How to Tell Tone in Text Messages


Isaiah Smith, Author

Almost everyone has texted either a friend, family member, or colleague at least once in their lifetime. It is one of the most efficient ways of getting information around in a swift manner, just by typing in some words and simply clicking the ‘send’ button. If you text often, you might notice you can’t give out the same emotion to the receiver as if you were in person, which can be difficult to interpret certain ideas or thoughts. This brings up a point that almost everyone has come across: how do you interpret the tone of the text message?

First off, it’s never a good idea to assume. It is so easy to look at a text and automatically turn it into a bad or really good situation. For example, let’s take this text and try to interpret the tone:

Mom: I want you to come home now

What is your initial reaction? Was it that she was mad at you or could it just be that it was dinner time? There are several different ways you can interpret the tone of this simple phrase. But if we just assume she is mad at us or that something bad has happened, it’ll make our minds overthink for no apparent reason.

Next, we need to read the context of the text. Let’s go back to the previous example, but add more context to the situation.

Son: I’m hanging out with my friend today

Mom: Ok

Son: Let me know when you want me home

Mom: I want you to come home now

Does that sound as aggressive as the previous example? By reading the text surrounding the vaguely toned phrase, we can decipher that it doesn’t have a negative tone to the message. This portrays the thought that the mom was trying to get across to her son.

Finally, something that many people probably haven’t had experience with is tone indicators. I know, even with as much context clues and no assumptions made, some text may be very difficult to interpret correctly, often leaving the receiver in curiosity. There is a viable solution to make your message come across as accurate as possible, which is using tone indicators. This is a helpful tool for others who don’t understand tones over text very well. All you have to do is add a simple slash and a letter (a). Let’s use the previous example one last time.

Mom: I want you to come home now/nm

When using /nm in that text, it indicates that the mom is not mad (nm) at the son, but more informative. There are several different types of tone indicators with different codes and meanings.

Here are a few of the more common tone indicators:

/j- joking

/hj- half joking

/s- sarcastic

/g- genuine

/srs- serious

/nsrs- not serious

To learn more about tone indicators and how to use them, go to