The meaning of “hello” can change dramatically from charm to fear, or from attraction to annoyance depending on the intonation used. Here are 7 different ways to say it, each with its own meaning:
1. Pleased – “I haven’t seen you for ages”.
Perhaps you haven’t seen someone for a while, or you bump into them in the street. This “hello” starts high on HEL and then goes from low to high on LO.
2. Scared – “Is there somebody out there?”
There’s a noise outside, you’re not sure what it was, but you counter-intuitively start talking to whatever it is. You’re scared – start low on HEL then stress LO rising from low as you do.
3. Charmed – “How nice to meet you!”
You’re pleased to meet somebody and you’re playing the charmer. The key is to start really high on HEL – the higher you start, the more positive you sound, then you drop to low on LO.
4. Telephone Greeting – “Say something to me.”
The most common way to answer the phone in English is a kind of “friendly rise”, stressing LO and rising. The first syllable, HEL is quite weak and at a natural tone. It clearly indicates that the next person to speak is the listener.
5. Attraction – “I’m really pleased to see you!”
This probably sounds ridiculous, and may be used more often than not as a joke, but the meaning of it is very clear. Do a high falling pattern on both syllables, go on, have a go!
6. Everyday – “Greetings, I see you all the time”
You walk past your neighbour who’s doing some gardening, this is a familiar greeting and one that doesn’t necessarily lead to a conversation. Stress the first syllable, start relatively high then step down to a low town on ‘lo’, which can be lengthened.
7. Annoyed – “Why won’t you listen to me?”
You really have had enough of your partner pretending that they can’t understand your simple request to replace the milk in the fridge when they finish it. You’ve had enough – start with HEL in a mid-tone and the do a bending fall-rise on the LO. The longer, the more annoyed you are.
A note on the intonation markings. The first line _–¯ indicates roughly whether to start on a low, medium or high pitch. The arrow ↘ ↗ ↘↗ indicates the tone used – falling, rising or fall-rising and appears directly before the main stress.
This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notes, diagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.
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