What is word stress?

Take 3 words: photograph, photographer and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken?

  • PHOtograph
  • phoTOgrapher
  • photoGRAPHic

Listen to the audio and you would know that all three words don’t sound the same. Because “ONE” syllable in each word is “STRESSED” (Stress means that you pronounce some syllables more strongly than others. One Sound is made longer, louder and at a higher pitch).

Every word that has two or more syllables, one vowel sound is always stressed. let’s look at some of the words:- TEACHer, JaPAN, CHINa, aBOVE, converSAtion, INteresting, imPORtant, deMAND, etCETera. The syllables indicated in capitals are the stressed syllables. And the vowel sound in that syllable is lengthened.

In some languages, each syllable in each word is pronounced with the exact same stress. Like- Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Finnish, Brazilian Portuguese.

However, English and some other languages ( Swedish, Russian ) are a stressed-time language. It has its own rhythm, complete with its own vocal music. This means that one part of a certain word is said louder and longer than other parts of the same word. ( As has been illustrated above).

It is something that is completely natural for English speakers. in fact, stress helps them immensely in conveying the intended meaning. However, ESL students can learn from learning the correct way to pronounce new words, practicing their conversational skills, and by learning the rules for using the word stress.

Some Rules Of Word Stress

Note- One word always has only one primary stress & the stress is always given on vowel sounds, not the consonant.

Sentence Stress

Like word stress, sentence stress plays a profound role in helping listeners to understand the speaker. especially when the speaker is speaking at a high rate of speech.

Pronouncing sentence stress correctly will make a big difference to your English pronunciation. You’ll immediately sound clearer and more natural when you speak English.

In the English language, it’s the sentence stress what gives English its rhythm or “beat”. The important point to note here is, word stress is accentuating or putting stress on one syllable within a word. whereas, sentence stress is accentuating certain words within a sentence.

Sentence stress is a difficult area to work on for learners and teachers alike.
For this reason, it’s also an area which is often neglected, but this aspect of the language can cause problems for learners in both their speaking and perhaps more importantly listening.

Look at a sentence:

My phone’s broken, so I’m going to buy a new one.

The sentence contains two kinds of words content words & grammar words or structure words. Content words give you the meaning of the sentence. they are the keywords of a sentence.

The content words here are PHONE’S BROKEN , GOING , BUY , NEW ONE . If you don’t hear these words, you won’t understand the sentence.

Grammar words don’t carry meaning. They’re grammatically necessary; they connect the content words together.

If you hear only the grammar words, it doesn’t make any sense at all: “my so I’m to a.”

Think about it this way: if someone comes up to you and says, “PHONE’S BROKEN , GOING , BUY , NEW ONE” you can understand what they mean, even if it sounds a bit weird.

If someone comes up to you and says, “ my so I’m to a ” you’ll have no idea what they’re talking about.

So, why are we talking about this? Aren’t we supposed to be talking about sentence stress?

The difference between content words and grammar words is the foundation of sentence stress. Content words are usually stressed, and grammar words are usually unstressed.


To communicate clearly & effortlessly, it’s important to stress the correct syllables in each word. Good understanding of syllable helps to put stress on the right syllable in a word.

A syllable is a unit of sound. It can be a vowel, a diphthong or one or more vowels combined with one or more consonants.

Each word contains at least one syllable. Words that contain more than one syllable is called polysyllabic.

In most English dictionaries, the stressed syllable is indicated by a stress mark, a symbol that resembles an apostrophe. The stress mark follows the syllable that is stressed.

Spelling is not always a good indication of how many syllables a word has. The pronunciation of a word determines the number of syllables. But it will include a vowel sound when pronounced.

It is important to note here that every syllable contains at least one vowel sound.

One Syllable Words Two Syllable Words Three Syllable Words Four Syllable Words
Fast rocket Beautiful Information
Eat dinner Banana interesting
Go cattle Tomorrow unrealistic

To know more about Stressed, Unstressed, and Secondarily-Stressed Syllables yo can read here:- Introduction to Syllables

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