Sentence Stress

English is considered a stressed language. What this means in real terms is that in a sentence we use emphasis on some words and other words are spoken as quickly as possible. For foreign language students it sounds like mumbling or ‘eating words’. Here is a general idea about the words we stress and the words we try to say as quickly as possible.

Stressed words or Content words:

Nouns: Peter, kitchen, Australia

Main verbs: eat, visit, build

Adjectives: beautiful, terrible, green

Adverbs: often, carefully, quickly

Non-stressed words or function words:

Pronouns: he, she, we

Auxiliary verbs: am, can, don’t

Determiners: the, a, some, few

Prepositions: on, before, next to

Word Stress

In English we do not give the same importance to each syllable of a word. In every word, we can accentuate, say louder or give more importance to one syllable and the other syllables we say are quieter and almost rushed through. Take these words:

Pho to graph – First syllable is stressed

Pho to gra phy – Second syllable is stressed

Pho to gra phic – Third syllable is stressed

There are 2 simple rules to English word stress and some more complicated rules that frustratingly have too many exceptions. The 2 rules you can count on are:

  1. One word = one stress. There is only one stress in each word. There cannot be 2. Okay, at some deep level of grammar, there are primary and secondary stresses, but even then the secondary stress is much lower than the primary. So, without complicating it, you can say to your students 100% that there is 1 stress per word.
  1. We can only stress vowels, not consonants.

Some of the more complicated rules that may be beneficial to know are:

Stress on first syllable:

Many 2 syllable nouns PRESent, SUsan, Table

Many 2 syllable adjectives HAPpy, ANgry, LAzy

Stress on last syllable:

Many 2 syllable verbs BeGIN, aVOID, preSENT

Stress on penultimate syllable (one before the last)

Words ending in -ic / sion / tion  iCONic, teleVISion, concenTRAtion