soundsofenglish logo
Word Stress
about ** links ** handouts ** pronunciation ** activities & exercises ** tips for teachers ** home


All words of more than one syllable have what is called word stress.  This means that at least one of the syllables is
l o n g e r and louder
than the other syllables.

In the following examples, stressed syllables are in capital letters:
audio
 
Column A
Column B
Column C
 
PHOtograph       phoTOgraphy     photoGRAphic
PENcil comMITtee volunTEER
MARyland soCIety inforMAtion

In many cases, word stress must simply be learned as new volcabulary is acquired.  However, there are several rules for word stress which can make it easier to deal with.

I.  Compound Nouns:

Listen to the following compound nouns.  Can you hear the word stress?
audio
      bluebird
blackboard
notebook
bookstore
toothbrush
keyboard

In each of these examples, the first part of the compound gets the stress.

II.  Noun+Noun Compounds (2-word compound nouns)

Listen to the following noun+noun compounds.  Can you hear which part of the compound gets more stress?
audio
 
      air conditioner
computer programmer
nail polish
french fry
Geiger counter
doctor's office

Similar to the rule for compound nouns, the first part of the compound--here, the first word--gets the stress.  (Note: If the "unstressed" part of the noun+noun compound is more than one syllable, it will have some word stress.  However, the first part of the compound will get even more stress.)

III.  Phrasal Verbs versus Compound Nouns derived from phrasals


Phrasal verbs (a.k.a. two-word or two-part verbs) are generally made up of a verb and preposition.  For many of these, correct word stress is especially important as they have compound noun counterparts. In the following examples, the words on the left are phrasal verbs. The words on the right are nouns.

Listen to these examples.
audio
let down letdown
shut out shutout
print out printout
turn off turnoff
take over takeover

In phrasal verbs, the preposition gets the word stress.  If they have a noun counterpart, however, it gets the stress on the first part.

IV.  Homographs
Homographs are words which are written the same way but which have different pronunciation.  In English, there are many words which have the same spelling, but whose part of speech changes with the word stress.  If you listen carefully, you will hear that the vowel sounds change depending on whether they are stressed or unstressed.

audio
 
VERB NOUN
record record
progress progress
present present
permit permit


This page brought to you by Sharon Widmayer and Holly Gray. For more information, please e-mail feedback at soundsofenglish.org.

Copies of material on this site may be made for educational, non-profit use only. All rights reserved. (c) 2001-2004.

last updated 2/26/02