Stress in phonetics

Stress in phonetics, In linguistics , and particularly in phonology , emphasis or accent is the relative emphasis or prominence given to a particular syllable in a word or to a particular word in a phrase or sentence . This emphasis is usually caused by properties such as increased vowel volume and length, full vowel articulation , and changes in pitch. The terms emphasis and accentare often used synonymously in this context, but are sometimes differentiated. For example, when emphasis is produced only through tone, it is called pitch accent, and when produced only through length, it is called quantitative accent . [3] When caused by a combination of several intensified properties, it is termed accented or dynamic accent ; English uses what is called a variable stress accent .

Since accent can be perceived through a wide range of phonetic properties , such as volume, vowel length, and pitch (which are also used for other linguistic functions), it is difficult to define accent phonetically alone.

The emphasis placed on syllables within words is called word stress . Some languages ​​have fixed stress , meaning that the stress in virtually any multisyllabic word falls on a particular syllable, such as the penultimate (e.g. Polish ) or first (e.g. Finnish ) syllable. Other languages, such as English and Russian , have lexical accent , whereby the position of the accent in a word is not predictable in this way, but lexically encoded. Sometimes more than one level of stress, such as primary stress and secondary stress, can be identified. Stress in phonetics

Stress is not necessarily a feature of all languages: some, such as French and Mandarin , are sometimes analyzed as lacking lexical emphasis.

The accent placed on words within sentences is called sentence accent or prosodic accent . This is one of the three components of prosody , along with rhythm and intonation . It includes phrasal stress (the standard emphasis of certain words in sentences or sentences ) and contrastive stress (used to highlight an item, a word, or part of a word, which is given a specific focus).

There are several ways in which stress manifests itself in the flow of speech, and this depends to some extent on which language is being spoken. Stressed syllables are often higher than unstressed syllables and may have a higher or lower pitch . Sometimes they can also be pronounced longer . Sometimes there are differences in the place or form of articulation – in particular, vowels in unstressed syllables may have a more central (or ” neutral “) tone.”) articulation, while those in stressed syllables have a more peripheral articulation. Tension can be perceived to varying degrees in different words in a sentence; sometimes the difference between the acoustic signals of stressed and unstressed syllables is minimal.


The first thing you need to do when checking the pronunciation of a word in the dictionary is to see which syllable is stressed. this is called word stress in English. Stress in phonetics

Not all languages ​​have stressed syllables and therefore many students tend to neglect this aspect and do not check it out. Some people naturally emphasize the last syllables, while others always emphasize the first. This is how our mother tongue can affect our English and it is a common mistake. This is the main reason why you are still speaking with a foreign accent! In English, however, word stress varies widely and contributes greatly to the understanding of a word.

It may even happen that, if we articulate a word incorrectly, but still emphasize the correct syllable, our interlocutor will understand us . Whereas, if we articulate too much and completely neglect the stress of words, it will make them difficult to understand.

In phonetics, the word stress is shown by this symbol (which looks like an apostrophe) : '. It is placed before the stressed syllable. Here are some examples of common words that students tend to mispronounce:

  • ACtion /‘æk·ʃən/
  • OPtion /ˈɑp·ʃən/
  • SIlence /ˈsaɪ·ləns/
  • diRECtion /dɪˈrɛk·ʃən/

In English, the word stress can sometimes be the only difference between a noun and a verb. Compare:

  • RECord /ˈɹɛk·ɝd/ (like a world record)
  • to reCORD /ɹɪˈkɔɹd/(make a recording of something)

We can see that the word stress has an impact not only on the intonation, power and length of a syllable, but also on its articulation. Stress in phonetics

The word stress can also be the only difference between an adjective and a verb:

  • PERfect /ˈpɝ·fɪkt/= perfect, impeccable
  • to perFECT /pɝˈfɛkt/= to make perfect

Because it is such an important topic in English pronunciation, we are preparing an entire article on the rules for the word stress.


Breaking down a word to analyze each of its sounds is essential for learning to pronounce it well. Focus on sounds that don’t exist in your own language, as these will tend to be the most difficult. Discover our infographic of all American English sounds !

When we take the time to identify the sounds in English that don’t exist in our own language, it reduces the risk of making an embarrassing mistake! This can be the difference between asking for a bigCoke(the fizzy drink) and order a bigcock(penis).

For example, I was not aware of the existence of the so-called sound TH for years until I learned about the International Phonetic Alphabet (or the IPA). This means that I had spent about 8 years speaking English without even knowing all of its sounds… quite embarrassing, I know. But you can learn from my mistakes!

In short, the analysis of the sounds that make up words is a fundamental step in their studies. Let’s take an example with the word “thought /θɔt/. Stress in phonetics

We can immediately see that the pronunciation of this word is very different from its spelling, so let’s take a closer look:

  • We see that it is composed of three phonemes:
    • /θ/;
    • /ɔ/; and
    • /t/
    • while the GHit’s silent.
  • Of all these, the one that does not exist in most languages ​​is“θ”!

