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In phonology, the term stress generally refers to an abstract property of syllables within the word domain by which they are pronounced with more prominence than unstressed syllables. Prominence may involve greater amplitude, higher pitch, greater duration or greater accuracy of articulation (most notably in vowels).

The degree of prominence of a syllable is marked by loudness, length and pitch. Lexical stress refers to the prominence relations within a word which distinguishes lexical meanings by means of stress, as in 'inCREASE' (verb) vs 'INcrease' (noun). The term stress is also more generally used to indicate which words or phrases in a sentence bear accent, or focus.

Stress in English nouns

Intonation, the “music” of a language, is perhaps the most important element of a correct accent. Pronunciation is another element constituting an accent, but correct intonation is also necessary in order to make an accent sound indistinguishably native. In many cases non-native speakers who have developed near-native second language skills in the fields of grammar, pronunciation of sounds and words of English, clearly remain recognizable as non-native speaker because of slight variations in intonation.

Therefore, it is necessary to realize that, besides pronunciation and linking, intonation is an important element to attain a native-like accent.

Rules of Word Stress in English

There are two very simple rules about word stress:

1.One word has only one stress. (One word cannot have two stresses. If you hear two stresses, you hear two words. Two stresses cannot be one word. It is true that there can be a "secondary" stress in some words. But a secondary stress is much smaller than the main [primary] stress, and is only used in long words.)

2.We can only stress vowels, not consonants.

Here are some more, rather complicated, rules that can help you understand where to put the stress. But do not rely on them too much, because there are many exceptions. It is better to try to "feel" the music of the language and to add the stress naturally.

1- Stress on first syllable

Most 2-syllable nouns PRESent, EXport, CHIna, TAble

2- Stress on last syllable

Most 2-syllable verbs to preSENT, to exPORT, to deCIDE, to beGIN

3- Stress on penultimate syllable

Words ending in -ic GRAPHic, geoGRAPHic, geoLOGic

Words ending in -sion and -tion teleVIsion, reveLAtion

4- Stress on ante-penultimate syllable

Words ending in -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy deMOcracy, dependaBIlity, phoTOgraphy, geOLogy

Words ending in -al CRItical, geoLOGical

5- Stress in compound nouns

When we find a group of two or more words together, we have to make a simple decision: which of those should I stress the most? How do I know which one to stress? Well, if it is a description, you should skim over the adjetive and stress the noun:

a nice guy

a big house

a good idea

If you have a two nouns that form a compound noun, stress the first word:

a hot dog

a notebook

a picture frame

This will explain why it is said:

He lives in a white house.

He lives in the White House.

In compound nouns, the stress usually falls on the first syllable:

a 'greenhouse = place where we grow plants (compound noun)

a green 'house = house painted green (adjective and noun)

a 'bluebird = type of bird (compound noun)

a blue 'bird = any bird with blue feathers (adjective and noun)

There are many two-syllable words in English whose meaning and class change with a change in stress. The word present, for example is a two-syllable word. If we stress the first syllable, it is a noun (gift) or an adjective (opposite of absent). But if we stress the second syllable, it becomes a verb (to offer). More examples: the words export, import, contract and object can all be nouns or verbs depending on whether the stress is on the first or second syllable.

For a few words, native English speakers don't always "agree" on where to put the stress. For example, some people say teleVIsion and others say TELevision. Another example is: CONtroversy and conTROversy

Intonation: Noun or Verb

Knowing when and where to stress the words you use is very important for understanding, and is part of a good accent. A clear example is that of the different stress in nouns and verbs. Usually (although there are some exceptions), the stress of a verb is on the last syllable, and that of a noun is on the first syllable.

to susPECT: meaning, to have an opinion a SUSpect: meaning, a person under suspicion

to preSENT: meaning, to give, to introduce a PREsent: meaning, a gift, now