tone Indicators and How to Use Them (2024)

27 Tone Indicators and How to Use Them (1)

Alessia Scott

In the digital world, understanding the true meaning behind our words can be tricky. Without intonations, gestures, and context, the intended tone can easily be misinterpreted. However, there's a simple solution: tone indicators. These small cues can make a big difference in ensuring clear communication.

But what are tone indicators, and how can you strategically use them to add context clues that prevent misunderstandings? In this comprehensive guide, we'll list commonly used tone indicators and equip you with the skills to use them effectively.

What Are Tone Indicators?

Have you ever sent a text message—one you thought was friendly or playful—only to have it backfire and achieve the opposite result? Or perhaps you sent a sarcastic response to a co-worker or client that they interpreted as hostile or rude.

Tone indicators are small textual clues—alphabet symbols and visual tags—typically added to the end of text-based communication. These appendages to a text are preceded by a slash (/) and can make a significant difference in how a message is perceived and understood.

Tone indicators help readers understand the intended meaning and emotion behind messages. Using tone indicators can provide clarity, context, and the desired tone that might be missing in text-based conversations.

Henry Denham introduced the first tone indicator in 1580 to aid readers in recognizing ironic expressions in written materials. This initial tone indicator was known as the percontation point, symbolized by a backward question mark. Denham intended for this symbol to represent a rhetorical question. However, its usage faded away during the 1700s.

Nowadays, tone indicators are primarily used in internet forums and chat rooms like Reddit and 4Chan. Over time, they gained popularity and soon made their way into mainstream communication channels like blogs and social media, where miscommunication and misunderstandings are common.

Why Use Tone Indicators?

Human communication is tied to semantics, the study of how language has meaning. In any conversation between two parties, there are layers that add depth to the spoken words, including:

Body Language

The unspoken language of gestures, facial expressions and postures often communicates more meaning than words ever could. Subtle cues (like a raised eyebrow, crossed arms or a reassuring nod) add context, painting a clearer picture of the speaker's intent and emotional state.

Tone of Voice

The way we speak, with its ups and downs, emphasizing certain words and using pauses, adds a musical quality to our language. These vocal cues give spoken words their emotion and intention, something that written words alone often lack.

Conversational Context

The context is the setting where a conversation happens. Specific situations, personal characteristics, and cultural aspects influence it. These factors add complexity and shape the way people interact and communicate with each other.

Body language, tone and context work together in regular conversations to clarify the dialogue. However, when we switch to digital text-based communication, like SMS marketing, these helpful cues disappear, leaving us with a basic version of the original message.

This can create significant communication issues for remote teams and marketers trying to communicate with their audience. Per Forbes, the absence of these cues means that “text-based communication takes longer and requires more thought to arrive at a shared understanding. You have to think about what you’re writing to make sure it’s not misinterpreted.”

Tone indicators can help close the communications gap.

Commonly Used Tone Indicators

Tone tags are becoming part of the mainstream text dialogue. However, some tone indicators (such as the sarcasm tag “/s”) are used more commonly than others. That said, here’s a tone indicators list you can use for your SMS communications.

Tone Indicator


Example Sentence



You make my heart flutter. /a



To be fair, you must have a high IQ to understand Rick and Morty. /c



Buy Bitcoin and get rich! /cb



Check out this video of a Megalodon. /f

/gen or /g


You’re amazing. /gen


Genuine Question

Do you believe in aliens? /genq


Half Joking

I mean, when am I not right? /hj



I have a million emails in my inbox. /hyp


Inside Joke

Remember the Alamo (Draft House)! /ij



I’m literally too cool for school /j

/l or /ly

Song lyrics

Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world /ly



Yeah, it’s totally autocorrect’s fault and not your ducking fingers. /lh



The shark could have eaten you in one bite. /li


Little Upset

Our team didn't win the competition. /lu



Her laughter was contagious, and it melted my heart. /m


Not a Vent

Barely sleeping because of the baby. /nav

/neg or /ng

Negative Connotation

Oh great, another rainy day ruining our plans. /neg


Not Forced

You free to hang out today? /nf


Not Mad

Did you take the clothes out of the dryer this AM? /nm


Not Passive Aggressive

Can’t chat. Talk later. /npa



I twisted my ankle, but I’ll survive. /nsrs

/pos or /pc

Positive Connotation

I swear I feel like crying right now. /pos



“Be the change." /q



I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you. /r

/rh or /rt

Rhetorical question

Why would anyone choose to be unhappy? /rh



I’m so excited for school to start. /s



Your voice reminds me of that seagull from Little Mermaid. /t

In addition, emojis have become a popular tone indicator in recent years that can also add further context to a message.

