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Adding Emphasis in English Speaking – Video

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In this video, we’re going to show you how adding emphasis in English speaking can improve your English communication skills. But what does it mean to add emphasis?

Adding emphasis is a way to show your listener that certain words and ideas are more important.

In this lesson, you’ll see how to use different pronunciation features and grammar structures to add emphasis to your spoken or written English.

QUIZ: Adding Emphasis in English Speaking

Now, test your knowledge of what you learned in the lesson by trying this quiz. There are 20 questions, which follow the order of the lesson. There are some questions about emphasis in general, then some about pronouncing certain words with strong emphasis, some about using adverbs, and so on. You can get help with some questions if you press ‘Hint’. You will get your score at the end, when you can click on ‘View Questions’ to see all the correct answers.

1. Stressing Words

Stressing words image

Here, you’ll see one of the most basic ways of adding emphasis in English. This is an example of adding emphasis to a sentence. Listen to a short example.

Marie: What time is John flying to Paris tomorrow?

Olivier: He isn’t flying to Paris *tomorrow.*

Did you hear the stressed word? Which one was it?

Hopefully, you heard that ‘tomorrow’, was stressed. Why do you think this is?

Before we answer that question, let’s look at three more examples. Listen for the stressed word, and think about what the stress means.

Marie: What time is John flying to Paris tomorrow?

Olivier: He isn’t *flying* to Paris tomorrow.

Marie: What time is John flying to Paris tomorrow?

Olivier: *He* isn’t flying to Paris tomorrow.

Marie: What time is John flying to Paris tomorrow?

Olivier: He isn’t flying to Paris tomorrow.

Could you hear the stressed words?

In the first sentence, ‘flying’ was stressed. In the second, ‘he’ was stressed. And in the third? There were no stressed words! Trick question.

When you stress one word, you show that this idea is more important. Often, you do this to show contrast with an opposite idea, or to disagree with someone.

In the first sentence, adding stress to ‘flying’ means that he is going to Paris tomorrow, but that he isn’t going by plane. Maybe he’s taking the Eurostar train, or driving.

What about the second sentence? What does it mean if you stress the word ‘he’?

This suggests that other people we know are flying to Paris tomorrow, but he isn’t.

What about our first example? What does it mean if you stress the word ‘tomorrow’? Think about it.

Adding stress to ‘tomorrow’ means that he is flying to Paris, but not tomorrow. Maybe he’s flying today, or the day after tomorrow.

Adding word stress is a simple way to add emphasis to your idea. This is especially useful when you want to correct someone, or disagree with somebody else.

Let’s move on and talk about the next technique of adding emphasis in English.

2. Inversions

Adding emphasis in Englsih - inversion graphic

Olivier: So, what did you think of the movie?

Marie: Amazing! It was so tense!

O: Yeah, I saw you jump so many times!

M: I know! *Never* have I been so scared. That basement scene was so frightening, I could hardly watch.

O: And the ending! What a twist! At no point did I see that coming.

M: What was the director’s name again?

O: Maria Thornby, I think. Not only did she direct it, but she also wrote and starred in it too!

M: She’s one to watch, then.

Look at two sentences.

  1. I have never been so scared.
  2. Never have I been so scared.

You heard one of these in the dialogue. Do you remember which?

You heard number two. Next question: what’s the difference between these two sentences?

The structure in sentence two is called an inversion. This is another way to add emphasis to your ideas. Get more practice on inversion with this article from ThoughtCo: Inverted Sentences for Advanced Learners of English.

When you make an inversion, you do two things: first, you start the sentence with an adverb, like ‘never’, ‘only’, ‘not only’ or ‘at no point’. The adverb can be a single word or a phrase. Get a review of adverbs with this Oxford Online English lesson Adverbs in English.

Secondly, you put an auxiliary verb before the main verb. You can make inversions in different verb tenses.

For example, look at four sentences. Can you say what verb tenses they are?

  1. Never had I seen such a thing.
  2. Only when we lose something do we understand how lucky we are.
  3. Not only will I invite you, I’ll pay for your ticket, too!
  4. At no point did I realise she was lying to all of us.

