From Teflpedia

Stress (/ˈstres/) 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.

Word stress

Main article: Word stress.

"Stress" can refer to "word stress" - the position of the stressed syllable in the pronunciation of a particular word.

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

Sentence stress

"Stress" can refer to "sentence stress" in stress timed languages - the natural tendency to fully produce content words in such languages (such as English) and reduce other words to their weak forms.

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):

  1. Cat, frog, leopard, eagle.
  2. A cat, a frog, a leopard an eagle.
  3. A cat and a frog and a leopard and an eagle
  4. 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.

Emphatic stress

Stress can refer to "emphatic stress" - where stress is placed on a particular word in a phrase for clarity or emphasis.

Contrastive stress

Stress can refer to "contrastive stress" - where stress is placed on a particular word to indicate a difference of opinion.

Citation form

When a word is pronounced in isolation it is stressed. For example "I said men" /aɪ sed ˈmen/.

Non-content words are pronounced in their strong form. For example "I meant would /aɪ ment ˈwʊd/".


See also