Negative Tone Words List: Top 71 Words to Darken Your Prose

Discover our negative tone words list that can add an ominous mood to your writing; use these words to paint a bleak picture of a character, setting, or situation for your readers.

Weaving negativity into your writing might sound a bit strange at first, but every great story needs a villain and using the right language can help you paint a darker picture that will keep your readers hooked! Create depth and add some darkness into your writing with negative words when you want your readers to feel negatively about a character, situation or setting. 

Using these words can help readers understand a character’s disposition by adding context to their dialogue. Pepper these words into your writing when you’re working to foreshadow a negative event or paint a facet of your story in a negative light. Referencing a list of feeling words while you work can be a great way to convey emotion in your writing and develop your characters.

What Are Negative Tone Words?

Negative tone words list
Negative words such as “violent” are used to darken up a mood, setting, or description within the story

Negative tone words are used to darken up a mood, setting, or description within a story. Using these words can help you introduce your readers to a character’s energy without flat-out saying that the character is a villain. These words can also indicate a change in the direction of a story that previously appeared to be moving toward a happy ending. 


Everyday Negative Tone Words

You’ll likely recognize many of these everyday negative tone words; perhaps you’ve even used some in your recent conversations. It’s simple to sprinkle these words into your writing when you’re working to convey a negative tone. These words can be especially effective when used in contrast with positive words

1. Accusatory

Jason spoke in an accusatory tone when he addressed Jane’s repeated late arrivals to work.

2. Antagonistic

Beth felt that Alicia was trying to be antagonistic when she kept bringing up her past failed relationships while they were out with friends.

3. Anxious

While constant anxiety isn’t healthy, feeling anxious, like before a job interview or an athletic competition, can bolster performance.

4. Apathetic

Marissa felt apathetic as her dad lamented about the latest drama at the country club.

5. Biting

Jasmine’s biting comments toward her boyfriend during their argument made it clear that she had yet to forgive him for flirting with the waitress.

6. Broken

Ronald’s spirit was undoubtedly broken, and it became clear to his family that he struggled to overcome his recent job loss.

7. Brusque

Kelli was brusque in her speech with her employees–she was direct to the point of being offensive, and it was tough to respond to her positively.

8. Callous

The way Karen spoke about her choice to put her child in daycare was callous and made the new mom second-guess her decision.

9. Cold

Gino’s tone toward Lauren was undoubtedly cold, and she wondered if they’d ever be able to be close friends again after their argument.

10. Cynical

“I don’t mean to sound cynical,” Derrick said, “But it’s hard to believe that your lawyer is actually going to be able to live up to his claims.”

11. Detached

She had no choice but to remain detached from her father, as his tendency to come and go in her life made it hard to trust that he’d stick around this time.

12. Devastating

The effects of the tsunami were undoubtedly devastating, and city residents knew they’d have to rebuild from the ground up. 

13. Diabolic

His employees felt that his methods were diabolical and would only put money in his pockets.

14. Disapproving

The church members were generally disapproving of their new pastor, and they’d likely need to begin searching for a replacement.

15. Disbelief

As she told him she wanted a divorce, he stared at her in disbelief; it was hard to process that everything he knew was about to change.

16. Discarded

As she watched her friends walk into the stadium without her, she couldn’t help but feel like she’d been discarded and left out.

17. Disregarded

Elizabeth felt Charles disregarded her feelings when she told him she’d rather vacation in the mountains than on the beach this summer.

18. Disrespectful

Annie knew she was speaking disrespectfully to her supervisor, but she’d hit her breaking point by picking up the slack for others on her team.

19. Doubtful

“It’s doubtful that I’ll make it back in time for dinner,” Billy texted his wife.

20. Egotistical

His egotistical nature made it challenging for him to believe that anyone would reject his offer to take them out for a night on the town.

21. Evasive

She was purposefully evasive when answering her mother’s questions about what she did the night before.

22. Foreboding

The yellow envelope in the mail was foreboding, as Shelia knew it likely held yet another late notice.

23. Forthright

The candidates were forthright during the debate, using solid evidence to support their claims that the new power plant was bad for the town’s river.

24. Frantic

The teacher was frantic to get her classroom in order as she realized it was time for her administrator to observe her teaching.

25. Frightened

Owen was frightened as his cart entered the haunted house, but he was excited that he was finally tall enough for the ride.

26. Ghoulish

The ghoulish character in the video game was terrifying and made it clear why it wasn’t recommended for young children.

27. Grim

As they searched for an apartment in their new city, they realized their prospects were grim, and they’d have to adjust their must-have list.

28. Heartbroken

Jane was heartbroken when she realized she’d soon have to put her dog to sleep, as he failed to respond to the vet’s cancer treatment.

