How to find the stressed syllable in a word top 5 rules

Making stress on English words and sentences is very important as stress whether on words or sentences changes the meaning of the utterance. it’s a very mature approach to use the technique of stress. Here we will describe “how to find the stressed syllable in a word?”

Stressed syllables

The correct formulation of stress in English is important primarily because numerous reading rules depend on the stress and unstressed syllable. For example, if an open syllable is under stress, then the vowel in it is read as it is called in the alphabet: cucumber [‘kju: kʌmbə] – the stress falls on the first syllable.

If we assume that this word should have a stress on the second syllable, then it would read as [kʌ’kju: mbə], and if on the third, then [kʌkʌm’bə:]. In other words, an incorrectly placed stress changes the sound of the word, which means it makes it difficult to understand. By the way, you need to remember that in English transcription the stress mark is placed in front of the stressed syllable, and not above it, as in Russian. Another important point: in fluent speech, sometimes stress helps to distinguish similar words. For example

  • PHOtograph,
  • phoTOgrapher,
  • photoGRAPHic

These three words have different stressed syllables, which allows them not to be confused when speaking at a fast pace.

These three words have different stressed syllables, which allows them not to be confused when speaking at a fast pace.

How to find the stressed syllable in a word

Top 5 simplest rules 

  1. If there are 2 syllables in a noun or adjective, then the stress usually falls on the first syllable: “HAPpy”, “SOfa”, “SISter”, “PAper”, “SILly”, “CLEver”.
  2. If the verb has 2 syllables, then the stress often falls on the second syllable: “beGIN”, “atTEND”, “exPLAIN”, “supPORT”. For some words, stress is the only way to distinguish between a noun and a verb:
  • a PREsent – to preSENT;
  • an INcrease – to inCREASE;
  • an OBject – to obJECT.
  1. In words with different “smart” suffixes, the stress is placed immediately before the suffix:
  • -able: enJOYable, dePendable;
  • -ary: LIBRary, DIary;
  • -graphy: geOgraphy, calLIgraphy;
  • -logy: psyCHOlogy, termiNOlogy;
  • -ion: classifiCAtion, inforMAtion.
  1. In compound nouns, the stressed one is usually the first syllable, in verbs and adjectives – the second:
  • BLACKboard, STRAWberry, MERmaid
  • overCOME, underSTAND, self-CONfident
  1. Long words can have two stresses: primary and secondary. As a rule, the main, stronger and more clear, falls on the third syllable, and the secondary – on the first (we will designate the secondary stress in bold type in the examples, and in transcription,the icon of such stress is usually placed below in front of the syllable):
  • un derSTAND [, ʌndə’stænd], au toMAtically, un beLIEvable.

In words ending with a suffix like -ion , the stress falls on the syllable immediately preceding it. Suffixes of this type include:

– i + on, -i + ous, -i + al, -i + an, -i + ant, -i + ance, -i + ent, -i + ence .

The syllable that precedes the -ic (-ical) suffix is always stressed : republ ic, period ical . Stress retains its original place in words formed with suffixes and endings: -ly, -ful, -less, -nees, -ism, -ing, -er, -or, – (e) d, – (e) s … Prefixes (prefixes) are most often found in verbs and adjectives, in adverbs and prepositions. These prefixes remain unstressed :

1-consoles with a negative value (un-, in-, dis-, non-)

`comfortable ‘place’ – ` un`comfortabl e ‘uncomfortable’; di`rect ‘direct’ – `in`direct ‘ indirect’; to ap`pear ‘appear’ – to `disap`pear ‘ disappear’; es`sential ‘essential’ – `non-es`sential ‘not essential’;

2-re – meaning ‘again’ often matches the Russian prefix re

to write ‘write’ – to `re`write ‘rewrite

3-miss – meaning ‘wrong, wrong

to under`stand ‘understand’ – to `misunder`stand ‘misunderstand

4-pre – meaning ‘before, earlier

hi`storic ‘historical ‘ – `prehi`storic ‘prehistoric

5-inter- with the meaning ‘between, among, mutually

national ‘ national ‘ – ‘ inter’national ‘international

6-ex- with the meaning ‘ex, ex’ 

champion’ champion ‘ – ‘ ex-‘champion ‘ex-champion

7-ultra- meaning ‘ultra, over

‘modern ‘ modern ‘ – ‘ ultra-modern ‘ultra modern

In modern English, there are a large number of words with various prefixes that have partially or completely lost their meaning. These words are indivisible and are not recognized as formed with the help of prefixes: re`peat ‘to repeat’, re`main ‘to leave’, re`fuse ‘to refuse’, pre`pare ‘to cook’, sub`ject ‘to expose’, inter`rupt ‘interrupt’, etc.

In English, polysyllabic words (with 4, 5 or more syllables) have, as a rule, two, less often three stresses, one of which is the main one and is indicated by an icon at the top of the stressed syllable, the other is secondary, which is placed at the bottom of the stressed syllable : , demon`stration ‘ demo ‘.

In most of the English compound nouns the stress falls on the first component of a compound word : a ` reading – lamp , a ` sitting – room , a ` writing – desk .

Two equal stresses are typical for compound and compound numerals, compound adjectives, phrasal verbs: `fif`teen,` forty -`five, an `arm`chair, an` ice -`cream, a `passer -`by,` up` stairs, `down`stairs, to` put` down, to `put` on,` north -`east, `well -`planned,` good – looking.

The rhythmic tendency to alternate stressed and unstressed syllables leads to the fact that words that have two stresses in isolated pronunciation may lose one of the stresses in coherent speech: She is a ‘ well – known ` writer . This ‘ writer is ‘ quite well -` known .

