The Difference between ‘Tone’ and ‘Mood’

Two common literary terms which often appear in reading comprehension exercises are “tone” and “mood.” These two terms that can be difficult to differentiate as their meanings are somewhat similar. You may stumble across these during English class, the SAT, SSAT, or in pursuit of your own literary learning…so here’s an easy breakdown:

Tone refers to the author’s feelings or attitude towards what they are writing. For example, many authors may write about the same topic, but how they feel towards the topic can dictate the information they present, and the language they use.
Consider a letter to the editor about an upcoming building of a casino in a town. Those against the project would discuss negative points, glossing over the benefits, and use strong language which might portray a “critical,” “frustrated,” or even “denouncing” tone. On the other hand, a reporter discussing an upcoming development is more likely to try and balance the issues. They would likely present both sides and use unemotional language – their tone is likely to be “unbiased,” “informative,” or “neutral”. Understanding an author’s tone can give insight into his or her purpose for writing, as well as the main idea.

Mood is slightly different. It is also connected to emotions, but not necessarily how the character or the author feels. The mood informs how a scene or piece of writing feels in general, or the atmosphere that is created.
Think about how setting affects the mood of a story. A dark, moonless night, in an old, creaky house might create an “eerie” or “creepy” mood. A carnival, where children are enjoying themselves running around, creates more of a “happy” or “lighthearted” mood. An intense argument between two characters might create a “tense” mood.
Good writers are aware of the tone and mood they wish to convey, whether writing a letter to a friend or an award winning novel. Consider your tone and mood in your next piece of writing!

For more information about reading comprehension or writing support, contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space at (416) 925-1225 or visit


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