Mon, Jul 19, 2010
The Star/Asia News Network
The right stress in words

By Keith W. Wright

Incorrect pronunciation is a major problem in English, and it does not only affect second language learners.

A major reason why many multi-syllabic English words are incorrectly pronounced is because some of the syllables are wrongly stressed.

The problem usually begins when words are broken into the wrong syllables, e.g. con/tri/bute instead of con/trib/ute; es/ti/ma/tion instead of es/tim/a/tion.

Another reason for mispronunciation is because the speaker usually is not aware of the traditional rules in English that relate to the primary stress in words.

When a word has more than one syllable and is used as a noun form - i.e. as the name of something or someone - it is usually stressed on the first syllable, e.g. pi/lot, cof/fee, sta/tion, aud/i/ence, sig/na/ture, doc/u/ment, guar/an/tee, sur/vey, per/mit, sus/pect, etc.

In contrast, words used as verb forms are usually stressed on a "later" syllable, e.g. The Council will sur/vey the road extension. - The police will not per/mit that protest march to disrupt traffic. - Do you sus/pect that he stole your watch?

This rule is well demonstrated using contribution. As this word is a noun, the primary stress will be on the first syllable, i.e. con/trib/u/tion. However, the verb form will be con/trib/ute, i.e. the stress is placed on a "later" syllable.

As this word ends in "tion", there will also be a Secondary Stress before it, as in con/trib/u/tion. The syllables in advertisement are often wrongly stressed too, i.e. ad/ver/tise/ment instead of ad/ver/tise/ment.

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Compare the verb, ad/ver/tise.

A simple way to recall where noun forms and verb forms are usually stressed is to remember that in the alphabet, "N" comes before "V", therefore the syllables in noun-words are stressed earlier than in verb-words.

To demonstrate the differences in the way di-syllabic words are stressed as nouns and verbs, a number of examples are listed below that can be used for personal practice and for teaching learners.

These examples have been presented contextually to assist in understanding the meaning of the key words used.

Remember, if you are in doubt as to which syllable in a di-syllabic word should be given "primary" stress when pronounced as a verb or as a noun, stress BOTH syllables, e.g. hammer > ham/mer or ham/mer but never ham/mer.



I opened a new bank account.

You must account for every dollar you have spent.


His bad conduct at the party was an embarrassment to everyone.

The university is going to conduct a survey of student accommodation facilities.


Contact was lost with cargo plane during the fierce storm.

You should contact your employer if you are too sick to go to work.

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My cousin became a convert of some strange religious cult when he was in Europe.

Where am I able to convert my Australian dollars into Ringgit?


That ring is much cheaper because of the defect in the diamond.

During the civil war many of the young men decided to defect tour enemy.


During the English lesson, the lecturer read an extract from a 10th century poem.

"Unfortunately, I will need to extract those two broken front teeth," the dentist said.


What will be the economic impact of the drought on the wool industry?

To impact its road-safety campaign, the government used road carnage pictures.


"Your comments are an insult to all women," the woman activist told the councillor.

You will insult my neighbour if you speak negatively about migrants.


A suspicious-looking object was discovered by the security guard near the entrance.

"Everyone should object to the latest increase in rents," the angry tenant said.


You will need a special permit to carry a firearm in the community.

"I will not permit you to associate with those types of teenagers," the father told his son.


Most of the farm produce stored in that shed was ruined by the rain.

Our company's policy is to produce quality products at competitive prices.

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Our band intends to make a record of our original songs.

Did you record my favourite TV programme while I was away last night?


The subject of this lecture is "Speaking With Confidence".

Why do you subject your employees to such harsh language?


On Wednesday, a national survey will be conducted on the retail price of petrol.

Before you agree to that contract, you should survey the possible financial risks.


Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S).

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English language proficiency of people from a diverse range of cultures and with different competency levels.

For a free copy of the 4S list of Nouns and Verbs that are stressed differently when spoken, simply e-mail contact@4Sliteracy.com.au?and request a copy of Pronouncing Nouns and Verbs. Also ask for 100 Wrongly Pronounced Words.

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