Although intonation is primarily a matter of pitch variation, it is important to be aware that functions attributed to intonation such as the expression of attitudes and emotions, or highlighting aspects of grammatical structure, almost always involve concomitant variation in other prosodic features. David Crystal for example says that "intonation is not a single system of contours and levels, but the product of the interaction of features from different prosodic systems – tone, pitch-range, loudness, rhythmicality and tempo in particular."
Most transcription conventions have been devised for describing one particular accent or language, and the specific conventions therefore need to be explained in the context of what is being described. However, for general purposes the International Phonetic Alphabet offers the two intonation marks shown in the box at the head of this article. Global rising and falling intonation are marked with a diagonal arrow rising left-to-right and falling left-to-right , respectively. These may be written as part of a syllable, or separated with a space when they have a broader scope:
Here the rising pitch on street indicates that the question hinges on that word, on where he found it, not whether he found it.
Here, as is common with wh- questions, there is a rising intonation on the question word, and a falling intonation at the end of the question.
In many descriptions of English, the following intonation patterns are distinguished: