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5 Word Stress

Instructions: None
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5 Word Stress


There are quite a few words in English which are both nouns and verbs:

Noun: INsult, OBject, PERmit, PREsent

Verb:inSULT, obJECT, perMIT, preSENT

So the question is:

How does a listener know whether the speaker means to use the word as a noun or a verb?

Other than the context of the way the word is used, the speaker uses WORD STRESS to differentiate between nouns and verbs, so what is WORD STRESS?

For every word in English, especially those with more than one syllable, the meaning or the information is carried by one dominant syllable, and this syllable is pronounced differently from the other syllables. It is made longer, slightly louder, and more pronounced. For the words we looked at before, the capitals indicate the dominant syllable, and the lower cases indicate the normal sound:

Noun: INsult, OBject, PERmit, PREsent

Verb:inSULT, obJECT, perMIT, preSENT

When talking about WORD STRESS, what is actually meant is SYLLABLE STRESS, and there are actually four different states:

Let's look at the word IN

In the normal state, it would sound like the IN in COME IN.

Here it isn't louder or stronger that the sounds around it.

If we look at the word IN in the noun INsult, it is stronger and more pronounced, because it is the dominant syllable.

If we look at the word IN in the verb inSULT, the sound is much lower, because the dominant syllable needs to be emphasised so the listener can identify the meaning and the context.

So we have now identified 3 levels of emphasis or stress:

the normal level,

the emphasised level and

the reduced level. (which is usually the SCHWA sound)

There is one more level. Look at the word COMFORTABLE, which has 4 syllables:

COM / FOR / TA / BLE, or does it?

If you listen carefully, you will hear the following:

COMF / ta / ble

so we've lost a syllable, and that's the fourth level of stress, when a syllable actually disappears, as in FEBRUARY and many other such words.

If we identify SYLLABLE STRESS as making a syllable sound longer and louder, the four levels of stress are as follows:

1 - silence

2 - almost silent, as in SCHWA

3 - normal sound

4 - longer and louder than normal (the dominant syllable)

Why is this subject important?

If the student doesn't understand what is happening with these words, it becomes nearly impossible to identify what a word means, because native speakers use WORD STRESS all the time.

If you don't stress a word which needs to be stressed, and EVERY word needs to be stressed, then it becomes very difficult to understand, and a word stressed incorrectly leads to misunderstandings.

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