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Stress Placement in English
What Are the Rules for Stressing Words?In English grammar, the word "stress" refers to the emphasis given to a specific syllable in a word. The stressed syllable is usually louder, longer, and pronounced with a higher pitch than the other syllables. Knowing a word's stress is important because a misplaced stress can change the meaning of a word or confuse listeners.
The best way to learn the stress of a new word is to keep repeating it until the stress comes naturally and a different stress sounds wrong. Remember "repetition is the mother of learning." However, this method is only possible if you are able to hear the new word being pronounced correctly. If you are learning from a book, how do you know where to stress a word?
Table of Contents
- Two Fundamental Rules for Stress Placement
- Stress Placement Based on Word Type
- Stress Placement with Compound Words
- Stress Placement Based on Word Endings
- Widget for Pronouncing Words
- Printable Test
Two Fundamental Rules for Stress PlacementThe first two rules we will cover are the fundamentals of stress placement.
(Rule 1) One stress per wordThere is only one stress in a word. In other words, a word cannot have two stresses. (As you learn more about stress, you will notice that some long words have a secondary stress, but a secondary stress is much smaller than a primary stress.)
(Rule 2) Always a vowelOnly vowels can be stressed. Consonants cannot be stressed. This is true because the stress in any word falls on a single syllable, and there is a vowel sound at the heart of every syllable.
Stress Placement Based on Word TypeThe next six rules we will cover are related to word type. In other words, the stress depends on whether the word is a noun, an adjective, or a verb. When a word has two syllables (and thousands do), the stress often depends on the word type.
(Rule 3) Stress the first syllable of a two-syllable nounMost 2-syllable nouns are stressed on the first syllable. For example:
- WINdow, PENcil, BUCKet, SUNset, CAStle, RIVer, BASket, BUTton, FORest, TUNnel
(Rule 4) Stress the first syllable of a two-syllable adjectiveMost 2-syllable adjectives are stressed on the first syllable. For example:
- HAPpy, QUIet, MODern, YELlow, ANcient, HOLlow, RIGid, SHIny, MELlow
(Rule 5) Stress the last syllable of a two-syllable verbMost 2-syllable verbs are stressed on the last syllable. For example:
- to reLATE, to reTURN, to inSIST, to beCOME, to deNY, to preSENT, to exPORT, to deCIDE, to incLUDE, to arRIVE
Stress Placement with Compound WordsA compound word is a word made of two of more words. For example, "snowman" is a compound word made of "snow" and "man." The stress placement of a compound word often depends on its word type.
(Rule 6) Stress compound nouns on the first partMost compound nouns are stressed on the first part. For example:
- BOOKstore, FIREfly, GREENhouse, TOOTHbrush, HAIRbrush
(Rule 7) Stress compound adjectives on the second partMost compound adjectives are stressed on the second part. For example:
- old-FASHioned. long-LASTing, high-PITCHED, short-TEMPered
(Rule 8) Stress compound verbs on the second partMost compound verbs are stressed on the second part. For example:
- to breakDOWN, to cutBACK, to log IN, to give UP, to overFLOW, to underSTAND
Stress Placement Based on Word Endings
(Rule 9) Stress the penultimate syllable of words ending "-ic," "-sion," and "-tion"Most words that end "-ic," "-sion," and "-tion" are stressed on the penultimate syllable (i.e., the second to last one). If the word is a two-syllable word, then the penultimate syllable is also the first syllable. For example:
Words ending "-ic"
- athLETic, BAsic, cerAMic, geoGRAPHic, GRAPHic, metALlic, MYStic, orGAnic, STAtic, TROpic
Words ending "-sion"
- comPRESsion, conFESsion, deCISion, erOsion, PASsion, teleVIsion, TENsion
Words ending "-tion"
- ACtion, atTENtion, creAtion, eduCAtion, MOtion, NAtion, reveLAtion, situAtion, solUtion, tradItion
(Rule 10) Stress the ante-penultimate syllable of words ending "-cy," "-ty," "-phy," "-gy," and "al"Provided they have at least three syllables, most words that end "-cy," "-ty," "-phy," and "-gy" are stressed on the ante-penultimate syllable (i.e., the third from the end). If the word is a three-syllable word, then the ante-penultimate syllable is also the first syllable. For example:
Words ending "-cy"
- BurEAUcracy, deMOcracy, LEGacy, diplOMacy
Words ending "-ty"
- dependaBILity, opporTUnity, simPLICity, uniVERsity
Words ending "-phy"
- biOGraphy, calLIGraphy, phoTOGraphy, toPOGraphy
Words ending "-gy"
- ALlergy, biOLogy, geOLogy, radiOLogy, STRATegy
Words ending "-al"
- ANimal, CRItical, DIGital, FESTival, geoLOGical, HOSpital
Widget for Pronouncing WordsYou can use this widget to hear the pronunciation of any word(s). (Hint: To ensure you hear a verb add "to" in front. For example, the voice synthesizer treats "export" as a noun but "to export" as a verb.)
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