Don’t STRESS over the rules of stress


In the previous post we talked about stress, the emphasis we give syllables in a word or words in a sentence. In English we use stress to add meaning.

Here are a few basic rules about stress.  However the use of stress is full of nuances and in English there are exceptions to most rules!


  • In a sentence we stress or emphasize the important words to convey meaning. We stress the nouns, verbs, adjective and adverbs.  We don’t usually stress the little words like a, the, and.


The cat was stuck in the tree.

The big dog chased the black cat.


  • Typically there is only one primary stress within a word. For example:


Nouns: pencil, China, Pepsi

Adjectives: cloudy, cheerful, pretty


  • Compound words are made up of 2 separate words and generally the first word is stressed.

airplane, basketball, checkup, flashlight


  • We have some words in English that are spelled the same, but the meaning changes depending on where you place the stress.  If you stress the first syllable the word is a noun. If the second syllable is stress it is usually a verb.  For example:


The puppy was content.  The content of store was varied.

The team had a winning record.  Your vote was recorded.

He got a birthday present.  She presented the report at the meeting.

Jim signed the contract.  Sue contracted a serious disease.

I bought produce at the store.  Thomas produced the TV show.




As you talk with your friends and co-workers listen for the stress or emphasis.  It is a key to understanding and speaking English.

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