When you listen to Americans pronounce words you might notice that they always put a lot of stress or emphasis on one syllable.
That’s because English words always have one syllable that is pronounced with more emphasis than the others. The vowel in the stressed syllable is lengthened and clear. The vowels in the other (unstressed) syllables are reduced.
Pronunciation teachers call this type of emphasis syllable stress or word stress. Most teachers agree that learning to use stress correctly is one of the very best ways to improve your English pronunciation and reduce your accent!
Knowing which syllable to stress can be a problem. However, there are some rules or patterns you can use to decide which syllable to emphasize. In this article I will describe three of these rules.
Three Rules for Syllable Stress in American English Words
1. The first part of a a compound word is usually stressed.
Here are some examples: NOTEbook, HAIRcut, AIRport, BATHroom, LUNCHroom.
Here is a sentence: John left his NOTEbook in the LUNCHroom.
2. Stress is usually placed on the syllable that contains the root or base word. That means that word prefixes are usually NOT stressed.
Here are a few examples: unPAID, inCLUDE, preDICT, reMIND, inVEST.
Here is a sentence: Thomas did not preDICT that his inVESTments would lose value.
3. It also means that word suffixes are usually NOT stressed.
For example: SLOWly, FASTer, SPEAKing, CAREful, WORKable.
Here is a sentence: James is SPEAKing SLOWly for the students.
Exceptions to the suffix rule are English words of French origin such as: millionAIRE, volunTEER and picturESQUE. These words are stressed on the suffix itself.
Here is a sentence: Bill Gates is a millionAIRE.
If you haven’t noticed the way Americans stress syllables in words I want you to start to listen for it. Once you can recognize and use this very important feature of spoken American English, the rhythm of your speech will improve. Your accent will be less noticeable and people will be able to understand you much more easily!