You are on page 1of 6

Object5

Object4
Object2

EnglishSyllablesandStressPatterns

Syllablesandstressaretwoofthemainareasofspokenlanguage.Pronouncing
wordswiththestressonthecorrectsyllableswillhelpyouimproveyourspoken
English,makeyoursentenceseasiertounderstandandhelpyousoundmorelikea
nativespeaker.

Syllables

TheEnglishlanguageisheavilystressedwitheachworddividedintosyllables.
Englishisclassedasastressbasedlanguage,whichmeansthemeaningsof
wordscanbealteredsignificantlybyachangeinstress.Thisiswhyitis
importanttodevelopanunderstandingofEnglishsyllablesandstresspatterns.

HerearesomeexamplesofEnglishwordswithdifferentnumbersofsyllables,
followedbyaseriesofexamplesofcorrectstressplacement:

Onesyllable

The,cold,quite,bed,add,start,hope,clean,trade,green,chair,sign,pea,wish,
drive,plant,square,give,law,off,trough

Twosyllables

Party,special,today,quiet,orange,partner,table,demand,power,retrieve,
doctor,engine,diet,transcribe,contain,cabbage,mountain,defend,spacial,
greedy,exchange,manage,carpet,although

Threesyllables

Fantastic,energy,expensive,wonderful,laughable,badminton,idiot,celery,
beautiful,aggression,computer,journalist,horrify,
gravity,temptation,trampoline,industry,distinguished,however,tremendous

Foursyllables
Understanding,indecisive,conversation,realistic,moisturising,American,
psychology,gregarious,independence,affordable,controversial,
gymnasium,entrepreneur,transformation,remembering

Fivesyllables

Uncontrollable,inspirational,misunderstanding,conversational,
opinionated,biological,subordination,determination,sensationalist,refrigerator,
haberdashery,hospitality

EnglishStressPatterns
Usuallyonesyllableofawordisstressedmorethantheothers.Thisishowwords
andsentencesdeveloptheirownrhythm.

SyllablesandstresspatternsintheEnglishlanguagehelptocreatethesounds,
pronunciationsandrhythmsthatwehearallaroundus.

Wecometorecognisethesesyllablesandstresspatternsinconversationsinreal
lifeinteractionsandontheradioandtelevision.Herearesomewordsfromthe
abovelistswiththestressedsyllableinbold:

Twosyllablewordsstresspatterns:

Quiet,party,special,today,orange,partner,table,demand,power,
retrieve,engine,diet,greedy,exchange,manage,carpet,although

Threesyllablewordsstresspatterns:

Fantastic,energy,expensive,aggresion,wonderful,laughable,
badminton,celery,temptation,trampoline,industry,dintinguished,however,
tremendous,library

Foursyllablewordsstresspatterns:

Understanding,indecisive,conversation,realistic,moisturising,American,
psychology,independence,entrepreneur,transformation,fascinating,
comfortable

Fivesyllablewordsstresspatterns:
Uncontrollable,inspirational,misunderstanding,conversational,opinionated,
biological,alphabetical,subordination,refrigerator,haberdashery,hospitality

SyllablesandStressPatternsinSpeech
Clearsyllablesandstresspatternsareanimportantpartofspeech.Thecorrect
stressiscrucialforunderstandingawordquicklyandaccuratelyinEnglish.

Evenifyoucannothearawordwellandarenotfamiliarwiththecontext,youcan
oftenstillworkoutwhatthewordisfromthestresspattern.

Inthesameway,ifalearnerpronouncesaworddifferentlyfromtheaccepted
norm,itcanbehardforanativespeakertounderstandtheword.

Learningalanguageisallaboutcommunicationandbeingabletomakeyourself
understood.ThisiswhysyllablesandstresspatternsinspokenEnglishareso
important.

EnglishStressRules
Onlyvowelsoundsarestressed(a,e,i,o,u).

Ageneralruleisthatfortwosyllablewords,nounsandadjectiveshavethe
stressonthefirstsyllable,butverbshavethestressonthesecondsyllable.

Forexample:table(noun),special(adjective),demand(verb).

Wordsendinginic,tionorsionalwaysplacetheirstressonthe
penultimate(secondtolast)syllable.(e.g.supersonic,Atlantic,dedication,
attention,transformation,comprehension).

Wordsendingincy,ty,gyandalalwaysplacetheirstressonthethird
fromlastsyllable.(e.g.accountancy,sincerity,chronology,inspirational,
hypothetical).

