The english stress and intonation patterns

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Simple rules to master English stress and pronunciation

All words of more than one syllable have what is called word stress. This means that at least one of the syllables is l-o-n-g-e-r and louder than the other syllables.

In the following examples, stressed syllables are in capital letters:

  • PHO tograph phoTOgraphy photoGRAphic
  • PENcil comMITtee voluntTEER
  • MARyland soCIety inforMAtion

In many cases, word stress must simply be learned as new vocabulary is acquired. However, there are several rules for word stress which can make it easier to deal with.

I. Compound Nouns:

Listen to yourself saying the following compound nouns. Can you hear the word stress?

  • bluebird
  • blackboard
  • notebook
  • bookstore
  • toothbrush
  • keyboard

In each of these examples, the first part of the compound gets the stress.

II. Noun+Noun Compounds (2-word compound nouns)

Listen to yourself saying the following noun+noun compounds. Can you hear which part of the compound gets more stress?

  • air conditioner
  • computer programmer
  • nail polish
  • French fry
  • Geiger counter
  • doctor's office

Similar to the rule for compound nouns, the first part of the compound--here, the first word--gets the stress. (Note: If the "unstressed" part of the noun+noun compound is more than one syllable, it will have some word stress. However, the first part of the compound will get even more stress.)

III. Phrasal Verbs versus Compound Nouns derived from phrasals

Phrasal verbs (a.k.a. two-word or two-part verbs) are generally made up of a verb and preposition. For many of these, correct word stress is especially important as they have compound noun counterparts. In the following examples, the words on the left are phrasal verbs. The words on the right are nouns.

  • let down letdown
  • shut out shutout
  • print out printout
  • turn off turnoff
  • take over takeover

In phrasal verbs, the preposition gets the word stress. If they have a noun counterpart, however, it gets the stress on the first part.