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Syllables and Word Stress – English Pronunciation Lesson

by Oli Redman on 23 March, 2016 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn about syllables and word stress. Do you know how to count syllables, or how to find the stress in a word? Syllables and word stress are very important for your English listening and speaking. If you don’t pronounce the stress of a word correctly, people might not understand what you’re saying.

1. Introducing Syllables

First, what are syllables? Let’s look at four words:

  • fast
  • person
  • beautiful
  • information

Fast has one syllable: fast

Person has two syllables: per-son

Beautiful has three syllables: beau-ti-ful

Information has four syllables: in-for-ma-tion

Let’s practise together. Listen to four more words:

  • breakfast
  • banana
  • tomorrow
  • university

How many syllables do these words have? Pause the video and think about your answer.

Ready? Let’s look the answers:

Breakfast has two syllables: break-fast

Banana has three syllables: ba-na-na

Tomorrow has three syllables: to-mor-row

University has five syllables: u-ni-ver-si-ty

2. Introducing Stress

The other part of our topic is stress. What is stress?

Think about the word banana. Banana has three syllables. Do we pronounce all the syllables the same: bah-nah-nah?

No, we don’t—one syllable is stronger: bah-NAH-nah. This is stress.

If a word has one syllable, you don’t need to think about stress. But, if a word has two syllables or more, one syllable is always stressed—it has a strong, clear pronunciation.

Let’s practise. Listen to these words, and try to find the stressed syllable.

  • fast
  • person
  • beautiful
  • information
  • university

Can you hear the stress? Go back and listen again if you need to. If you’re ready, let’s look at the answers.

Fast only has one syllable, so it doesn’t have stress.

Person has two syllables. The stress is on ‘per’ — ‘PER-son’

Beautiful has three syllables. The stress is on ‘beau’ — ‘BEAU-ti-ful’

Information has four syllables. The stress is on ‘ma’ — ‘in-for-MA-tion’

University has five syllables. The stress is on ‘ver’ — ‘u-ni-VER-si-ty’

Stress is very important when you speak. If you don’t pronounce the stress, or if you pronounce it incorrectly, it will be difficult for people to understand you.

When you write down new words in English, show where the stress is. Make a mark over the stressed syllable, or underline the stressed syllable.

Let’s do some more practice together. Can you hear the stress in these words?

  • today
  • minute
  • interesting
  • expensive
  • communicate

Can you hear the stress? Go back and listen again if you need to. If you’re ready, let’s look at the answers.

Today has two syllables. The stress is on ‘day’ – ‘to-DAY’

Minute has two syllables. The stress is on ‘min’ – ‘MIN-ute’

Interesting has three syllables. The stress is on ‘in’ — ‘IN-tres-ting’

Expensive has three syllables. The stress is on ‘pen’ — ‘ex-PEN-sive’

Communicate has four syllables. The stress is on ‘mu’ – ‘com-MU-ni-cate’

3. How to Find the Stress in a Word

If you see a word, can you know where the stress is? Not always, but sometimes you can. Look at some rules on stress:

  • Nouns/adjectives with two syllables usually have the stress on the first syllable: PER-son, BREAK-fast, MIN-ute
  • Verbs with two syllables usually have the stress the stress on the second syllable: for-GET, be-GIN, de-CIDE
  • Words with three syllables usually have the stress on the first syllable: IN-tres-ting, BEAU-ti-ful, AN-y-one
  • Words with four or more syllables always have the stress in the middle of the word, not on the 1st or last syllable.

Of course, these rules don’t always work, but they can help you with many words.

Syllables and Stress - Exercise 1

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Oli RedmanSyllables and Word Stress – English Pronunciation Lesson