Tone Indicators: Communicating Intent Through Text - TCK Publishing (2024)

Tone Indicators: Communicating Intent Through Text - TCK Publishing (1)

Have you ever found yourself misinterpreting someone’s message in a chat, or experienced the reverse? It’s a common issue in a world where faceless communication has become the norm.

It gets tricky understanding someone’s message without facial expressions, body language, or intonation to rely on. This is why people use small cues like tone indicators to clarify their meaning in online communication.

What Is a Tone Indicator?

A tone indicator is a textual cue or symbol used to help readers understand a message’s intended meaning and emotions. They are done with a forward slash (/), followed by a letter or series of letters that signify a word.

Some examples are:

  • /j = joking
  • /s = sarcasm
  • /srs = serious
  • /g or /gen = genuine
  • /nm = not mad

Tone indicators are used in text-based communication, including social media posts, emails, SMS messages, forums, and online conversations. They were popularized in the early 2010s by online communities on Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter.

However, tone indicators—at least, the concept—have existed for much longer than that. In the 16th century, printer Henry Denham proposed a way to signal irony in print media. He called it the percontation point (a reverse question mark) and was supposed to punctuate rhetorical questions. It didn’t see much popularity, though, and eventually fell out of use.

Over the years, many punctuation marks have been proposed to signify specific intentions, but none of them stuck.

List of Common Tone Indicators

Here’s a list of common tone indicators you can use at the end of a message.

/hjhalf joking
/genqgenuine question
/ijnside joke
/l or /lylyrics
/pc or /pospositive connotation
/nc or /negnegative connotation
/neuneutral connotation
/mamessing around
/hsrshalf serious
/hshalf sarcastic
/navnot a vent
/sx or /xsexual intent
/nsx or /nxnon-sexual intent
/papassive aggressive
/npanot passive agressive
/rh or /rtrhetorical
/lulittle upset
/ststill thinking
/drdon’t reply
/nhnot hostile

Keep in mind that this isn’t a complete list. The ones included here are just the most commonly used.

Using Tone Indicators

It’s easy to use tone indicators. Just add them at the end of your sentence, like so:

  • You must be the life of the party, huh? /s
  • Well, if you insist! /j
  • You’re so vain. /ly
  • I love you so much. /p
  • She’s a bit mean to dogs. /lu

Users sometimes exchange the forward slash with a short dash or parentheses. There’s no rule about sticking with a forward slash, most people just prefer it.

Tone indicators are also best used in everyday text-based conversations—especially if those conversations need particular clarity for some reason. Use it when:

  • texting or chatting with someone
  • posting on social media
  • commenting on forums or other forms of online discourse
  • sending informal emails
  • discussing sensitive or controversial topics
  • telling a joke or expressing sarcasm
  • conveying your intent to someone who’s not familiar with how you converse online.

Of course, there are times when tone indicators can be inappropriate or unnecessary. Some instances include:

  • professional conversations
  • formal writing
  • conversing with someone familiar with how you converse online.
  • when tone indicators distract people from your meaning due to overuse or cultural barriers.
  • when emotions and intent are obvious due to context

Some general rules you should follow are:

  • Don’t overuse tone indicators. One or two is enough for any given message.
  • Consider your audience. They might not be aware of what a tone indicator is, or what a particular one means.
  • Place them at the end to clarify the overall tone of the message.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification or clarify your message if there’s still doubt.

Other Ways to Convey Emotion and Intent

Tone is an important component of communication. It’s how you grasp the meaning of someone’s words. Here are other ways to express it.

  • Emojis (😁, 🤣, ☹️)
  • Emoticons (XD for a laughing face, :-O for surprise, <3 for a heart)
  • Abbreviations (LOL for laughing out loud, OMG for oh my gosh/God, ILY for I love you)

There’s no rule about using them together. But keep in mind that the more you use, the more chance there is of making your message more confusing. These things might even distract someone from your message.

Should You Use Tone Indicators?

Imagine sending “ok” to someone. While it’s a simple reply for you, the person you’re talking to might not see it that way. Is it acknowledgment? Reluctance? Veiled awkwardness? Anger?

Words are versatile. In non-face-to-face communication, it’s hard to understand what a person means. That’s why tone indicators are so handy.

However, they are not a substitute for good communication, just a way to enhance it. You should still be clear, consistent, and thoughtful with your word choices.

What’s your opinion on tone indicators? Share it in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

  • Eye Dialect: Portraying Character Diversity Through Dialogue
  • Lexical Cloning: Definition and Examples
  • The Garden Path Sentence: Getting Rid of Sentence Ambiguity
  • Abbreviations: When and How to Shorten Your Words

Tone Indicators: Communicating Intent Through Text - TCK Publishing (2)

Cole Salao

Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!

Tone Indicators: Communicating Intent Through Text - TCK Publishing (2024)


What is the tone of text communication? ›

A tone indicator is a notation that signals the emotional intent behind a written message. Tone indicators can be useful in certain online conversations where it can be difficult to interpret the tone of a message. Some people also use emojis, emoticons, abbreviations, acronyms, or bigrams to convey sentiment.

What are the tone things for texting? ›

Some examples of tone indicators are "/j" , "/s" , "/srs" , "/p" , "/r" , "/ly" , "neg" , "pos" , "/gen" and "/c" . Though there are many others, these are the ones that are most commonly used and needed for clarity of communication.

How is the tone conveyed in a text? ›

The tone in SMS is conveyed through choice of words, punctuation, and context. For a friendly tone, use casual language and emojis sparingly.

What is the tone of communication? ›

Tone of voice in communication refers to how you utilise words or phrases to create an impact on the audience. Tone of voice helps a business to interact with its customers through the material it creates for marketing. It is also a powerful weapon for moulding the public's view of them.

What is the tone of the text? ›

In literature, tone is, simply put, the attitude that a character or narrator or author takes towards a given subject.

What is the tone of written communication? ›

What is Tone? "Tone in writing refers to the writer's attitude toward the reader and the subject of the message.

What is the tone of speech in text? ›

Aside from individual word choice, the overall tone, or attitude, of a piece of writing should be appropriate to the audience and purpose. The tone may be objective or subjective, logical or emotional, intimate or distant, serious or humorous.

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