Syllable stress refers to the part of a word we emphasize for pronunciation and meaning. Many words in English look the same, but mean something different when we change the stressing.
Let’s look at a few examples: Project: This word can be a noun or a verb, depending on which syllable is stressed. If you stress the first syllable and say “proj-ect” it is a noun meaning “a task”. “I need to complete my project.” If you stress the second syllable and say “pro-ject” it becomes a verb meaning “to plan.” “We can’t project our profits at this time.”
Rebel: This word can be a noun or a verb, depending on which syllable is stressed. If you stress the first syllable and say “REB-el” it is a noun meaning a person who opposes authority. “John has always been a rebel.” As a verb, the second syllable is stressed, making it sound like “re--bEL.” Here it means to oppose authority. “I hope the students don’t rebel against the university president.”
Minute: This word can be a noun or an adjective, depending on which syllable is stressed. If you stress the first syllable and say “MIN-ute” it is a noun meaning 60 seconds. “I’ll be with you in just a minute.” If you stress the second syllable and say “mi-NUTE” it becomes an adjective meaning very small. “The damage to my car was minute.”
Guidelines for stressing syllables 1. Only vowels are stressed. We never stress consonants. 2. Every vowel sound we hear is a syllable. I am not talking about a letter, but a sound. 3. We raise the pitch to stress a syllable of a word 4. The stressed syllable of a word is usually prolonged or stretched out giving it more attention. 5. The part of a word that is NOT stressed is lower in pitch and is said a little bit faster than the stressed syllable.
To understand how pitch changes with stressing, imagine a child’s slide at a playground. The child climbs the ladder to get to the top of the slide, sits down, and slides down. Now think of the stressed syllable of a word as being at the top of the slide; it has the highest pitch of the word. After you say the stressed syllable of the word, the pitch goes down, similar to going down a slide.
Let’s look at some examples of stressing in words for pronunciation and practice saying them. Want: The word “want” is a one-syllable word, so the stress is placed on the only vowel “aw”. The pitch goes up on the vowel and comes down to finish the word. “want” Summer: Summer is a two-syllable word, with the stress on the first syllable “sum”. When separated into syllables, it looks like this: “SUM-mer.” The pitch goes up on the vowel “uh” in “sum” and then comes down to say the second syllable “mer”. “summer”
Attention: This is a three-syllable word with the stress on the second syllable “ten”. When separated into syllables, it looks like this: at-TEN-tion. The pitch starts low for the first syllable, then goes up for the stressed syllable “ten”. From there, the pitch goes down again to end the word. “attention”.
Stressing one-syllable words Stressing one-syllable words is easy because there is only one vowel. The pitch always goes up for the vowel and then comes down again to finish the word. Practice saying the following one-syllable words using the up and then down pitch for stressing.
cat day dog night pen come hat go coat will
Guidelines for stressing multi-syllabic words A very important part of stressing in English involves stressing words with more than one syllable. These are called multi-syllabic words. Stressing these types of words in English can be tricky for several reasons. If you aren’t familiar with a word, you may try to apply stressing rules from your native language. Another difficulty arises when a particular word doesn’t follow any stressing rule, and in English there are many. These words are words you will have to memorize.
Stressing two-syllable words Two-syllable nouns:When pronouncing a two-syllable noun, the stress usually goes on the first syllable. Let’s look at some names of places with two syllables that follow this rule. Asia Denmark Europe Georgia Sweden Auckland Chile China Boston Denver
Here are some objects that have two syllables and follow the rule. carrot lotion blanket printer marker meeting pencil teacher trousers farmer
Names of people can also have two syllables: Andy Julie Mary Francis Michael Matthew Terry Robert Heather David
Two-syllable adjectives: When pronouncing a two-syllable adjective, the stress usually goes on the first syllable. Let’s look at some examples: pretty tired happy sleepy little certain funny loving orange cautious
Two-syllable verbs: When pronouncing a two-syllable verb, the stress often goes on the second syllable. There are many exceptions, however. Let’s look at some examples that follow the rule. begin consent correct allege decide insist inform allude direct command
Two-syllable verbs that end with “ing” Two-syllable verbs ending with “ing” stress the first syllable. Let’s look at some examples. dressing drinking hiding typing eating joking making driving wanting sleeping
Two-syllable words that begin with unstressed “uh” For two-syllable words that begin with the unstressed “uh” sound (“schwa”), the stress goes on the second syllable. Let’s look at some examples: above attack among against about unsure around account
Stressing multi-syllabic words that end with common suffixes Now let’s take a look at where to put the stress on some common multi-syllabic words that end with common suffixes. A suffix is something that is added to the end of a word.
Stressing words ending with “able” The stress usually goes on the third syllable from the end for most words that end with “able”. Let’s look at some examples of words that follow this rule. notable incredible unbelievable unforgivable inconceivable regrettable incomprehensible undeniable
Here are just a couple of words ending with “able” that do not follow the rule. Inevitable Unquestionable Stressing words that end with “sion”, “cian”, “tion”, “ic” For words that end with these suffixes, we usually stress the second syllable from the end. Words ending with the suffix “tion” are the most common. “tion” is pronounced as “shin” Practice saying the following words lotion satisfaction nation reaction location distraction relation concentration segregation realization
Words ending in “sion” are the next common: “sion” is pronounced as “shin” or “zhin” The suffix “sion” sounds like “shin” in the following words tension mansion mission admission pension impression
The suffix “sion” sounds like “zhin” in the following words. lesion occasion confusion fusion Words that end with “ic” are not as common. The suffix “ic” is always pronounced like “ick” Practice saying the following words that end with the suffix “ic” geographic angelic hectic photographic catastrophic supersonic melodic melodramatic relic Words ending in “sian”, “cian”, “tian” are the least common: The suffix “cian” is usually pronounced as “shin”. Practice the following words. physician dietician magician mathematician
The suffix “sian” is often pronounced as “zhin” and occasionally like “shin. The word “Russian” ends with the suffix “sian”, where “sian” is pronounced “shin” The following words end with the suffix “sian” pronounced as “zhin” Asian Caucasian Parisian Precisian
The suffix “tian” is usually pronounced like “shin”, as in the words: Martian Egyptian Venetian
Stressing words ending with the suffix “ty”, “ly”, “cally”, “phy”, “al”, “gy”, “cy” For words that end with all of the suffixes above, the stress usually goes on the third syllable from the end.
The following words end with the suffix “ty”, which is usually pronounced like “dee”. sensibility acuity reality abnormality responsibility activity insensitivity generosity ability immaturity
The following words end with the suffix “ly”, which is pronounced like “lee.” notably probably knowingly
The following words end with the suffix “cally” which is pronounced “klee.” Note that the vowel is not pronounced critically realistically basically tragically
The following words ending with the suffix “phy”, which is pronounced “fee” philosophy geography dystrophy atrophy photography Words ending with the suffix “al,” “gy,” and “cy” are less common Practice the following words that end with the suffix “al” which is usually pronounced “ull” critical nautical hysterical musical
The following words end with the suffix “gy”, which is pronounced like “gee” Anthropology Geology
The following words end with the suffix “cy”, which is pronounced like “see” democracy emergency
Read the following words and stress them correctly using the guidelines above. Creatively terrific atrophy Dalmatian Absolutely Regency actuality stability Lethargy attend forgivable characteristically Prolific naturalization naturalistic vacancy Enthusiastically upon rhetorical eligibility