A number of words in the English language, unlike Russian, retains full vowel quality in an unstressed syllable, for example: google translate and , Adverb , the handwork , forward , football , prospect , schoolgirl , schoolboy , sunrise , Pronoun , etc .

Phrasal /sentence stress 

Not every word is stressed in an English sentence. For example, service words (prepositions, conjunctions, particles, articles), pronouns, auxiliary verbs often remain unstressed:

  • What are you doing? – I am reading.
  • She lives in the village.
  • So, in these examples, only the highlighted words will be stressed.

Phrasal stress helps to build a kind of rhythm in English speech, because, as a rule, stressed syllables are pronounced at the same interval. Because of this, unstressed syllables should be shortened, pronounced fluently. In general, this is one of the reasons why it is sometimes so difficult to understand spoken language. A short video tutorial will help you deal with this issue.

In addition, it is important to understand which of the stressed words is the most important in the sentence, that is, it carries the main logical stress.

  • He visits his parents once a week. (not she)
  • He visits his parents once a week. (he does not call them, etc)
  • He visits his parents once a week. (his parents, not his wife’s parents)
  • He visits his parents once a week. (parents, not aunt and uncle, etc)
  • He visits his parents once a week. (once, not twice)
  • He visits his parents once a week. (once a week, not once a month)

1-In full negative forms, 

only a particle is stressed, the verb is unstressed: It is ` not on the` table. `Do I of not ` like IT. He can` not `do it.

2-The verb is (3rd person singular of the verb to be )

in an unstressed position retains the full vowel quality, but is pronounced less distinctly and with greater speed than under stress. Reduction is leading to a complete loss of the vowel. Such an abbreviated form is pronounced together with the preceding word, after a voiceless consonant as [s], after a voiced consonant as [z].

3-Demonstrative pronouns 

this , that , these , those are usually stressed if they are the subject or object in a sentence: ‘ This is an ` apple . ‘ Take ` these .

Demonstrative pronouns are not stressed as a definition: That ‘ orange is ` ripe . It should be remembered that in an unstressed position, the demonstrative that is not reduced and is pronounced with the vowel [æ] – [ðæt].


 in , on , off , without are not reduced in an unstressed position and retain their phonemic composition unchanged .

5-Regardless of the stress / non-stress,

the indefinite pronoun any [`enɪ] is always pronounced in full . In the meaning of ‘some amount’, it, as a rule, is not striking ( ‘ Is there any / paper ?), In the meaning of’ any ‘- it is striking ( ‘ Give me ‘ any book , \ please ). 

6-The indefinite pronoun some 

before the noun is not struck and has a reduced pronunciation [səm]: I ‘ need some ` milk . If there is no noun after some , the pronoun is stressed: ‘ Some like / coffee , ‘ others like ` tea .

7-In the final position in the phrase,

the unstressed some is not reduced and [sʌm] is pronounced: You may ` take some . In the meaning of ‘some, some’ some is not hit, but always retains the full form [sʌm]: Some ‘ students are ‘ waiting for you ` outside .

Usually it has a reduced form and does not strike the adverb there in the introductory construction there is \ there are : There are some ` sweets on the plate .

8-The adverb 

there as a circumstance of place is not reduced: There are a ‘ few ` flowers there .

A phrase may contain several informatively significant words, emphasized. The stressed syllable of the most important word in meaning is the nucleus of the intonation group ( Nucleus ), and the stress on this word is called nuclear. The most important word in meaning is usually located in the final position, and the stressed syllable of the last lexically full-valued word is the nuclear one. At the same time, the core can shift to the middle or even the beginning of the phrase. The meaning of such statements becomes clear only in context. A shift of the core, highlighting by stressing a word in a sentence stronger than all other words is called logical stress… Logical stress is used to contrast one word to another or to strengthen the meaning of a word: He saw that picture . – He saw this picture . Highlighting the word he with a logical stress , we contrast it with pronouns: she or they . That day it was raining. – It actually rained that day . Allocating logical stress WAS , we thus reinforces the importance of this phrase in the sentence.

Since logical stress goes beyond the usual phrasal stress, it may turn out that it will use it to highlight the word in the sentence that is usually unstressed, for example, a personal pronoun, preposition, article or auxiliary verb: The book is on the table not under it .

The number of options for logical stress depends on the purpose of the statement and the communication situation:

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

This year we went on an excursion to New York for the first time.

9-Stress on the first part of a compound word:

a di`van-bed, a `coffee table, a` sitting-room, a `dining-room, a` bedroom, a `window-sill, a` flower-bed.

10-Words with two equal accents

an `ice-`cream, a` passer-`by, `south-`east,` north-`west, `up`stairs,` down`stairs.

11-Compound adjectives with two equal accents: `

ugly-`looking,` badly-`made, `fair-`haired,` broad-`shouldered, `hard-` working, `absent-`minded,` ill-`shaped, ` medium-`sized, `kind-`hearted.

12-Verbs with adverbs-postpositions with two equal stress: 

to `sit` down, to `stand` up, to `go` on, to `turn` off, to `come` back, to `think` over, to `find` out, to `look` through, to` do a`way.

So, the correct placement of the stress is very important, while the stress on each word is a clear sign of a foreign accent. If you want to get rid of it, learn to imitate the speech of native speakers, paying attention to rhythm, tempo, and phrasal stress. Just 5 minutes a day will significantly change your pronunciation for the better. Learning English on Skype will help you complete this task (and many others) with ease.

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