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A Guide to Tone Indicators: How They Work and How to Use Them

Updated on May 5, 2023Writing Tips

Have you ever accidentally offended someone over text message? It happens. Unlike in speech, tone can be hard to convey and detect in written communication. Once you hit send, it’s up to the recipient to interpret your tone.

This is where tone indicators come into play. Tone indicators are simple symbols or letter combinations that show what sentiment a message is meant to express. Tone indicators are used when communicating over text message and in chat rooms, forums, dating apps, and other platforms.

If you’ve never used tone indicators before, keeping track of them can be difficult. Here, we’ve gathered the most popular tone indicators into a handy guide for understanding and using them effectively.

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Whether you’re new to tone indicators or simply looking to enhance your understanding, this article will help you incorporate tone indicators into your everyday online vernacular.

What is a tone indicator?

A tone indicator is a notation that signals the emotional intent behind a written message. Tone indicators can be useful in certain online conversations where it can be difficult to interpret the tone of a message.

Some people also use emojis, emoticons, abbreviations, acronyms, or bigrams to convey sentiment. These can be things like a smiley face emoji (🙂), “LOL,” or “XO.” This article focuses primarily on the most complex tone indicators: abbreviations.

Using tone indicators can help prevent misunderstandings when communicating online. They can also promote clearer and more effective communication and signal a potentially appropriate response.

When to use a tone indicator

It’s important to consider the feelings of the person receiving your message and how your words may be perceived when using tone indicators. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of caution and use a tone indicator to ensure clear, respectful communication.

Some everyday situations where tone indicators are helpful include the following:

  • When communicating online or via text message
  • During discussions of sensitive or controversial topics
  • In situations where you think your words may be misinterpreted
  • When using humor or sarcasm in a text that may not be immediately apparent
  • When you’re expressing empathy or concern for someone’s feelings

Tone indicators aren’t necessary for these types of writing:

  • Academic writing
  • Professional communication
  • Messages with close friends or family members who are familiar with your communication style
  • Instances when the tone is obvious from the context of the message

How to use tone indicators

Add the abbreviation at the end of a sentence to use a tone indicator in written communication. Tone indicators shouldn’t be used to replace clear and direct communication.

Usually, the tone indicator is preceded by a slash. Sometimes, tone indicators can also be written within parentheses or preceded by a dash.

Here are some ways you might see tone indicators written:

  • /j
  • (jk)
  • -j

25 tone indicators

Here are some examples of tone indicators, what they stand for, and what they each mean.

1 /c


This is used to indicate text that frequently gets copied and pasted across multiple internet chats.

2 /cb


Sensationalized content whose main purpose is to attract and generate clicks and views on a website or social media platform is often followed by this tone indicator.

3 /f


This indicates that the sender believes someone else’s comment wasn’t sincere or genuine.

4 /g or /gen


Often used with a question, this indicates that someone is asking a question sincerely.

5 /hj


“Half-joking” means that a comment that appears to be serious is meant to be a joke. It’s also used when a comment that appears to be a joke has serious intent.

6 /hyp


This is used by senders to indicate that they are exaggerating or by commenters to note that they believe someone else is exaggerating.

7 /ij

I’m joking or Inside joke

Often used to soften a frank comment that may not be well received, this indicates that it was meant as a joke. When used in a group chat, this tone indicator can refer to a joke shared only among certain group members.

8 /j


This indicates that a comment is meant as a joke. It may be interchanged with “/jk” (just kidding).

9 /l or /ly


When a sender quotes song lyrics in a message, they’ll usually use this tone indicator.

10 /lh


Similar to “/j” (joking), this may follow a comment meant to be lighthearted or cheerful.

11 /li


Indicates that a comment should be taken literally as opposed to “/m” (metaphorically), “/j” (joking), or “/hj” (half-joking).

12 /lu

A little upset

When someone is upset by a comment made by someone else, they’ll use this to indicate their feelings.

13 /m


This indicates that a comment should be taken metaphorically or symbolically as opposed to “/l” (literally).

14 /nbh or /nsb

Nobody here or Not subtweeting

This means “not directed at anybody here.” It’s used when someone is venting or posting vaguely but not directing their message at anybody in the space where they’re sending it.

15 /neg or /nc

Negative connotation

This indicates that a sender intends their comment or message, which could be interpreted negatively, to be taken seriously.

16 /neu


When a sender wants their message to be taken neutrally, they’ll end it with this tone indicator.

17 /nm

Not mad

This shows that the sender isn’t upset or angry.

18 /nsrs


This is used when a sender doesn’t intend for their comment to be taken seriously.

19 /pos or /pc

Positive connotation

A sender uses this tone indicator to indicate that their message is meant to be positive.

20 /p


This is often used when a message expresses affection but is meant to be taken platonically rather than romantically or sexually.

21 /rh or /rt

Rhetorical question

When a commenter or sender means for their question to be taken rhetorically or when a commenter is responding to someone who didn’t realize the original post was rhetorical, they’ll often use this tone indicator.

22 /s


This is used when a sender means for their message or comment to come across sarcastically.

23 /srs

Serious or Seriously

When a sender wants their comment to be taken seriously, they’ll often use this tone indicator.

24 /t


This indicates a comment is meant to come across jokingly or teasingly.

25 /th


When a sender wants their comment to be taken as a threat, they’ll add this.

Sentences with tone indicators

/l example

“Every little thing gonna be alright! /l”

This comment, which includes a song lyric from “Three Little Birds,” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, essentially means “Don’t worry!”

/p example

“I couldn’t live without you /p.”

This message conveys that the sender appreciates having this person in their life but in a platonic way.

/hj example

“If you insist on sending me cat videos every day, I will block you /hj.”

This use of “half-joking” indicates that the sender doesn’t want to receive so many cat videos (serious), and is mad enough about it to block the person (joking).

/neg example

“I think it’s mean when you make fun of Kelly. /neg.”

Using “negative” in this way makes it clear the sender is serious.

/rt example

“Do you even lift, bro? /rt”

A message like this is a question asked jokingly that is not meant to elicit a response.

Tone indicator FAQs

What is a tone indicator?

A tone indicator is a symbol or word used in written communication to convey the sentiment of a message. Some popular tone indicators include “/s” for sarcastic, “/j” for joking, and “/gen” for genuine.

How do tone indicators work?

Tone indicators are added at the end of a sentence to indicate the sentiment behind a message. They are preceded by a slash and usually consist of a short abbreviation that indicates a common emotional intent.

When should you use them?

You may want to use a tone indicator in casual online or text conversations where emotion can be difficult to interpret. They’re also useful when discussing emotionally charged topics.

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