This type of word-breaking exercise is called chunkingand is the basis for good learning. It allows you to understand how English is actually pronounced and to start speaking it with a better accent and, therefore, with more confidence.

So focus your efforts on these sounds, don’t be afraid to overdo it at first until you get used to it. Over time, it will become a habit and you will be able to pronounce even the most difficult words!

How to learn WORD STRESS?

 You can learn WORD STRESS in two ways.

The first is listening to the words. So when your teacher or a friend who knows English speaks a new word, pay attention to how the word is pronounced. Repeat the pronunciation of the word and this way you will naturally learn which syllable is stressed. Stress in phonetics

Another way for you to learn WORD STRESS is with the help of a dictionary. It may seem strange, but all the information you need about the pronunciation of a word is present in a good dictionary, whether physical or online.


Sentence stress is the term used to refer to the phenomenon in which a particular word is said more emphatically within a sentence.

This means that in English, a sentence is not spoken robotically, word for word, like the following example:

  • Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.

If spoken mechanically the sentence is meaningless. It is empty, strange, tasteless. It is just a simple repetition of words in sequence.

In a natural chat, we can emphasize one word or another in the sentence and thus communicate different things. That is, depending on the word we emphasize, we will communicate an idea in a very different and clearer way.

In short, this thing of emphasizing a word in a sentence is what we call sentence stress .

Sentence Stress in Practice

Listen to the way each sentence below is said. See how this actually works in practice.

  1. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.
  2. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.
  3. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.
  4. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.
  5. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress.
  6. Marcia didn’t buy the red dress .

At each moment, the word spoken more intensely changes the meaning of the central idea being communicated:

  1. I’m talking about Marcia. I’m not talking about Carol, Fátima or Patricia… I’m talking about Marcia.
  2. What I’m saying is that she didn’t. She took the dress, looked at it, tried it on, but didn’t buy it.
  3. She won the dress. She stole the dress. She found the dress on the street. Don’t even think she bought it, because that wasn’t it. She got the dress by other means. Stress in phonetics
  4. It wasn’t the red dress she wanted so badly, but it was another red dress that was in the store.
  5. There was no more red, so she bought the pink, the white, the blue, the black, the lilac, the yellow… Anyway, it was a dress of another color.
  6. She bought the red miniskirt, the red shirt, the red top; but not the red dress.

That’s how it is in English. There’s no way to escape! The main word of the sentence – the one that carries the central meaning of what is being said – will always be said in a stronger, more intense, emphatic way.

Depending on the word being emphasized within the sentence, the meaning ( the idea expressed ) may change completely.

The importance of SENTENCE STRESS

You’ve certainly reached a point in your English learning where you’ve heard about sentence stress. This subject usually comes into play when we are studying the pronunciation of the English language . So, let’s understand what sentence stress is.

For starters, remember that when we learn an English word, we have to learn a number of things about it: meaning, usage in the proper context, pronunciation, spelling , etc. Stress in phonetics

We also have to learn how the word is pronounced correctly. This means learning what the stressed syllable of the word is.

This stressed syllable thing is known in English as word stress . The syllables in bold in the words below indicate which syllable is stressed in each of them:

  • im by tant /ɪmˈpɔrtnt/
  • po lice  /pəˈlis/
  • com pu have /kəmˈpjutər/
  • communication / kəˌmjunɪˈkeɪʃn /
  • in teresting /ˈɪntrəstɪŋ/
  • di fference /ˈdɪfrəns/
  • Brazil / brəˈzɪl  /

Learning which syllable is stressed in a word is very important. So you will correctly pronounce the words you are learning. However, when learning English a much more important thing than learning word stress  is learning what we call  sentence stress .

This sentence stress is fundamental in communicating in English. This should be taught to entry-level students from the first day of class. After all, this helps us to develop listening and also to speak more clearly.

Written English vs Spoken English

When we see a written sentence we can understand what it means because of the words and grammatical structure used. But as far as sentence stress is concerned , we can’t say what it really means. Because, only listening to it in a natural context will we know what the person really wants to communicate. Let’s take the sentence below as an example:

  • My older brother studied English years ago.

We can easily interpret the sentence as “ My older brother studied English years ago ”. However, in a real context depending on the word being emphasized the meaning will change.

To practice this, you can read the above sentence mechanically, without emotion, word for word. That way, you’ll notice that you’re not using any sentence stress .

Then you can read the same sentence emphasizing ( speaking more emphatically ) one word at a time. In addition, you can also imagine the meaning conveyed by emphasizing each word.

For example, read the sentence above emphasizing only the word “ my ”: MY older brother doesn’t study English . Then imagine what is actually being communicated by saying the sentence in this way: I am not referring to my brother, but to someone else’s brother.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Back to top button