Monday, June 4, 2007



There are two very simple rules about word stress:

1. One word has only one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words. Two stresses cannot be one word. It is true that there can be a "secondary" stress in some words. But a secondary stress is much smaller than the main [primary] stress, and is only used in long words.)

2. We can only stress vowels, not consonants.

Here are some more, rather complicated, rules that can help you understand where to put the stress. But do not rely on them too much, because there are many exceptions. It is better to try to "feel" the music of the language and to add the stress naturally.

A. Stress on first syllable

- Most 2-syllable nouns: PRESent, EXport, CHIna, TAble
- Most 2-syllable adjectives: PRESent, SLENder, CLEVer, HAPpy

B. Stress on last syllable

- Most 2-syllable verbs: to preSENT, to exPORT, to deCIDE, to beGIN

C. Stress on penultimate syllable (penultimate = second from end)

- Words ending in -ic: GRAPHic, geoGRAPHic, geoLOGic
- Words ending in -sion and -tion: teleVIsion, reveLAtion

D. Stress on ante-penultimate syllable (ante-penultimate = third from end)

- Words ending in -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy: deMOcracy, dependaBIlity, phoTOgraphy, geOLogy
- Words ending in -al: CRItical, geoLOGical


The basic rules of sentence stress are:

The following tables can help you decide which words are content words and which words are structure words:

1. Content words - stressed

Words carrying the meaning
- main verbs: SELL, GIVE, EMPLOY
- nouns: CAR, MUSIC, MARY
- adjectives: RED, BIG, INTERESTING
- negative auxiliaries: DON'T, AREN'T, CAN'T

2. Structure words – unstressed

Words for correct grammar

- pronouns: he, we, they
- prepositions: on, at, into
- articles: a, an, the
conjunctions: and, but, because
- auxiliary verbs: do, be, have, can, must

The above rules are for for what is called "neutral" or normal stress. But sometimes we can stress a word that would normally be only a structure word, for example to correct information.

Look at the following dialogue:

"They've been to Mongolia, haven't they?""No, THEY haven't, but WE have.

Note also that when "be" is used as a main verb, it is usually unstressed (even though in this case it is a content word).

(Be continued)

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