In English, one syllable sounds louder and lasts longer than the others. Even when you are speaking fast, your listeners can decipher what you said from that syllable.
Word stress is the key to clear and correct American English because it adds color and feeling to speech. But when you stress the wrong syllable, your listeners may hear something different or a non-existing word.
You may not even be aware of your error because your listeners are trying to comprehend your speech. This is common among people whose first language isn't English. However, it should not discourage you because you can leverage productivity tools to practice English online without breaking the bank.
Becoming a confident speaker entails believing in yourself and practicing every day until you attain your desired level of perfection. You may feel embarrassed at first, but making mistakes is a natural and important aspect of learning.
When listening to a speech coach, it is important to identify the syllables that are stressed. This will help you to understand the meaning. In this article, we will highlight the importance of word stress and how it can help you communicate in clear and correct American English.
Why Is Correct Word Stress So Important In Communication?
All English words are divided into syllables. Words like ‘cat’, ‘bus’, and ‘dog’ have one syllable, while others like ‘fin-ger’ and ‘com-mun-i-ca-tion’ have two and five syllables respectively.
Each syllable has a portion that is more emphasized than the others. Usually, the stressed word is a vowel, not a consonant. Also, the pitch is higher or louder and longer. It appears in words with more than one syllable. Here are some examples:
Although not all languages use word stress, it is an essential part of the English language. But why is it important in professional communication?
Word stress is the bedrock of English pronunciation. Native English speakers identify words based on stress patterns. Because non-native speakers are not aware of these patterns, they stress the wrong syllable, leading to miscommunication.
For instance, CONtest means a competition, while conTEST means to dispute or challenge an action. SUSpect is a person who may have committed a crime, while susPECT is having a feeling that something is true but without tangible proof.
Furthermore, word stress determines the way consonants are pronounced. For instance, when consonants such as /k/, /t/, and /p/ appear in stressed syllables, they are pronounced with aspiration. However, when the syllable is not stressed, they sound like /g/, /d/, and /b/.
Stressing words the wrong way gives a different meaning to your speech. This is misleading, especially in the workplace where you need to give directives to subordinates or report to superiors.
It also delays the learning process for English-Language learners as they will not be able to identify the words they listened to. But with a pronunciation checker and other resources, you can become more confident speaking American English.
How To Check If You Stress The Right Syllable In A Word
Knowing the right syllable to stress could be a herculean task, especially for non-native speakers. The rules of writing and speaking English have exceptions that might confuse you, but it is good to follow general patterns. However, in a word that has multiple syllables, it is important to note that there can’t be more than one stressed syllable.
Rule 1: Bi-syllabic adjectives and nouns are stressed on the first syllable.
E.g., INcrease, COward, REcord, DORmant, CAREful
Rule 2: Bi-syllabic nouns that are compound words are stressed on the first syllable.
E.g., CELLphone, CLASSroom, KEYboard
Rule 3: Bi-syllabic adjectives that are compound words are stressed on the second syllable.
E.g., short-HANDED, eight-HOUR, full-TIME
Rule 4: Bi-syllabic prepositions and verbs are stressed on the second syllable.
E.g., deCREASE, beTWEEN, exPORT, proNOUNCE
Rule 5: Words ending in ‘tion’ are stressed on the second last syllable.
E.g., identifiCAtion, personaliZAtion, accommoDAtion
Rule 6: Words ending in ‘er’, ‘y’, and ‘ly’ are stressed on the first syllable.
E.g., QUIetly, LIghter, Ably
Additionally, some words have the same spelling but different meanings depending on whether you want to use them as a noun or a verb. They include the following:
Nouns - Verbs
- INcrease - inCREASE
- REfund - reFUND
- PROtest - proTEST
- DEcrease - deCREASE
- EXport - exPORT
- PREsent - preSENT
One way to identify correct stress words is by using an audiobook while reading. It will help you hear the words and their correct pronunciations. Also, you will hear the context in which the words are used so that you can use it correctly too.
Here are some examples:
- Do you have a REcord of last week’s sales?
- You need to reCORD the number of boxes in the store
- We bought a birthday PREsent for the celebrant
- We will preSENT the speech tomorrow
- He signed the CONtract last week
- You will conTRACT the virus if you do not take the vaccine
- You can get fresh PROduce from the farmers’ market
- Can the farmers proDUCE fruits and vegetables all year round?
- When will the team commence the PROject?
- The company is proJECTING its latest products and services in the fair
There are many more examples, but you must practice constantly by saying them out loud. And as you aim for perfection, your pronunciation improves, pitching you for a promotion, a new job offer, or an excellent sales presentation.
What Words You Might Want To Always Stress Correctly?
Correct use of stress in sentences brings rhythm to the words we speak. This explains why some words sound low, while others sound high.
