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Unit 4:Word Stress

Section 1: Focus 

Section 2: From Listening To Pronunciation
Section 3: Pronunciation Drills
Section 4: Variety Show

Section 5: Listen And Check


Section 1: Focus

Introduction of Word Stress in 2-syllable Words and 3-syllable Words

Every word in English has one or more syllables. A single-syllable word does not carry word stress. Only when a word has more than two syllables it has the word stress; a word contains one stressed syllable and one or more unstressed syllables.  

Most of the stressed words are ¡§content words¡¨, such as verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, but most ¡§function words¡¨ do not have word stress, such as pronouns, auxiliaries, prepositions, Verb be. But function words can be stressed when the speaker wishes to express its importance in meaning, which is called ¡§sentence stress¡¨.

¡§Stressed¡¨ means long and strong, while ¡§unstressed¡¨ means short and weak. But in Chinese, all the words are in equal length of sound, with only the shift of 4 levels of sounds to distinguish the different meaning of words; rather than the rhythm of utterance. Consequently, our Chinese students have a hard time stressing the stressed syllables to create the contrast between the syllables. For Chinese learners, it might be necessary to exaggerate a little than usual when speaking English in order to create the required stress.

Stress is one of the factors that make English rhythmic. And we are going to introduce different kinds of word stress and sentence stress in Unit 4 and 5, which are also supra-segmental features of the spoken English. Unit 4 contains word stresses and Unit 5 contains Sentence Stress and Rhythm.

Word Stress in 2-syllable Words

   In words with 2 syllables, one of the syllables is stressed and the other is not. This creates a contrast between them. If we compare the contrast with musical notes, the unstressed syllable can be ¡§do¡¨ and the stressed syllable can be ¡§me¡¨. The rotation of unstressed syllable and stressed syllable is like ¡§do-me¡¨(or ¡¥me-do¡¨ ; which creates the rhythm in English like in music. Chinese learner usually speak with sounds like ¡§do-re¡¨or ¡§re-do¡¨ , which does not create much contrast, and of course not much of the up-and-down rhythm would emerge. However, ¡§do-re¡¨ or ¡¥re-do¡¨ on the syllables also occur when the word is second to other important key words.

1.     It drives me crazy!

2.     Someone stole my wallet last night.

3.     But I lost my credit card and my driver¡¦s license.

4.     It really upsets me when taxi drivers drive so fast.

5.     That doesn¡¦t really bother me.

6.     Hmm. That reminds me of when I had my purse stolen last year.

7.     Ted, I wonder if you¡¦d mind lending me your camera on Saturday. I¡¦m going to a wedding.

8.     The Hollywood Police Department has decided to drop charges against the thief for saving the officers¡¦ lives.

9.     I think it¡¦s because they want to show that they¡¦re really enjoying their food so they make a loud slurping noise.

10. The problem is that in many countries the landfills have already been filled up, and it¡¦s hard to find places to start new ones.

 Word Stress in Words with 3 syllables or more

1.     Exactly.

2.     It sounds exhausting.

3.     Well, it was a course on vegetarian cooking.

4.     You certainly sound very confident.

5.     Well, one thing to do about it is to talk to the management.

6.     I guess I learned how to communicate with people when I was a flight attendant.

7.     We want to show children how the oceans are being polluted by industrial waste.

8.     Living in another country can create barriers to communication that are limiting in some ways and liberating in others.

9.     Of course, we all read books in America, too, but precisely because of the other distractions, it¡¦s often hard to stick with them.

10. I think the key to being a good conversationalist is to be sincerely interested in other people and to try to get them to talk about themselves as much as possible.




Section 2: From Listening To Pronunciation



  Listen while observing the words and sentences in a dialogue or a reading passage, and you will get a clear picture of how they are stressed. Now listen to Conversation 4 of the elementary level from the following site:


Reading Passage:

  Now, listen to reading passage, and you will find the above-mentioned features are very common in the reading passage, which is spoken in the form of report English, or narration.




Section 3: Pronunciation Drills

    After you observed the dialogue and reading passage from the previous section, you have probably had a thorough understanding of how supra-segmental features work in American English. The following practices are sentence exercises for each reduction feature we introduce in this unit. Practice them, and you will find becoming fluent like a native speaker is not hard.

2-syllable Word Stress & 3-syllable Word Stress



Section 4: Variety Show


English learning is not just hard work. Here we have some interesting activities for you to learn and have fun! The following poem has been marked with red on the stressed syllables based on the recitation done by Ms. Angela Lansbury. I am sure her recitation will bring you another perspective of stress.

Poem: "The Worlds is Too Much with Us" by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The sea that bares her bosom to the moon,

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not, Great God! I¡¦d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton below his wreathed horn.


Please click on number 13 on the following page to hear the recitation of the poem.


Nursery Rhyme

Nursery rhythm usually carries strong stresses in between lines, which greatly contributes the rhythmic elements of the lines. Please listen and enjoy the musical effect that stress brings to you.  

                  I hate horror movies

             Romantic, romantic,

             I love romances.

            They¡¦re really romantic.

             Scary, scary,

             I hate horror movies.

             They¡¦re really scary.

              Interesting, interesting,

              I like documentaries.

              They¡¦re really interesting.

               Funny, funny,

               I love comedies.

               They¡¦re really funny

                Exciting, exciting,

                I like action movies.

               They¡¦re really exciting.

(Source: Sound Check 3, p. 90, Get Real 2, by Angela Buckingham and Miles Craven, 2001, Oxford: Macmillan Education, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited.)


Section 5: Listen And Check


    No learning is completed without a quiz to check your comprehension. The following quiz is designed for you to check whether you can identify the supra-segmental features introduced in this unit. They ARE in the sentences.

Listening Quiz  

    The following dialogue is underlined for you to check on the stress. Please print out first and put a stress mark (¡¬) on the syllable when you identify it is stressed.

 Friday Night without a Date

James: This has got to stop! Another Friday night without a date! What can I do?

Mike: What about looking through the personal ads in the newspaper? That¡¦s how I met Stephanie.

James: Actually, I¡¦ve tried that. But the people you meet are always different from what you expect.

Mike: Well, why don¡¦t you join a dating service? A friend of mine met his wife that way.

James: That¡¦s not a bad idea.

Mike: Also, it might be a good idea to check out singles¡¦ night at the bookstore.

James: Yeah. If I don¡¦t find a date, at least I might find a good book!

Check out the answers here. :)



(Source: Unit 9, New Interchange 3, by Jonathan Hull and Susan Proctor, 2001, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)