Stresscanchangingthemeaningofaword
Remember,whereweplacethestresscanchangethemeaningofaword.Thiscan
leadtosomefunnymisunderstandingsandsomefrustratingconversations!Here
areafewexamplesofwordswherethestressedsyllablechangesthemeaningof
theword:

Object

Thewordobjectisanexampleofawordthatcanchangemeaningdependingon
whichsyllableisstressed.Whenthewordispronouncedobject(withastresson
thefirstsyllable)thewordisanounmeaninganitem,purposeorperson/thing
thatisthefocusofasentence.Butthesamewordispronouncedobject(withthe
emphasisonthesecondsyllable)thewordisnowaverb,meaningtodisagree
withsomethingorsomeone.

Present

Whenthewordpresentispronouncedpresent(withthestressonthefirst
syllable)thewordisanounmeaningagiftoranadjectivemeaninghere/not
absent.Butwhenthewordispronouncedpresent(withthestressonthesecond
syllable)thewordisnowaverbmeaningtopresentsomethingorsomeone(i.e.to
introduce).

Project

Anotherexampleofthesamewordchangingmeaningdependingonwhereyou
placethestressisthewordproject.Thiscanbethenoun,project(atask),or
averb,toproject(tothrowortoprotrude).

Compoundwords(singlewordsmadeupoftwodistinctparts,sometimes
hyphenated)

Compoundnounshavethestressonthefirstpart:
e.g.sugarcane,beetroot,henhouse,tripwire,lighthouse,newspaper,
porthole,roundabout,willpower
Compoundadjectivesandverbshavethestressonthesecondpart:
e.g.wholehearted,greenfingered,oldfashioned,tounderstand,to
inform,toshortchange,toovertake

EnglishStressPatternswithinaSentence
OnceyouknowwheretoputthestressoneachindividualwordinEnglish,you
needtoknowwhichwordstostressaspartofthesentenceasawhole.Thisishow
stresspatternsarerelatedtotherhythmofEnglish.

Englishspeakerstendtoputanemphasisonthemostimportantwordsina
sentenceinordertodrawthelistenersattentiontothem.Themostimportant
wordsarethewordsthatarenecessaryforthemeaningofthesentence.For
example:

Thecatsatonthematwhileeatingitsfavouritefood

Themostimportantwordshereare:cat,mat,eatingandfood.Evenifyouonly
heardthosewords,youwouldbeabletounderstandwhatwashappeninginthe
sentencefromhearingwhichwordsarestressed.

Clearly,itisthenounsandverbsthatarethemostimportantpartsofthe
sentence,asthesearethecontentwordsthathelpwithmeaning.

Theadjectives,adverbsandconjunctionsalladdflavourtothesentencebutthey
arenotabsolutelynecessarytounderstandthemeaning.

Inourexamplesentence:Thecatsatonthematwhileeatingitsfavouritefood,
wehavealreadyusedthewordcatsowedonotneedtoemphasisethewordits
(orhe/sheifyouwanttogivethecatagender),becausewealreadyknowwhois
eating(i.e.thecat).

StressedVowelSoundsandWeakVowels
Thenecessarywordsinasentencearestressedmorebyincreasingthelength
andclarityofthevowelsound.Incontrast,theunnecessarywordsarestressed
lessbyusingashorterandlessclearvowelsound.Thisiscalledaweakvowel
sound.

Infact,sometimesthevowelsoundisalmostinaudible.Forexample,thelettera
inEnglishisoftenreducedtoamuffleduhsound.

Youcanherthisweakvowelsoundatthestartofthewordsaboutandattack.
TheycansoundlikeuboutanduttackwhenspokenbyanativeEnglishspeaker.
Thearticleaasasinglewordisalsoreducedinthiswaytoaweakuhsound.

Thereasonforthisweakstresspatternistohelptherhythmandspeedof
speech.Usingthisweakuhsoundforthevowelahelpsthespeakergetreadyfor
thenextstressedsyllablebykeepingthemouthandlipsinaneutralposition.

Topronouncetheamoreclearlywouldrequireagreateropeningofthemouth,
whichwouldslowthespeakerdown.AsEnglishisastresstimedlanguage,the
stressesarevitalfortherhythm,sothevowelsoundsofunstressedwordsoften
getlost.

Clickonthehighlightedtexttolearnmoreabouthowstressrelatestotherhythm
ofEnglishandintonationinEnglish.

WhatdoyouthinkaboutsyllablesandstressinEnglish?
Doyoufindthesyllablesandstresspatternsadifficultpartoflearninganew
language?

Haveyouhadanyfunnymisunderstandingsfromstressingthewrongsyllablein
English?Wedlovetohearyourstories.

DoyouhaveanyideastohelpEFLstudentsimprovetheirunderstandingof
syllablesandstress?Letusknowyourthoughtsinthecommentsbox.