Consider the sentence “I just dropped my ice cream 😂” or “I just dropped my ice cream 😢”

With the first, there’s a more light-hearted tone where the speaker seems to be laughing at their own misfortune, suggesting that they find it comically relatable. The second version, however, conveys a sense of disappointment or sadness, with the speaker clearly feeling upset about losing their tasty treat.

Guidelines for Using Tone Indicators

Generally speaking, tone indicators are relatively easy to use. And they can be applied to emails, texts, social media interactions and more. But before you do, keep the following tips in mind:

  • In two-way texting, place them at the end of the sentence or message to clarify the overall tone.
  • Be wary of context. Certain tone indicators may be more appropriate for specific settings and groups. For example, romantic tone indicators (/r) should be used for personal communication, not for marketing purposes—unless your brand’s specifically geared for romantic messaging.
  • Consider the audience, as some people may be unfamiliar with text acronyms, especially in business.
  • Stick to one or two indicators at most for any given message.
  • Tone indicators are an enhancement to good communication, not a substitute. You still want to be clear and thoughtful with your word choice.
  • If there’s any doubt about a particular sentiment, don’t hesitate to clarify what you meant or ask the sender to clarify.

Using Tone Indicators in SMS Marketing with Textedly

Tone indicators are powerful tools to facilitate and enhance text-based communication—both for personal and business purposes. They can help the recipient to read between the lines, preventing mistakes and misunderstandings.

Today, they’re a vital tool for inclusive communication, providing context to neurodivergent people and non-native English speakers who may already struggle to understand the tone of conversational communication, let alone text-based forms.

At Textedly, text messaging marketing is what we do. Our SMS and MMS marketing solutions revolutionize the way your business communicates. And by adding tone indicators to your messages, you can ensure that nothing gets lost in translation.

Sign up for a free Textedly trial today!

27 Tone Indicators and How to Use Them (2)

27 Tone Indicators and How to Use Them (2024)


How do you indicate tone? ›

Tone indicators start with a forward slash ( / ), followed by a short series of letters, usually a shortening of another word. Examples include /j , meaning "joking"; /srs , meaning "serious"; or /s , meaning "sarcastic".

Can you have a tone over text? ›

Unlike in speech, tone can be hard to convey and detect in written communication. Once you hit send, it's up to the recipient to interpret your tone. This is where tone indicators come into play. Tone indicators are simple symbols or letter combinations that show what sentiment a message is meant to express.

How do I identify the tone? ›

To identify tone, try to identify the genre of writing and the desired audience, and look at how the author uses language. Once you have identified the tone, it can help find the author's point of view, or perspective.

What is tone in a text example? ›

In writing, tone reveals the narrator's attitude as conveyed by their specific word choice. For instance, you could show your characters attending a party and have the tone be excited, depressed, sarcastic, frightened, or hopeful. These communicate the way the narrator feels about the situation.

How is tone shown in a text? ›

Tone in literature refers to the author's attitude toward a certain topic. Through specific word choice, the author reveals their feelings and opinions to the reader, conveying the author's intentions behind the text. The tone of a story is always described using an adjective.

What are three example of tone? ›

The tone in a story indicates a particular feeling. It can be joyful, serious, humorous, sad, threatening, formal, informal, pessimistic, or optimistic.

How do you communicate with tone? ›

A good rule of thumb, especially if you're speaking in front of an audience, is to speak at half the speed you normally talk. This helps make sure your tone of voice is clear enough so everyone in the audience can understand. A steady and even pace is powerful because it cultivates focus.

How is tone interpreted? ›

Behind every message, there are emotions attached. Our tone conveys these emotions, influencing the emotional response of the recipient. Whether it is enthusiasm, concern, or encouragement, the tone can amplify or diminish the impact of our words.

Can you change message tone? ›

Google Messages

Open the app and tap the menu/profile image on the top right. Select Message settings, or just Settings. Tap Notifications. Choose Behavior, sound & more > Incoming messages > Sound.

How do you identify the tone and mood of a text? ›

We can analyze setting, word choice and other details for tone, or the author's attitude toward the subject, and we can look at the same details to think about the mood, or the emotion the reader feels from a piece of literature.

What is the tone of the text words? ›

Tone words are specific words that help express an author's attitude about the subject matter. Words typically have a positive, negative, or neutral connotation. Tone words help authors show whether they feel positively, negatively, or neutrally about what they're writing about.

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