Word Stress and Sentence Stress
The Golden Key to English Pronunciation
Normally when we say "I feel stressed" it means "I feel anxious".
Stress is a kind of worried feeling about life or work. But there is
another kind of stress that actually helps us understand. This other
kind of stress is an accent that we make on certain syllables and words
when speaking English.
In some languages, for example Japanese, people say each syllable
with equal force. But in English, and some other languages, we put a big
force (stress) on some syllables and no force on other syllables or
words. This can make it difficult for speakers of other languages to
understand English that is spoken quickly. Of course, for native
speakers it is not difficult - in fact, stress actually helps native
speakers understand each other. So it is very important.
We shall talk here about WORD STRESS (stress on a syllable inside a
word) and SENTENCE STRESS (stress on words inside a sentence).
Word stress is like a golden key to speaking and understanding
If you do not already know about word stress, you can try to learn
about it. This is one of the best ways for you to understand spoken
English - especially English spoken fast.
What is word stress?
Take 3 words: photograph, photographer and photographic. Do they
sound the same when spoken? No. Because ONE syllable in each word is
STRESSED (stronger than the others).
This happens in ALL words with 2 or more syllables: TEACHer, JaPAN,
CHINa, aBOVE, converSAtion, INteresting, imPORtant, deMAND, etCETera,
The syllables that are not stressed are ‘weak’ or ‘small’ or ‘quiet’.
Native speakers of English listen for the STRESSED syllables, not the
weak syllables. If you use word stress in your speech, you will
instantly and automatically improve your pronunciation and your
If you have an English teacher, you can ask her to help you
understand word stress. Or you can try to hear the stress in individual
words each time you listen to English - on the radio, or in films for
example. Your first step is to HEAR and recognise it. After that, you
can USE it.
Two important rules about word stress:
- One word, one stress
- The stress is always on a vowel
Sentence stress is another golden key for speaking and understanding
English. With sentence stress, some words in a sentence are STRESSED
(loud) and other words are weak (quiet). Look at the following sentence:
We want to go.
Do we say every word with the same stress or force? No. We make the
important words BIG and the unimportant words small. What are the
important words in this sentence? Yes, that's right: WANT and GO.
- We WANT to GO.
- We WANT to GO to WORK.
- We DON’T WANT to GO to WORK.
- We DON’T WANT to GO to WORK at NIGHT.
Now that you know that word stress exists, you can try to learn more
You should KNOW that SENtence and WORD STRESS are VERy imPORtant