Stress and word meaning
Do you want to learn more about American English
sounds? You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we discuss everything you need to know, starting
with the basics.
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
- They find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those speaking fast.
- 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:
||Rob is a crack cocaine ADD-ict. (Rob is a person who uses
crack cocaine and cannot stop doing it)
||If you keep playing that game, you will get add-ICT-ed to it!
(you will become an addict)
||The two friends were in CON-flict. (didn’t agree about
||Your two accounts of what happened con-FLICT. (your stories
don’t agree with each other)
||He is taking part in a boxing CON-test. (a fighting
||I’m sorry, I have to con-TEST your figures. (I can’t agree
with your figures)
||There’s quite a CON-trast between their political views. (a
||I will compare and con-TRAST these two poems. (show the
differences between them)
||He is a CON-vert to Buddhism. (he has changed his
||I’m sorry, you will never con-VERT me. (you will never
persuade me to change my beliefs/opinions)
||There has been a DE-crease in sales recently. (we have sold
less than usual)
||We need to de-CREASE the number of children in the class to
make it more effective.
||Coffee is an IM-port from Brazil. (coffee is brought here
||We would like to im-PORT more coffee over the next few
||There has been an IN-crease in accidents recently. (there
have been more accidents)
||We need to in-CREASE our sales figures. (sell more)
||What she said felt like an IN-sult. (she said something
||Please don’t in-SULT me(don’t say bad things to me)
||Your homework is PER-fect. (it has no mistakes in it)
||We need to per-FECT our design before we can put this new
product on the market. (we need to improve it)
||Do you have a PER-mit to drive this lorry?. (document
||Will you per-MIT me to park my car in front of your house?
||Niharika is a PER-vert. (she has strange sexual
||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)
||She gave me a nice PRES-ent on my birthday.(gift)
||Allow me to pres-ENT my friend, David. (introduce)
||They sell all kinds of PRO-duce at the market. (fruit and
||How did the magician manage to pro-DUCE a rabbit from his top
hat? (bring out)
||There was a political PRO-test going on in the street.
||I had to pro-TEST about the dirty state of the kitchen.
||The actor was given a RE-call. (called back, invited for a
||I can’t re-CALL the first time I rode a bicycle.
||She always keeps a RE-cord of what she spends every month.
||It’s important to re-CORD how much you spend every month.
(make a note of)
||The item in this box is a RE-ject. (not good enough to
||We have decided to re-JECT the building proposal as it would
have cost too much money. (turn down, say no to)
||The police interviewed the SUS-pect for five hours, but then
let him go. (someone they thought might have committed a crime)
||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,
||Do you know Valen’s AD-dress? (where she lives)
||You do not have permission to ad-DRESS President Harkonnen!
(to speak to him directly)
||Dishonesty is a common ATT-rib-ute of politicians. (a
||That quote is at-TRIB-u-ted to Winston Churchill.
(considered to be first said/created by him)
||We aren’t happy about your general CON-duct. (the way
||I was asked to con-DUCT the orchestra at short notice.
(coordinate a musical performance by waving a baton)
||I spend too much time at my computer CON-sole. (screen and
||She was so unhappy, I was unable to con-SOLE her. (make her
||The CON-tent of your essay is fine, but you need to rearrange
the structure. (what it contains)
||She was sitting reading a book, looking very con-TENT.
||Do you think firm A is more successful than firm B? I think the
CON-verse is true. (opposite)
||He can con-VERSE in three different languages. (have
||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)
||Jon de-FAULT-ed on his loan payments. (he did not make the
||The army marched through the DES-ert. (eg Sahara)
||I wouldn’t advise you to des-ERT the army, as it will get you
into trouble. (leave without permission)
||The EN-trance to the building was locked. (way in)
||Are you trying to en-TRANCE me? (hypnotise me, put me into
||He’s always talking about some EX-ploit from his war years.
(exciting experience, adventure)
||Some companies ex-PLOIT their staff by expecting them to work
overtime for no extra pay. (take advantage of)
||She read me an EX-tract from her new novel. (short
||The dentist says he needs to ex-TRACT one of my teeth.
(remove, pull out, take out)
||After his accident he was an IN-val-id for nearly a year, but
he’s ok again now. (was disabled, had mobility problems)
||I’m sorry, your passport is in-VAL-id, as it expired two months
ago. (can’t be used)
||What is that OB-ject over there? (thing)
||Would anyone ob-JECT if I opened a window? (complain)
||This PRO-ject should be completed next month. (piece of
||We could pro-JECT the film onto that blank wall. (show,
||We have our REF-use collected on a Thursday. (rubbish,
||Chocolate cake? How can I re-FUSE! (say no)
||What is the SUB-ject of today’s lesson? (topic)
||Oh dear, our teacher is going to sub-JECT us to another test.
(impose on us, make us endure)
Eriberto Do Nascimento
Eriberto Do Nascimento has Ph.D. in Speech Intelligibility and Artificial Intelligence and is
the founder of English Phonetics Academy