Could you do it? Pause the video if you want more thinking time.

Sentence one is past perfect. Two is present simple. Three is future, with ‘will’, and four is past simple.

Inversions like these are more common in written English, but you might hear them in conversation, too. Like all emphasis, you shouldn’t overuse them when adding emphasis in English.

3. Emphatic Auxiliary Verbs

Marie: You’re not coming to the party tonight, right?

Olivier: I *am* coming! Why would you think I wasn’t?

M: Well, last time we went to their place, you were in a terrible mood. It didn’t look like you were enjoying yourself at all.

O: Well, I was quite tired, but I *did* have a good time.

M: OK, well that’s good. I *do* hope you’re bringing Michelle with you, too? I haven’t seen her for ages.

O: Yes, she’ll be there.

M: Is she going to make her orange cake again? That was the best!

O: I’ll ask her. She *does* make the best cakes.

In the dialogue, you heard four examples of adding emphasis by stressing an auxiliary verb. Can you remember the sentences you heard? Which auxiliary verb did they use?

You heard these four sentences.

  • I *am* coming.
  • I *did* have a good time.
  • I *do* hope you’re bringing Michelle with you, too?
  • She *does* make the best cakes.

One of these four is different from the others. Can you see which sentence is different, and why?

The sentence ‘I *am* coming’ is different. It’s different because in the other three sentences, you add an auxiliary verb for emphasis: ‘do’, ‘does’ or ‘did’. Here, there’s already an auxiliary verb – ‘am’ – and you simply pronounce it with extra stress.

If you have a sentence in the present simple or past simple, and you want to add emphasis, with most verbs you can add an auxiliary verb ‘do’, ‘does’ or ‘did’ to make your idea sound stronger.

You need to pronounce the auxiliary verb with stress, too. Don’t say ‘I did have a good time’. Say ‘I *did* have a good time.

In other verb tenses, there is already an auxiliary verb. For example:

  • I am going to tell her.
  • They can speak Italian.
  • You have grown a lot.

To add emphasis to sentences like these, simply pronounce the auxiliary verb with stress, like this:

  • I *am* going to tell him.
  • They *can* speak Italian.
  • You *have* grown a lot.

Now, let’s look at one more way you can add emphasis when you speak.

4. Cleft (Focusing) Sentences

Marie: Olivier, can you come downstairs, please?

Olivier: What’s happened?

M: Look in the living room. Did you break the TV?

O: I didn’t break the TV!

M: Well, what happened then?

O: It was the dog who did it! He ran through the living room chasing the cat and got caught on the wires.

M: OK, sorry, my mistake.

Dog under the table image

Look at a sentence you heard.

  • It was the dog who did it!

Here’s a question: why say it like this? Why not just say ‘The dog did it’?

You can probably guess the answer: saying it this way adds emphasis. But, do you know what this sentence structure is called?

It’s called a cleft sentence, also known as a focusing sentence.

‘Cleft’ has a similar meaning to ‘split’ or ‘divided’. In the sentence we used – ‘It was the dog who did it’ – you can see that the sentence is in two parts. The first, ‘it was the dog’ and the second ‘who broke the TV’. A cleft sentence will always have at least two verbs: one in the first part, and one in the second.

Cleft sentences often start with the word ‘it’, but they can also start in different ways. You can also start a cleft sentence with ‘what’ plus a clause. For example:

  • What I hate most about living here is the dark winters.
  • What I need right now is a good long holiday.
  • What I’d like to do is put this aside and think about it again after a good night’s sleep.

It’s also possible to make cleft sentences starting with ‘all’, ‘something’ or ‘one thing’. For example:

  • All I want is to lie down. I feel terrible!
  • Something you should think about is choosing the words you use more carefully.

In the last sentence, you could also use ‘one thing’, which is interchangeable with ‘something’.

There are other ways to form cleft sentences, but these are some of the most common. All these sentences follow the same pattern; they’re divided into two parts, with at least one verb in each part.

Thanks for watching! Keep practicing emphasis stress in English with our other lessons like Sentence Stress.

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