The emphasis is usually placed on the words that convey important information. Such words are referred to as content words, and they include nouns, action verbs, adjectives, negative auxiliaries, and adverbs. However, the stress in sentences depends on what the speaker wants listeners to pay attention to.
The unstressed words are not so important, but they help to construct the sentence. They are referred to as structural or function words. They include helping verbs, pronouns, conjunctions, articles, and prepositions.
Below are examples of stressed words.
- Nouns - bus, dress, car, Joe
- Action verbs - buy, sell, give
- Adjectives - bright, beautiful, adorable
- Negative auxiliaries - won’t, can’t, haven’t, don’t
- Adverbs - calmly, blindly, bitterly, always
Below are examples of unstressed words.
- Helping verbs - be, may, do, will, can
- Pronouns - he, her, theirs, everyone
- Conjunctions - because, but, and, for, so
- Articles - the, a, an
- Prepositions - between, inside, under, toward, within
Take note: stressed syllables have a strong vowel sound while unstressed syllables have a weak or soft sound. Let’s look at a few examples.
‘I want a cup of coffee’
The highlighted words are content (stressed) words, while the others are function (unstressed) words.
- ‘I’ is a pronoun
- ‘Want’ is a verb
- ‘A’ is an article
- ‘Cup’ is a noun
- ‘Of’ is a preposition
- ‘Coffee’ is a noun
‘She will be late to the party’
In this example, ‘late’ is an adjective, while ‘party’ is a noun. The other words are not highlighted because they are function words.
- ‘She’ is a pronoun
- ‘Will’ is a modal verb
- ‘Be’ is a to-be
- ‘To’ is a preposition
- ‘The’ is an article
Remember, there are always exceptions to English language rules. Function words can be stressed when you intend to emphasize them for clarity. Here’s an example:
‘I want fish and chips’
In this sentence, ‘want’ is a verb, while ‘fish’ and ‘chips’ are nouns. Because they are content words, we must stress them naturally.
However, if you want to make sure your listener does not misquote you, here’s what you can say:
‘I want fish and chips, not fish or chips’
So, the emphasis is now on ‘and’ and ‘or’, which are conjunctions.
Now that you have an idea of which words to stress in a sentence, pay attention to the following sentences and try to identify the stressed and unstressed words. We will include links to the speech so that you can test your understanding of sentence stress.
If you still want to practice, you can find more phrases from popular speakers like Scott Galloway and Amy Edmonds.
Why Will Your Audience Not Correct You?
No one is above mistakes, not even a native English speaker. Sometimes, you speak incorrect English because you are tired, nervous, or trying to translate your first language into the English language.
Unless you’ve asked someone to correct your grammar, it is wrong for them to do so. Depending on how the correction is presented, it may sound rude. Although you would love to be corrected so that you can improve your English, you may feel less intelligent and get upset.
Additionally, when someone interrupts your speech just to correct you, it could distract you. You may forget what you were saying and if you rehearsed the speech, you might forget the rest of your lines. Correcting you could also be time-consuming, especially when you are presenting an idea in a meeting. So, even when you make a mistake, your audience may feel reluctant to correct you.
Furthermore, if you receive corrections every time you make mistakes, you may become more conscious of making mistakes than learning the correct grammar. This is one of the reasons why English-Language learners speak slowly and bore their audience. While it is good to start slowly, maintaining that pace for too long will stop you from attaining your learning goals quickly.
From a positive perspective, your audience may not correct you because they do not want you to lose your self-esteem. Getting feedback privately, especially from friends, will encourage you to do better. It also allows you to ask questions, make more mistakes, and learn without getting confused or feeling ashamed.
That being said, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. If you don’t speak, you can’t learn. Start with small sentences and speak confidently. You can also record your speech and listen to yourself, then make amends where necessary until you get it right.
How To Put Stress In Words Like An American Native Speaker?
If you want to stress words like an American native speaker, you must have an ear for music. American English, like other English dialects, is stress-timed and produces a musical beat when pronounced. This is why native speakers don’t sound like robots when they speak.
An easy way to sound like an American native speaker is to use the Pronounce app, a speech checker. The application checks the quality of your speech and suggests the correct way to pronounce words.
Also, if you are reading an ebook, highlight any portion and the Pronounce app will read it aloud. There’s another feature that allows you to record your speech. Afterward, it generates a transcript showing the words you didn’t pronounce correctly. Over time, you will be able to access your analytics so you can see how you’ve fared.
Whatever level you’re at in your English language learning, the Pronounce app offers a cost-effective solution to speech practice. There is a free and paid version, with interactive features to make learning fun and simple. You can also use it anywhere, whether on the web or mobile phone; talk about convenience at its peak!
American English has a rhythm that may be missing in your local language. So, if you’re struggling to stress the right word, it is understandable. Pronounce is an innovative AI speech assistant that can help you understand the rhythm of American English so that you can speak with confidence. Simply dedicate a few minutes or hours each day to practicing and within a short while, you will notice the difference.