Stress is one of the most fundamental and important speech strategies used by English speakers to communicate meaning. English speakers use stress to highlight information they think is important. Every English word of more than one syllable has a dictionary-defined stress pattern.
How does it work?
The English stress system is based on the contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables, stressed and unstressed words. Generally, stressed syllables are longer and sometimes louder than unstressed syllables. They also have some pitch change or movement of the voice up or down.
There are three basic levels of stress in English:
Syllable stress in words
contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables in words
e.g. many people believe
Key word stress
stress in longer speech chunks, clauses or sentences
e.g. / that in an increasingly globalised world /
Focus word stress
the syllable in the stressed word which has the strongest pitch change in a speech chunk
e.g. / that in an increasingly glo balised world /
Notation marks explained:
- speech chunks and pauses are marked with a slash / or // for a longer pause
- stressed syllables in key words are marked in bold
- focus words (the most important key words) have an underlined stressed syllable
- arrows mark the direction of pitch movement of the voice (e.g. for falling intonation; for rising intonation)
What will happen if I stress words incorrectly?
It can impact the communication between you and your listener. Listeners may not be able to recognise even simple vocabulary, and misunderstand the information you want to highlight. Not enough stress, or stress on too many words (or all syllables) will tire your listeners and they may find it difficult to pay attention to everything you are saying.
Lack of stress on key words can impair your effectiveness when giving a report or a presentation on new or unfamiliar material, such as the results of research.
Download Pronunciation: Stress (PDF 256kB, 2 pages)