English Pronunciation – Word Stress

Pronunciation is an important aspect of learning English. If you learn the incorrect pronunciation of a word, you may not understand it when someone pronounces the word correctly. Also, when you use the word, the person listening may not understand you.

Let me give you an example. An exchange student from Mexico asked me if we could go to a “boo-fet.” I did not understand where he wanted to go. I asked him for clarification. He then asked if we could go to a “boo-fet” where you eat all you want. Now, I understood. He was trying to pronounce the word buffet (buh-fay). He learned the incorrect pronunciation from his teacher of English.

How many words do you know that start with photo? Let’s make a list:

photograph, photographer, photography, photographic, photographed, photographically, photogenic

Do you know the correct pronunciation of these words? You probably can pronounce some of these words correctly.

In English, one syllable in any word is called the stressed syllable. The stressed syllable is the part of a word that you give the most emphasis to. Stressed syllables are often perceived as being more forceful than non-stressed syllables. Let’s look at some examples. The following underlined syllables are stressed:

sofa, telephone, celebrity, computer

Here are the pronunciation rules. Remember, every rule has an exception or two.

When the word ends in -al (architectural), -crat (democrat), -ist (economist), -meter (thermometer), or -y, -cy, -gy, -fy, -phy, -ry, -try, the stress generally falls on the ante-penultimate syllable. For example, in architectural, “tec” is the ante-penultimate syllable.

architectural

ar chi tec tur al

al – ultimate syllable

tu – penultimate syllable

tec – ante-penultimate syllable

When the word ends in -ian, -ic, ics, -sion, -tion, the stress is usually on the penultimate syllable. For example, politician, “ti” is the penultimate syllable.

Politician

When the word ends in -ee,-eer the stress usually is placed on the last syllable.

Employee

Most other endings, for the most part, do not change the stress of the base word. For example, -able, -ed, -er, –ful, -ing, -ise, ize, -ist, -less, -ly, -ment, -ness, -ous, -ure.

architecture, employed, useless

Prefixes usually do not change the stress of the base word. Here are some examples.

generate / degenerate

believe / disbelieve

national / international

action / transaction

In the list below, underline the stressed syllable in the word families.

photograph, photographer, photography, photographic, photographed, photographically, photogenic

economy, economic, economist, economics, economical, economically

architect, architecture, architectural, architecturally

industry, industrial, industrially, industrious, industrialize, industrialization, industrialist, industrialism

democrat, democracy, democratic, democratically, democratize, democratization

employ, employer, employee, employing, employed, employment

use, used, user, useless, uselessly, uselessness, useful, usefully, usefulness, usable

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