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Accentuate the right syllable!

I mentioned syllable stress in relation to suffixes in my last blog. For those from monosyllabic languages or tonal languages, it is important to understand syllable stress in English.



We have 3 kinds of syllable stress in English. Primary, secondary and weak. Every syllable must contain a vowel. Every word has only one primary, or ‘most emphasized’ syllable. In multisyllable words, you will also have at the very least (in a 2 syllable word) a weak syllable, and secondary stress syllables for words with 3 or more syllables. The secondary stress syllables will be slightly more emphasized than weak, but not as emphasized as the primary syllables.


So how do we emphasize syllables? Usually, the primary syllable is said with a slightly higher pitch (or note, if you will). It may be louder, and perhaps longer than secondary stressed syllables, but not always.


In addition to the suffixes influencing where the syllable emphasis goes (see my last blog), so does grammar. Two syllable nouns tend to be emphasized on the first syllable, two syllable verbs on the second syllable. Some examples….

PROduce (noun) - fruits and vegetables I like to eat fresh PROduce.

proDUCE (verb) to create or make something I want to proDUCE a movie.


RECord (noun) I played a vinyl record on my stereo

record (verb) I need to record the payment in my ledger.


Understanding how you are using the word, as a noun or a verb, is very helpful for determining where the emphasis goes. BUT, unfortunately, there are many nouns and verbs and don’t follow this pattern. Some examples…


Nouns- raCOON, poLICE, aPPEAL, idEA, rePORT


Verbs- STUdy, Focus, PUBlish, TACKle, BoRROW,


I tell my clients that many of the ‘rules’ we have in American English pronunciation are only accurate about 2/3 of the time. For this reason, it’s important to do two things that we work on in class. First, is improving listening skills. You will get better with recognizing when your pronunciation is different from native American English speakers by attending to the speech of others. The second is to keep a notebook with those words you emphasize incorrectly, writing the primary syllable in caps, and practicing those words which you use frequently on a regular basis.

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