Stress is an extra force used when pronouncing a word or syllable. Stress can mean several things in English language teaching, depending on the context in which it is used.
Main article: Word stress.
A great number of words in English only have one syllable (for example go, eat, wait, eight, house, prince, friends, thieves, straight, etc.). In these cases the stress can only be located in that syllable.
In longer words the stresss can lie in any syllable:
- First syllable: doctor - animal - decorator
- Second syllable: hotel - delete - important - security
- Third syllable: information - understand - economic
- Fourth syllable: configuration - experimental - responsibility
A simple example which highlights this phenomenon is as follows. Set a metronome clicking at twice per second, or alternatively just click your fingers, making sure you keep a steady rhythm. Next read aloud the sentences below from 1 to 4 while stressing the content words in bold on each click of the metronome (or your fingers):
- Cat, frog, leopard, eagle.
- A cat, a frog, a leopard an eagle.
- A cat and a frog and a leopard and an eagle
- A cat and then a frog and then a leopard and an eagle.
If the instructions are followed correctly, the structure words will be reduced to weak forms and the characteristics of a stress-timed language will be clearly demonstrated. Limericks can also be used to develop awareness of sentence stress due to their unique sentence stress pattern.
Other forms of stress
In addition to the above forms of stress an English speaker can also use stress to impart additional information, emphasis or contrast.
In these cases stress can be added through greater loudness, higher pitch and longer duration or a combination of these. Normally stress can be placed only on content words (verbs, nouns, adverbs, and adjectives) and pronouns (because they are used to replace a noun). Propositions, articles, conjunctions and interjections are seldom stressed. The full strong form of a non-content word would also count as "stress" under this definition.
Stress can refer to "contrastive stress" - where stress is placed on a particular word to indicate a difference of opinion.
When a word is pronounced in isolation it is stressed. For example "I said men" /ˌaɪ ˌsed ˈmen/.
Non-content words are pronounced in their strong form. For example "I meant would /ˌaɪ ˌment ˈwʊd/".