Word Stress and Syllables
Word stress is important since it can change the meaning of a word and what you are trying to say. The same word can have different stress patterns based on if it is a noun, verb, adjective, or other type of word. The most basic thing to understand about word stress is the use of syllables. You must learn word stress to improve your pronunciation.
Every word has at least one syllable. There is always one syllable that receives the main stress or what is also referred to as the primary stress. In longer words there can be a secondary stress. In almost every case the syllable with the primary stress must have a vowel and every syllable will usually have one vowel.
Here are a few words for you to say out loud:
We will look at the syllables and the stress. Here is a guide:
- bold – primary stress syllables
- italics – secondary stress syllables
- regular text – unstressed syllables
Keep in mind that just like many of the grammar rules, word stress rules will have exceptions. Here are some of the common rules for syllable stress:
1. Almost every syllable in a word has at least one vowel sound. There can be more than one vowel, but there is only one vowel sound. If the vowel is in the stressed syllable it receives the stress. When there are two vowels they usually make a long vowel sound.
Here are a few examples:
There are exceptions to this rule. Here are a few words with syllables without a vowel:
2. Two syllable words receive stress based on the type of word. In general most two syllable words receive the stress on the first of the two syllables. Keep in mind that the same word can be a different type(part of speech) based on how it is used. Here is the general pattern:
a. Nouns and adjectives will have the stress on the first syllable. Here are a few examples:
- im·port (That car is an import.)
- re·cord (Can you play the record?)
b. Verbs and prepositions will have the stress on the second syllable. Here are a few examples:
- im·port (They will import rice.)
- re·cord (Record our music for us.)
There are exceptions. Just look at the preposition o·ver. It receives the stress on the first syllable. This is just a general rule.
3. When you have a compound noun the first word always receives the stress. It does not matter if the words are separated(spaced), hyphenated or together. If the first word has more than one syllable the primary syllable receives the stress. Here are a few examples:
- run·ning shoes
4. For proper nouns that have two words the second word has the stress. Here are a few examples. Note that we are only highlighting the second word stress:
- Burger King
- General Motors
- Atlantic Ocean
- South America
- Latin America
5. There is a difference in the sound of the vowel depending on if it is at the end of the syllable, or is not. These are called the Vowel-Consonant-Vowel (VCV) and Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) rules.
a. VCV produces a long vowel sound. Here are a few examples:
b. CVC produces a short vowel sound. Here are a few examples:
6. Divide the syllables between two consonants when you have two consonants together. The exception to this is when you have two consonants that are part of the main word. Here are a few examples:
7. If you have two vowels that are together you will typically not separate them. There are exceptions to this rule, but it generally applies. Here are a few examples:
- jus·ti·fi·a·ble(exception to the rule)
- ben·e·fi·ci·ar·y(exception to the rule)
8. If there is a silent “e” and a vowel before it they will stay in the same syllable. Here are a few examples:
9. The “r control vowels” will stay in the same syllable. These are the combinations of “ar”, “er”, “ir”, “or”, and “ur”. Here are a few examples:
10. The “consonant le” sounds will stay in the same syllable. These are the combinations of “ble”, “cle”, “dle”, “fle”, “gle”, and “ple”. Many of these have the schwa sound. Here are a few examples:
11. The schwa sound can be found in all vowels but of course not every time they are used. It is common to find them in unaccented vowels when the syllable has only one letter. Here are a few examples: