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[uhn-der-tohn] /ˈʌn dərˌtoʊn/
a low or subdued tone:
to speak in undertones.
an unobtrusive or background sound:
an undertone of static from the receiver.
an underlying quality or element; undercurrent:
There was an undertone of regret in his refusal.
a subdued color; a color modified by an underlying color.
Origin of undertone
1800-10; under- + tone Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for undertone
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Two students appeared, gave their names to Fancher in an undertone, and sauntered out the back door of the building.

    Rebels of the Red Planet Charles Louis Fontenay
  • A chattering and hurrying of people could be heard as an undertone.

    The Leopard Woman Stewart Edward White
  • The faces, too, of most we meet are serious, and their voices in an undertone.

    Travels in Arabia Bayard Taylor
  • They had been speaking in an undertone, standing together at a window, apart from the rest.

    The Channings Mrs. Henry Wood
  • She seemed very proud and pleased and happy, though she spoke in an undertone, for Jane was within earshot.

    Prince Fortunatus William Black
  • "I will go with you quietly," he said to them, in an undertone.

    The Channings Mrs. Henry Wood
  • “Officers of the law, I should guess,” Salt replied in an undertone.

    Danger at the Drawbridge Mildred A. Wirt
  • Then, knowing Nani's history, he related it in an undertone.

British Dictionary definitions for undertone


a quiet or hushed tone of voice
an underlying tone or suggestion in words or actions: his offer has undertones of dishonesty
a pale or subdued colour
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for undertone

1762, "low or subdued tone," from under + tone. Figurative sense of "undercurrent of feelings, etc.," is attested from 1861.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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