What is word stress?
In English, every word is made up of “parts” or what is technically called “syllables”. we do not say each syllable with the same force or strength. In one word, we stress ONE syllable. We say one syllable very loudly (big, strong, important) and all the other syllables very quietly.
Let's take 3 words: photograph, photographer and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken? No. Because we accentuate (stress) ONE syllable in each word. And it is not always the same syllable. So the "shape" of each word is different
Why is Word Stress Important?
You might think that as long as you can communicate with English speakers (and you are probably already able to do so), it is not necessary to know which syllable should be stressed. However, word stress is an important part of speech. Here are some reasons why:
- Native speakers rely on stress to process what they hear and use it to identify words.
- Word stress affects the sounds of the vowels in the word.
- Learners who know where to stress words are more confident in speaking and reading English.
- Miscommunication between non-native speakers and native speakers of English can be the result of incorrect word stress patterns by the non-native speakers.
- Knowing about word stress helps learners to identify words when listening.
- Knowing the stress pattern of words can help you remember the pronunciation of new words.
- Knowing stress rules will help you pronounce new words that you come across.
- Once you know which syllable to stress in a word, it will be much easier to apply vowel reductions.
So, how do I know where to stress and where not to in a word?
That’s an interesting question, here are two very simple rules about word stress:
1. One word has only one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words. Two stresses cannot be one word. It is true that there can be a "secondary" stress in some words. But a secondary stress is much smaller than the main [primary] stress, and is only used in long words.)
2. We can only stress vowels, not consonants.
Here are some more, rather complicated, rules that can help you understand where to put the stress. But do not rely on them too much, because there are many exceptions. It is better to try to "feel" the music of the language and to add the stress naturally
Resource for practice: