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Student Information


Word Stress for English Language Learners

Word stress is an important concept for English language learners, both in terms of pronunciation and comprehension. 

What Does Word Stress Mean?

Word stress is the verbal emphasis placed on one syllable of a word.  This occurs in every English word that has more than one syllable. It’s not always the same syllable but there are a couple of rules to be familiar with when it comes to word stress.  First, word stress is only ever on a vowel of a word; it’s never on a consonant.  Second, there is only one word stress per word. 

Why Study Word Stress?

Word stress is an essential part of pronunciation of the English Language.  It also helps you to contextualise which version of a particular word you are hearing. For example, anthroPOLogy is the noun that refers to the study of humankind.  AnthropoLOGical is the adjective.  Though the words share a common root, the word stress, as you can see, is different in each instance.

How Do I Learn Which Word to Stress?

There are some general rules about word stress that can be helpful to know.  For example most 2-syllable nouns and adjectives have word stress on the first syllable, whereas most 2-syllable verbs have word stress on the second syllable.  Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule.

Other Word Stress Rules

  • Words ending in –ic, -sion, and –tion have word stress on the second syllable from the end, (or penultimate syllable.)
  • Words ending in –cy, -ty, -phy, and –al have word stress on the third syllable from the end, (or ante-penultimate syllable.)
  • For compound adjectives and verbs, the stress is on the second part of the word.

The best way to learn word stress is to listen carefully and make a note of patterns as you notice them.  For additional help, all dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of words.  With practice and greater awareness of word stress, you will significantly improve your grasp of the English language.