Which words should I stress?

Don’t stress every word

Which words should I stress?

Which words should I stress?

One of the biggest American accent challenges my accent reduction coaching clients have to learn is choosing which words to stress in a sentence or phrase.

In fact, each week one of my clients will tell me~

Susan, I know that I’m not supposed to stress every word…but I’m not sure which words to stress and which words to reduce.

They understand something very important

You see….stressing every word equally, or stressing the wrong word in a sentence… creates an spoken melody that Americans find difficult to understand.

Stressing every word equally, or stressing the wrong word makes your speech sound foreign. This contributes to breakdowns in communication.

My clients understand this. But they don’t always know the rules for which word to stress.

Let me give you a few examples.

Japanese, Korean & Chinese speakers

Speakers of these languages tend to stress each word with the same emphasis. This makes their speech sound choppy and foreign to the native listener.

Spanish speakers

Spanish speakers tend to stress adjectives & pronouns instead of nouns. This pattern also sounds foreign to the native listener.

Indian language speakers

South Asian English speakers often stress compound nouns on the second part of the word. This sounds unusual to the native listener who expects to hear stress on the first part of the word.

Three easy rules for word stress

Learning to stress words correctly (or as we do in North America) will greatly enhance your spoken English skills.

Below are three easy rules you can use when deciding which word to stress.

1. Compound words are stressed on the first syllable.

Examples include homework, football, green card, fast food & highway

2. When an adjective is followed by a noun, stress the noun.

Examples include: pretty girl, little boy, fast car, big house & nice day

3. Two word place names are stressed on the second part.

Examples include: New York, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Ocean City   ❀

Word stress can be tricky

It’s difficult to think about which word you should stress when you’re in the middle of a conversation!!

Even my most advanced accent reduction  coaching clients still make occasional mistakes when it comes to stressing words the way Americans do.

Word stress lessons

While word stress may seem unimportant to you now, keep in mind that it’s very important to your American English listeners!

My American Accent Fundamentals iBook

My American Accent Fundamentals iBook teaches you many of the basic rules for using the correct word stress when you speak.

If you’re trying to improve your American accent, start learning the rules for word stress and much more in this easy to use iBook.

✰ American Accent iBook

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About the author

Susan Ryan is an accent reduction coach. Contact her with your questions about clear American speech.