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What are Stressed Syllables? A Guide for Students

Different languages have different pronunciation norms. Many languages do not have stressed syllables, so it is important to understand what a stressed syllable is and why you need it in English. You can improve your pronunciation if you understand the rules of American English.

Stressing the right syllables can help people to easily understand your English. You don't have to sound like a native speaker, but if that is your goal, then you 100% need to pay attention to these videos.

Remember, you don't have to sound like me to be a very advanced English speaker, but if that is your goal, I will help you get there.

Remember learning a language is like learning music, you have to practice, a lot!

1. What are stressed syllables?

In every English word there are syllables. Stressed syllables are louder, longer, and can have a higher pitch. Think of the word information. The stress is on the syllable before -tion. "InforMAtion"

Every word in English has stress, so what about words with only 1 syllable?

Words with only one syllable are "stressed," so don't worry about those.

This video should really give you a basic understanding of stress in English.

2. How do I know where the stress goes?

You can actually find this information in the dictionary!

If we look up the word "engineer," we can find the IPA spelling for the word. IPA spells a word based on how it sounds. It's OK if you don't know how to use IPA. It is not necessary to learn.

The word engineer is stressed at the end: engiNEER

This is uncommon in English! Why? Because we took this word from French and we follow the stress pattern originally found in French. Sometimes the history of the word influences where we put the stress in English. English is notorious for taking words from other languages and using them in English. Notorious means that someone or something is well known or popular for doing something bad.

3. Are there any stress rules? YES

Two syllable words are stressed on the first syllable 90% of the time.

Words that end in -tion or -cian have the stress right before that ending.

Compound nouns are always stressed on the first syllable.

There's a better explanation in this video:

4. Does grammar change stress? YES

There are some words in English that are spelled the same as a noun and a verb, but the stress is different. This causes a lot of confusion for English learners. The pronunciation is different, so how do we know which one to choose?

I could write the answer for you here, but this video is going to make it a lot easier to understand

5. What about compound words? Wait, what is a compound word?

Don't stress! You can learn the rules of compound word stress! English has many compound words. Just look around your house. You will find a bookshelf, bedroom, sunglasses, bathtub, and more! These are all compound words. They happen when two words come together. Compound words are when you take two words and put them together to make a single word. Think book + shelf = bookshelf! Or bed + room = bedroom!

6. Does stress really matter? What if I get it wrong?

Misunderstandings can happen if you do not stress the right syllable. Researchers found that when the stress is placed on the wrong syllable that intelligibility is most impaired. Intelligibility is the ability of someone to understand what you are saying.

If you don't stress a syllable, your speech might sound a bit robotic. By using the correct stress, your English will sound more natural. We stress syllables as a method of speaking more efficiently. It gives our words a focus, but if your first language is syllable-timed, this might be a difficult to get right. If you speak Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or Korean, this part of English might need some extra practice.

7. What if I have more questions?

You can always send questions my way. Comment on a video or find me on instagram. But if you need more help with this concept, you can sign up for a class here


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