Stress and word meaning


Word Stress and American English Accent Word stress is your magic key to understanding spoken English

Word Stress and American English Accent

Word stress is your magic key to understanding spoken English. Native speakers of English use word stress naturally. Word stress is so natural for them that they don't even know they use it. Non-native speakers who speak English to native speakers without using word stress, encounter two problems:

  1. They find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those speaking fast.
  2. The native speakers may find it difficult to understand them.

This page shows the way in which the meaning of a word can change if you stress a different syllable. This change only happens with a few, specific words, many of which are listed here — it doesn’t apply to all words in the English language. Most of the words are two syllables long — there are just a few examples with three syllables.

The examples fall into two categories:

Those which keep the same general meaning, but which change from noun to verb when the stress moves from the first to the second syllable.

Those which change their meaning completely — most of them change from noun to verb, but a few change to an adjective.

1. Change from noun to verb, same general meaning:

addict ADD-ict Rob is a crack cocaine ADD-ict. (Rob is a person who uses crack cocaine and cannot stop doing it)
add-ICT If you keep playing that game, you will get add-ICT-ed to it! (you will become an addict)
conflict CON-flict The two friends were in CON-flict. (didn’t agree about something)
con-FLICT Your two accounts of what happened con-FLICT. (your stories don’t agree with each other)
contest CON-test He is taking part in a boxing CON-test. (a fighting competition)
con-TEST I’m sorry, I have to con-TEST your figures. (I can’t agree with your figures)
contrast CON-trast There’s quite a CON-trast between their political views. (a big difference)
con-TRAST I will compare and con-TRAST these two poems. (show the differences between them)
convert CON-vert He is a CON-vert to Buddhism. (he has changed his religion)
con-VERT I’m sorry, you will never con-VERT me. (you will never persuade me to change my beliefs/opinions)
decrease DE-crease There has been a DE-crease in sales recently. (we have sold less than usual)
de-CREASE We need to de-CREASE the number of children in the class to make it more effective.
import IM-port Coffee is an IM-port from Brazil. (coffee is brought here from Brazil)
im-PORT We would like to im-PORT more coffee over the next few years.
increase IN-crease There has been an IN-crease in accidents recently. (there have been more accidents)
in-CREASE We need to in-CREASE our sales figures. (sell more)
insult IN-sult What she said felt like an IN-sult. (she said something bad)
in-SULT Please don’t in-SULT me(don’t say bad things to me)
perfect PER-fect Your homework is PER-fect. (it has no mistakes in it)
per-FECT We need to per-FECT our design before we can put this new product on the market. (we need to improve it)
permit PER-mit Do you have a PER-mit to drive this lorry?. (document giving permission)
per-MIT Will you per-MIT me to park my car in front of your house? (allow me)
pervert PER-vert Niharika is a PER-vert. (she has strange sexual preferences)
per-VERT The man was arrested on a charge of attempting to per-VERT the course of justice. (interfering with the proper workings of the legal process)
present PRES-ent She gave me a nice PRES-ent on my birthday.(gift)
pre-SENT Allow me to pres-ENT my friend, David. (introduce)
produce PRO-duce They sell all kinds of PRO-duce at the market. (fruit and vegetables)
pro-DUCE How did the magician manage to pro-DUCE a rabbit from his top hat? (bring out)
protest PRO-test There was a political PRO-test going on in the street. (demonstration)
pro-TEST I had to pro-TEST about the dirty state of the kitchen. (complain)
recall RE-call The actor was given a RE-call. (called back, invited for a second audition)
re-CALL I can’t re-CALL the first time I rode a bicycle. (remember)
record RE-cord She always keeps a RE-cord of what she spends every month. (note)
re-CORD It’s important to re-CORD how much you spend every month. (make a note of)
reject RE-ject The item in this box is a RE-ject. (not good enough to sell)
re-JECT We have decided to re-JECT the building proposal as it would have cost too much money. (turn down, say no to)
suspect SUS-pect The police interviewed the SUS-pect for five hours, but then let him go. (someone they thought might have committed a crime)
sus-PECT I sus-PECT that tree will have to be cut down, before it falls and causes some damage. (have a feeling, think, imagine)

2. Change from noun to verb or noun to adjective, different meaning:

address AD-dress Do you know Valen’s AD-dress? (where she lives)
ad-DRESS You do not have permission to ad-DRESS President Harkonnen! (to speak to him directly)
attribute AT-trib-ute Dishonesty is a common ATT-rib-ute of politicians. (a trait/characteristic)
at-TRIB-ute That quote is at-TRIB-u-ted to Winston Churchill. (considered to be first said/created by him)
conduct CON-duct We aren’t happy about your general CON-duct. (the way you’re behaving)
con-DUCT I was asked to con-DUCT the orchestra at short notice. (coordinate a musical performance by waving a baton)
console CON-sole I spend too much time at my computer CON-sole. (screen and controls)
con-SOLE She was so unhappy, I was unable to con-SOLE her. (make her feel better)
content CON-tent The CON-tent of your essay is fine, but you need to rearrange the structure. (what it contains)
con-TENT (adj.) She was sitting reading a book, looking very con-TENT. (relaxed, peaceful)
converse CON-verse Do you think firm A is more successful than firm B? I think the CON-verse is true. (opposite)
con-VERSE He can con-VERSE in three different languages. (have conversations)
default DE-fault The DE-fault settings of that TV are bad, but you can configure it differently. (the settings it comes with it when you get it)
de-FAULT Jon de-FAULT-ed on his loan payments. (he did not make the required payments)
desert DES-ert The army marched through the DES-ert. (eg Sahara)
des-ERT I wouldn’t advise you to des-ERT the army, as it will get you into trouble. (leave without permission)
entrance EN-trance The EN-trance to the building was locked. (way in)
en-TRANCE Are you trying to en-TRANCE me? (hypnotise me, put me into a trance)
exploit EX-ploit He’s always talking about some EX-ploit from his war years. (exciting experience, adventure)
ex-PLOIT Some companies ex-PLOIT their staff by expecting them to work overtime for no extra pay. (take advantage of)
extract EX-tract She read me an EX-tract from her new novel. (short section)
ex-TRACT The dentist says he needs to ex-TRACT one of my teeth. (remove, pull out, take out)
invalid IN-val-id After his accident he was an IN-val-id for nearly a year, but he’s ok again now. (was disabled, had mobility problems)
in-VAL-id (adj.) I’m sorry, your passport is in-VAL-id, as it expired two months ago. (can’t be used)
object OB-ject What is that OB-ject over there? (thing)
ob-JECT Would anyone ob-JECT if I opened a window? (complain)
project PRO-ject This PRO-ject should be completed next month. (piece of work)
pro-JECT We could pro-JECT the film onto that blank wall. (show, display)
refuse REF-use We have our REF-use collected on a Thursday. (rubbish, garbage)
re-FUSE Chocolate cake? How can I re-FUSE! (say no)
subject SUB-ject What is the SUB-ject of today’s lesson? (topic)
sub-JECT Oh dear, our teacher is going to sub-JECT us to another test. (impose on us, make us endure)