Rising or falling intonation?

How on earth did you find out?

We should use falling intonation when asking wh questions, but we should use rising intonation to express high-energy emotions like anger, excitement or shock.

And here we do have a wh question and we also have a high-energy emotion, now what?

a part of our bookenter image description here

  • 1
    Intonation is a regional matter. Please see High rising terminal Aug 26, 2020 at 21:39
  • @WeatherVane I know but in our exams they don't care they give us a sentence and ask us to draw an upward arrow (if it is rising) or a downward arrow (if it is falling) at the end of that sentence.
    – a.RR
    Aug 26, 2020 at 21:43
  • Please revisit your course material. Aug 26, 2020 at 21:46
  • @WeatherVane I sent a photo of our book. I'm trying to escape from this country but I have to pass its exams first.
    – a.RR
    Aug 26, 2020 at 21:50
  • 1
    I am sorry again, but I cannot help with an ungrammatical phrase book that says "Do you like to go there again" and "I like to stay there longer." I don't get the intonation it uses, it seems really wooden. I suggest you find some better material to study. A better way to understand intonation would be to listen to native speakers talking. Aug 26, 2020 at 22:10

3 Answers 3


I can imagine How on earth did you find out? with either rising or falling on the end.

It depends what the focus is of the surprise or shock (indicated by "How on earth").

If it is on the finding out (i.e. "I'm surprised that you managed to find it out. How did you do it?") then I would expect rising tone on find out (or possibly a rise before find, and staying high on out)

If it is on the information you found (i.e. "That's shocking! How did you find that out?") then the peak is on earth, and find out is falling.


I don’t think real intonation can be simplified as much as your textbook presents, but within the rules you’ve explained so far, I would say that “how” normally gets a falling tone as one of the six “wh” question words:

  • who
  • what
  • where
  • when
  • why
  • how

When tried saying a few questions with your listed “high energy emotions”, I used a rising-falling tone, but if that’s not one of your options, I’d guess the rising tone taking precedence is what they’re looking for.


Rising intonation here. The phrase: "How on earth" often be used to describe surprise feeling and with high energy question, they often use rising intonation instead of falling. Keep in mind that the rule isn't always right, in some cases, the pronunciation of words/phrases or word using depends on the context too

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