List making, the eternal struggle.

i constantly make lists. I have lists on scraps of paper, in my diary, on my phone, on my tablet, on a blackboard in the kitchen and in my head. I do my best to keep up with the day-to-day needs if the family and my work by writing down every little thing that needs doing. I’ve tried various apps but none stick. 

So, while I’m having my coffee and reading this…  I’m also thinking…


…what about when we list things out loud? How should we change our voices to match the task?

A simple list, like a shopping list, is easy to read out loud. Each item should finish with an upward inflection, until the final item which has a downward inflection. This tells the listener that the list is over. This can be transferred to business presentations, when you are listing aims or reflecting on achievements, or interviews when you list several attributes that you will contribute to the role.

A list of similar items may have ‘flat’ intonation, finishing with downward on the final item. This might be true in a clothes shop when you ask the assistant what size an item comes in, e.g. “Size 10, 12, 14 and 18”. Each item is equally important to carries the same weight.

Politicians have a lengthy pause after every item on a list. It’s a real house style. I’m not convinced it works well as it feels rather patronising to the listener. A short pause gives people time to reflect, too long and they’ll think you’re being a little rude. Practice lists on a friend or colleague to get the pause time correct. 

If each item on the list has negative connotations, for example, listing all the chores your daughter didn’t do, then a downward inflection on each item drives home the way you are feeling. It sounds disappointed and negative, which sometimes we do need to be. 

Have I forgotten a type of list?

Check out the Cambridge Advanced Pronunciation Textbook for more in depth list work. The diagrams are clear and easy to follow. 


2 thoughts on “List making, the eternal struggle.

  1. Have you tried Wunderlist? It’s changed my life and I’d tried plenty of ‘to do’ apps before that (though I shall be trying out the ‘say the list out loud’ idea too!).


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