How Can I Know Which Syllable to Stress?

How Can I Know Which Syllable to Stress?

After yesterday’s post on the syllable stress game, (do play that game if you missed it), someone wrote to ask me this.wondering

Susan, how can I know which syllable to stress in a word?

A good question with a not-so-eazy answer…..

Syllable Stress & Dictionary Symbols

Dictionaries use different symbols to indicate stress. Most use this symbol ˈ to indicate primary stress.

This symbol ˈ is located before the syllable that has the most stress.

Here are three examples from Merriam Webster.

  • Houston ~ the first syllable is stressed
  • \ˈhyüs-tən\
  • Galveston ~ the first syllable is stressed
  • \ˈgal-vəs-tən\
  • photography ~ the second syllable is stressed
  • \fə-ˈtä-grə-fē\

Secondary stress is often indicated by a lower ˌ symbol.

Here’s an example from Merriam Webster.

  • Geographic ~ the first syllable has minor stress, the third syllable has primary stress
  • \ˌˌjē-ə-ˈgra-fik\


My Method

In my teaching I typically use an after the vowel in the stressed syllable.

I use this ➝ symbol because it really helps people remember to lengthen the vowel in the stressed syllable.

Long clear vowels are KEY for clear American English pronunciation.

My students and accent reduction coaching clients have had a lot of success using this method!

Learn to Use Syllable Stress

If you want to learn the rules for using American style syllable stress  (and get lots of practice) be sure to check out my iBook, American Accent Fundamentals.

This interactive iBook has excellent lessons and quizzes that’ll teach YOU how to use syllable stress for clear communication.

Optimized for use on your iPad or iPhone, this book lays the foundation for learning to speak American English clearly.