Many English learners worry about making a mistake with the sounds in a word. But it’s more important to get the stress of a word right. Word stress is when you make one syllable in the word louder, longer and at a higher pitch than the other syllables in a word.
Word stress helps gives a rhythm to spoken English. Without it, every syllable would have an equal weight.
For example, the word “beautiful” has three syllables:
beau – ti – ful
The stress is on the first syllable “beau”. So we say:
Here’s another example. The word “intelligent” has four syllables:
in – te – li – gent
The stress is on the second syllable “te”. So we say:
By the way, if you’d like more help with syllables, check out this page.
Which syllable do you stress?
So how do you know which syllable to stress? There are a lot of rules which can help, and you can find a handy list here.
But a better way to learn is to listen as much as possible to native speakers, so that you can hear how they stress words. Repeat new words as well, so you get practice speaking the word. With new words, it’s also a good idea to make a note of the stressed syllable. You can do this in a number of ways:
– putting an apostrophe before the stressed syllable (in’telligent)
– writing the stressed syllable in capital letters (inTElligent)
– typing the stressed syllable in bold (inTElligent)
It’s not just word stress which gives English its rhythm. Sentence stress (where we give emphasis to particular words) is also important.
English With Kim has lots of useful detail about sentence stress here – plus some great advice on where to put stress in phrasal verbs.
Finally, if you’d like to test your knowledge, check out a word stress quiz here and here.