Correct usage of Word and Sentence Stress
One of the four areas that you’ll receive a grade for is pronunciation; in fact, pronunciation accounts for 25% of the speaking score.
What is word stress?
In English, when a word has more than one syllable, one part of the word will be more stressed than the other; this is called word stress.
And it means that one of the vowel sounds of that syllable will be pronounced longer, louder, and at a slightly higher pitch than the other parts of the word.
If you mispronounce the word and place stress on the wrong syllables the listener will not understand you properly.
Along with changing the meaning of a word, stress changes can also change the part of speech especially in cases where words have the same spelling.
For example, let’s compare two similar words that have different meanings because of stress.
The first word above is a noun, and it means a game or competition. We pronounce it by putting the stress on the first syllable.
Compare it to the following:
In this second word, the syllable is on the second syllable; and it means to argue against something. Here are a couple more for you to practice:
If you’re unsure where the stress is in a word, check a dictionary. In most dictionaries, you will see the symbol ‘ before the stressed syllable. Also, check out https://forvo.com/, the online pronunciation dictionary.
Word Stress Rules
Now that you have a general understanding, here are a couple of basic rules about word stress:
- Vowels are stressed, not consonants.
- One word cannot have two stresses; so each word has one stress.
- If a word is both a verb and a noun, the noun stresses the first syllable, whereas the verb, is stressed on the second syllable. See the above examples.
Also, here are some additional rules to follow:
1. For most nouns with two syllables, the stress is on the first syllable.
2. Prefixes and Suffixes aren’t stressed.
3. If a word ends in ‘’er’’stress is on the syllable before it.
4. Stress the first part of compound words.
5. Stress the first syllable of three syllable words ending ‘’ly’’.
Another important part of pronunciation is sentence stress which is the overall rhythm of sentences whereby emphasis is on certain words but not on others.
Useful tip for the speaking exam: In sentence stress, content words are often stressed, while structural words are not. Content words are words with the most meaning in the sentence; these are the words that are stressed; this includes the following:
- Main verbs
- WH-questions, i.e., who, what, where, when, etc.
- Negative words, i.e., never, neither, not, etc.
- Modals, i.e., should, could, might, etc.
- Adverbs, i.e., carefully, loudly, quickly, etc.
On the other hand, structural words which are not stressed are as follows:
- Possessive adjectives, i.e. his, her, my, etc.
- Personal pronouns, I, you, he, etc.
- Conjunctions, i.e., but, and, or, etc.
Here are some examples of stressed works in the following sentences:
1. They won’t go to school today.
2. Allison’s father had a heart attack.
3. Have you seen the new movie with Brad Pitt?
4. I’ve never heard of that!
5. I’m going back to Vienna for good.
6. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
By practicing word stress in your speech, your pronunciation will immediately and automatically get better.