1. Definition of stress :

Stress may be defined as the degree of force or loudness with which a sound or syllable is articulated.

Stress can be classified as word stress and sentence stress.

  1. Word stress:

In every  English word of two or more syllables at least one syllable should be articulated with more force or loudness than the rest, we call this phenomenon word stress.

  1. Types of Word Stress :

It is possible to distinguish many levels of stress, but from the practical point of

view, it is sufficient to  distinguish three principal kinds:

(1) Primary stress —-heavily stressed , usu. Marked with a vertical stroke on the upper left hand  corner of a syllable carrying the stress.

(2) Secondary stress —-stressed but subordinate to the primary stress , usu. marked with a vertical stroke  on the lower left hand corner of a syllable concerned, as in  |contri|bution.

(3) Double stress /even stress—-Certain English words have double stress or even stress. Double stress can be marked by a high vertical stroke  before

each of the stressed syllables, as in   |fif|teen,     |Ber|lin.

There are two very important rules about word stress:

  1. One word, one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. So if you hear two stresses, you have heard two words, not one word.)
  2. The stress is always on a vowel.

Why is Word Stress Important?

Word stress is not used in all languages. Some languages, Japanese or French for example, pronounce each syllable with eq-ual em-pha-sis.

Other languages, English for example, use word stress.

Word stress is not an optional extra that you can add to the English language if you want. It is part of the language! English speakers use word stress to communicate rapidly and accurately, even in difficult conditions. If, for example, you do not hear a word clearly, you can still understand the word because of the position of the stress.

Think again about the two words photograph and photographer. Now imagine that you are speaking to somebody by telephone over a very bad line. You cannot hear clearly. In fact, you hear only the first two syllables of one of these words, photo…Which word is it, photograph or photographer? Of course, with word stress you will know immediately which word it is because in reality you will hear either PHOto… orphoTO… So without hearing the whole word, you probably know what the word is (PHOto…graph or phoTO…grapher). It’s magic! (Of course, you also have the ‘context’ of your conversation to help you.)

This is a simple example of how word stress helps us understand English. There are many, many other examples, because we use word stress all the time, without thinking about it.

Where do I Put Word Stress?

There are some rules about which syllable to stress. But…the rules are rather complicated! Probably the best way to learn is from experience. Listen carefully to spoken English and try to develop a feeling for the “music” of the language.

When you learn a new word, you should also learn its stress pattern. If you keep a vocabulary book, make a note to show which syllable is stressed. If you do not know, you can look in a dictionary. All dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of a word. This is where they show which syllable is stressed, usually with an apostrophe (‘) justbefore or just after the stressed syllable. (The notes at the front of the dictionary will explain the system used.) Look at (and listen to) this example for the wordplastic. There are 2 syllables. Syllable #1 is stressed.

example phonetic spelling:
dictionary A
phonetic spelling:
dictionary B
/plæs’tIk/ /’plæs tIk/

Rules of Word Stress in English

There are two very simple rules about word stress:

  1. One word has only one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words. Two stresses cannot be one word. It is true that there can be a “secondary” stress in some words. But a secondary stress is much smaller than the main [primary] stress, and is only used in long words.)
  2. We can only stress vowels, not consonants.

Here are some more, rather complicated, rules that can help you understand where to put the stress. But do not rely on them too much, because there are many exceptions. It is better to try to “feel” the music of the language and to add the stress naturally.

1 Stress on first syllable

rule example
Most 2-syllable nouns EXport, CHIna, TAble
Most 2-syllable adjectives SLENder, CLEVer, HAPpy

2 Stress on last syllable

rule example
Most 2-syllable verbs to preSENT, to exPORT, to deCIDE, to beGIN

How to pronounce word stress?