29. Hopeless

The situation between Michelle and her sister grew hopeless as they realized they’d never agree on how to handle the estate.

30. Ignored

Reginald ignored his friends as they played video games while he tried to study.

31. Indifferent

Janet felt indifferent as she perused the menu options, as nothing seemed particularly interesting.

32. Lethargic

Priya felt lethargic after pulling an all-nighter to prepare for her Sociology 101 final.

33. Malicious

Meredith didn’t mean to be malicious but hurt her friend’s feelings by mentioning her weight gain.

34. Mournful

The mournful family stood dutifully to greet those who attended the funeral.

35. Patronizing

Autumn’s patronizing tone didn’t sit well with the test audience.

36. Pessimistic

Sally couldn’t help but feel pessimistic when she looked at the low balance in her bank account.

37. Pompous

He looked pompous in his tuxedo, like he was trying too hard to be fancy.

38. Pretentious

The ceremony was pretentious and unnecessarily formal.

39. Ridiculing

Her brother’s ridiculing tone made it hard for her to focus on practicing soccer.

40. Scornful

She heard the scornful taunts of the crowd as she struck out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

41. Sinister

The sinister Halloween decorations created the perfect mood for the party.

42. Sly

Selena was sly, carefully plotting a plan to throw the election.

43. Tense

The tense mood in the room was lightened when Dominique cracked a joke about the office decor.

44. Threatening

His stature was threatening, as he stood at least a foot over the other people waiting to be interviewed. 

45. Tragic

The circumstances of the car accident were tragic.

46. Uneasy

She felt uneasy when her boss told her they needed to sit down and discuss her future at the company.

47. Unsympathetic

Matt was unsympathetic to his daughter’s requests to earn her tablet back.

48. Violent

The waves crashed violently on the shore, leaving no doubt that the incoming storm would cause serious damage.

Unusual Negative Tone Words

Unusual negative tone words
“Jilted” is one of the unusual negative tone words used by writers

These negative tone words are a bit more unusual. Use these words when you want to impact your reader, making them notice an important attribute in character. It’s important to know your audience when utilizing unusual words; using these words sparingly is often the right approach when trying to convey a negative tone to your reader.

49. Acerbic

His criticism of her art was acerbic and made her question her ability to succeed at the gallery.

50. Caustic

Brad’s caustic sense of humor left his friends wondering whether he enjoyed his time with them.

51. Choleric

Steve’s choleric attitude spread through the office like cancer, knocking positivity out of all who came into contact with him.

52. Conciliatory

Kim knew that getting a title change was merely a conciliatory way for her boss to say she wouldn’t get the raise she requested.

53. Condemnatory

The company issued a condemnatory statement on the scandal, clarifying that they disapproved of their employee’s actions.

54. Derisive

Paul feared that the derisive laugh of the audience meant they were laughing at him, not with him.

55. Disparaging

The inspector made disparaging remarks about the property Wanda was considering making her new home.

56. Elegiac

The eulogy was elegiac and heartfelt.

57. Facetious

Hector didn’t appreciate Eva’s facetious comments as he was trying to talk about his father’s death.

58. Fatalistic

His fatalistic attitude toward the cancer diagnosis made it hard to imagine that the treatment would work well.

59. Flippant

Brandon’s flippant attitude toward his customer’s dissatisfaction with his work resulted in a poor review of his concrete business.

60. Insolent

Her mother’s insolent tone made it hard to share her feelings about the fight with her best friend.

61. Jilted

Mary couldn’t help but feel jilted when she ran into her ex-boyfriend on a date with someone new.

62. Melancholic

The way she spoke about living on the East Coast was melancholic, and it was clear that she missed her hometown.

63. Morose

When Melissa came home from school, she was morose, as she had a seemingly endless amount of homework.

64. Obsequious

Rick was bothered by the obsequious waiters who seemed to constantly check on his table.

65. Pedantic

The teacher’s corrections on her paper were pedantic and seemed to nitpick at her writing style.

66. Reticent

Maribelle was reticent to discuss her issues with her sister with those outside of the family.

67. Reverent

There was a reverent silence as the museum visitors stood for the unveiling of the new exhibit on the effects of war. 

68. Sardonic

Her sardonic attitude toward the workout frustrated the instructor, as she wanted the class to take kickboxing seriously.

69. Strident

The supervisor’s strident tone made the employees snap to attention just before the store’s grand opening.

70. Wrathful

Lynette’s tone with her daughter was wrathful, as she couldn’t believe she caught her sneaking out again.

71. Wry

The psychologist’s wry smile made it clear that he wasn’t buying Jerry’s excuses for staying in his relationship.

Looking for more? Check out our list of motivational words!


  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.