Identifying the tone of the passage is a question asked in reading comprehension. While the question is infrequent in CAT, it still helps to know how to answer it easily. A typical question of this type might look like this:

  • Which of the following best reflects the tone of the poem?
  • The tone that the author uses while describing the Indian cricket team can best be described as
  • The tone of the passage is one of

The tone refers to the emotions expressed by the author towards the subject he/she is talking about. This can be easily identified using a 3-step process:

  1. Identifying key words in the passage

It is important to identify the key words mentioned by the author in the passage which hint at the mental state of the author. The key to doing this usually lies in identifying the appropriate adjectives. As an example, if the author mentions in the passage that the condition of the pitch was ‘abysmal’, then the tone of the author would most likely be critical. If he were factual in this case, then he would have used a euphemistic word in the context. However, note that only the key adjectives need to be identified.

  1. Identify the sentiment of the author

By identifying the key adjectives, we can hint at the sentiment of the author. The sentiment can broadly be categorized into 3 types:

  • Positive: where the author generally agrees with the facts he presents.
  • Negative: where the author is against the facts presented.
  • Neutral: Where the author only presents the facts. He may also analyze those facts without agreeing or disagreeing with it.
  1. Eliminate the answer options and arrive at the answer

Once you broadly classify the sentiment of the author, you can look at the answer options and eliminate the ones that don’t fit. Out of the remaining options, choose the option that best fits the sentiment of the author.

Some of the More Common Tones

There are few tones which are more popular in CAT passages and we shall discuss each of them in a little more detail:

  1. Descriptive: This is the most common type of tone in passages where there is an arm’s length relationship between the author and the topic. The author simply states fact and does not give his opinion on them.
  2. Analytical: This is where the author states the fact and then proceeds to analyze the stated facts. He won’t be suggestive as to whether he is in favour of against the topic.
  3. Sarcastic: This is where the author uses his words to ridicule or mock the topic under discussion. Here’s an example:

Tone Passage-1

The other types and their meanings are given in the table below:

Tone Passage-2.jpg

Questions of this type have been asked in CAT 1994 and twice in CAT 2003 (leaked). I have summarized the passage so as to capture the essence of it. Please check the respective papers for the entire passage.Examples from CAT

  1. (CAT 1994)

An urgent problem is now threatening libraries throughout the world. Their collections that are crucial for diverse purposes as economic development, educational research and recreational pursuits are in danger of disintegrating. The problem is mainly due to one cause-the type of paper on which books have been printed for the past one and a half centuries. Until the 1850s, paper was produced from linen or cotton rags and proved to be relatively long-lasting. In the mid-19th century, however, the popular demand for paper and the commercial need for an economic method of production led to the use of mechanically ground wood pulp. Paper manufactured for wood pulp is highly acidic and therefore inherently unstable. It contains lignin-a major factor in causing paper to discolour and disintegrate. The useful lifespan of most 20th century book paper has been estimated to be no more than a few decades.

Programmes are now being developed with two main aims in mind-on the one hand, to improve the physical condition of library collections, especially by the process called ‘mass de-acidification’ (which is designed to eliminate acid from the paper of published books and insert a buffer compound that will provide protection against future acid attack form the environment); and on the other, to transfer the contents of existing books to another medium (such as microfilm or optical disk).

Libraries will only be able to carry out these special tasks with the assistance of other experts such a book conservators and high-technology specialists. But here is another group with whom I have traditionally enjoyed strong affinities and whose co-operation will crucial if the problem of decaying collections is to be arrested-namely, the printing and publishing industries. The existing problem-that of book collections already assembled in libraries-is of vast proportions, but it is intensified by the continuing use of acid-based paper in book publishing. The key issue is how to preserve the books of the future not simply those of the past.

If the future dimensions of the conservation problem are to be curbed, there will need to be widespread adoption of paper which is of archival quality.

  1. The tone of the passage is one of
  2. informed concern
  3. destructive criticism
  4. derisive ridicule
  5. helpless alarm

Answer: The first half of the passage mentions the reasons as to the problems faced by libraries. However, the author also expresses his/her point expressing her concern and this is strongly indicated in the last line. Hence, the answer in this example is ‘informed concern’.

  1. (CAT 2003 (Leaked))

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time:
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Q. Which of the following best reflects the tone of the poem?

  1. Prescribing
  2. Exhorting
  3. Pleading
  4. Consoling

Answer: The poet is encouraging the reader to set out on life’s journey and to not be afraid of the obstacles that he will face. Clearly, the tone is neither pleading nor consoling. Additionally, the poet is clearly encouraging the reader to go on the journey instead of simply counseling him. Hence, the tone will be exhorting and not prescribing.

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