Hi there, it’s Mark here. Welcome to Everyday English with E2. Each week, we focus on English grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, and this week we’re focusing on a super important part of pronunciation called ‘word stress’, which has a big impact on how easily you are understood. And that’s your aim – to be EASILY understood.
But before we understand word stress, let me quickly remind you that you can take awesome English pronunciation courses at www.e2english.com Sign up for free if you want!
Okay, so what is word stress? Well, the easiest way to explain this is by getting you to listen to this one word. I’m going to say it, however, in three different ways by changing the word stress. Ready? Tell me which one you think is correct:
One more time:
The correct answer is: imPORtant. im POR tant imPORtant
It sounds weird and incorrect to say: IMportant or imporTANT and it would also be weird to say: IMPORTANT with equal stress.
So what is stress? Well, importantly, I’m not talking about psychological stress. That’s different. What I mean by stress is emphasis. So let’s start using that word instead.
What I did in the example above was emphasise a different part of the word, a different syllable.
In the word IMportant, which is incorrect, I emphasised the first syllable: IM
In the third word imporTANT, which is also incorrect, I emphasised the third syllable: TANT
So the correct pronunciation was when I put emphasis on the middle syllable: imPORtant
Now, you might be thinking… okay, I get this… in English, you always put emphasis on the third syllable.
Not so fast… English, as you know by now, is a crazy language, and unfortunately, word stress is a case in point.
In English, the emphasis can be:
- At the beginning of a word, like AMbulance
- In the middle of a word, like imPORtant
- Or at the end of a word, like inCLUDE
So, just how important is word stress? I mean, it’s just a little bit of emphasis, right? It surely can’t be that important. WRONG.
I personally think that word stress is more important than pronunciation when it comes to being understood easily. If I’m talking to a student and the student mispronounces a word… let’s say, the student says “wiolin” instead of “violin”, I can understand pretty easily what the student meant, and the conversation can continue along.
But if a student gets the word stress wrong, and perhaps gets it consistently wrong, then I really struggle to understand what’s being said.
This brings me to an important point. Some languages have word stress, just like English, and so if you come from one of these language backgrounds, word stress will make intuitive sense to you and you’ll naturally pick up the different emphasis as you learn the vocabulary. Lucky students for which word stress will come easily include those of you who speak: Russian, Portuguese, Italian or Spanish. The type of word stress in your first language is very similar to English.
So if you hear one of these languages, you’ll notice that they’re very sing-songy. The words seem to go up and down, and in many ways, they sound a bit like morse code.
Many languages, however, do not have the same type of word stress. Perhaps you come from a language where the first part of the word, or syllable, is stress and it never changes to the middle or end. Or perhaps you’re from a language where there is equal stress on each syllable. This makes it very challenging for you to first notice the stress of English and then to actually stress words correctly.
Remember that if you need help with your pronunciation then check out E2 English’s pronunciation courses by going to www.e2english.com . These courses will take you through all of the individual and cluster sounds of English so that you sound perfectly natural when you speak English. Check them out today!
Just before we move on and do some practice, I just want to make you aware of another really important reason why you need to practise word stress. Listen to these sets of words. Each pair is spelt exactly the same but has different words stress, and it changes the meaning of the word entirely:
COMbine – comBINE
PERmit – perMIT
OBject – obJECT
CONtent – conTENT
REbel – reBEL
PROgress – proGRESS
PREsent – preSENT
CONtrast – conTRAST
DIScount – disCOUNT
REcord – reCORD
SUSpect – susPECT
CONflict – conFLICT
Could you hear the movement of the emphasis? In the first word it was on the first syllable or part of the word. And then in the second word, I moved the emphasis to the second syllable of the word, and it changed the meaning of the word entirely.
Listen to these two again:
REcord – reCORD
REcord – reCORD
So what’s happening here? Well, we’ve come across an interesting aspect of English and that is that words that have an emphasis on the first syllable are typically nouns, and words that have stress on the second syllable are typically verbs.
So I can say: I bought a REcord. Noun. Or I can say: Please reCORD the class for me. Verb.
Alright, now that you know all there is to know about word stress and correct syllable emphasis, let’s practise it! Ready? I want you to pay careful attention to where the emphasis is and copy my word stress.
- imPORtant *Leave a few seconds for the SS to listen and repeat
Alright. How did you go? Could you hear and repeat the correct word stress? This time we’ll do it again and I’ll tell you which syllable needs emphasis.
- imPORtant – middle syllable
- PEOple – first syllable
- QUEStion – first syllable
- PROblem – first syllable
- aNOther – middle syllable
- rePORT – second syllable
- beLIEVE – second syllable
- reMEMber – middle syllable
- STUdent – first syllable
- poLItical – middle syllable
- suPPORT – second syllable
- conTINue – second syllable
- eXAMple – second syllable
- coMMUnity – second syllable
- conCERN – second syllable
- MARket – first syllable
- camPAIGN – second syllable
- inCLUDE – second syllable
- REcord – first syllable
- inforMAtion – third syllable
Awesome! Well done we just learned all there is to know about word stress and why it’s so important that you master it, especially if your language doesn’t use it the way English does. Remember that if you need more practice then head over to www.e2english.com for all of your English language needs.
My name is Mark and I’ll see you soon.