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Stress & Intonation


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:



PHOtograph      phoTOgraphy    photoGRAphic

PENcil                 comMITtee         volunTEER

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?








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 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.


IV.  Homographs

Homographs are words which are written the same way but which have different pronunciation.  In English, there are many words which have the same spelling, but whose part of speech changes with the word stress.  If you listen carefully, you will hear that the vowel sounds change depending on whether they are stressed or unstressed.


VERB             NOUN

record          record

progress      progress

present        present

permit          permit



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