Home Uncategorized North American English Accent Series: Word Stress Part 2

North American English Accent Series: Word Stress Part 2



This article continues Part 1 of the North American English Accent Series looking at intonation or stress as an important component of a proper English accent.

STRESS (Part 2)

We learned in Part One that there are four major types of stress on words in English: baseline stress, stress for emphasis, stress to show contrast, and stress on new information.

This article will emphasize the role of contrast and new information in the stressing of English speech.

We will try to help you hear clearly the difference that stress or intonation makes in the daily use of a proper North American English accent. The practice with the following examples will help you to notice, practice, and master the different intonation patterns that you will discover as you concentrate more on your use of North American English.


One reason to move the basic stress from its final position is to assign an emphasis to a content word, such as an adverb, etc. Compare the following examples.

The movie was very INteresting. (only the basic stress)

It was VEry interesting. (emphatic stress)

Don’t DO that!. (only the basic stress)

You MUSTN’T do that!. (emphatic stress)

Here are a few more examples of adverbs and modifiers, which always add emphasis and usually take away the basic stress from its original position and become stressed themselves, as the word “very” of the example “VEry interesting” of above.

indeed, utterly, absolute, terrific, tremendous, awfully, terribly, great, grand, really, definitely, truly, literally, extremely, surely, completely, barely, entirely, very (adverb), very (adjective), quite, too, enough, pretty, far, especially, alone, only, own, -self.


When there is a contrast in the statement, there is a kind of stress that is different from the basic stress or the emphatic stress.. Any word or syllable can have the contrastive stress.

a) Do you like this one or THAT one?

b) I like THIS one.

HE played baseball yesterday. (I want to say that it was HE, not someone else who played…)

He played BASEBALL yesterday. (not football…

He played baseball YESterday. (It was yesterday, not last week…)

there are more examples in section 5below.

New Information

In a response given to a question starting with the words who, when, why, where, what ( a “wh” question), the information looked for (what you are asking about) and the answer are both stressed,. That is, it is pronounced with more force. This kind of stress will be easy for you to recognize, remember and use.

  1. What’s your NAME?
  2. My name’s GEORGE.
  3. Where are you FROM?
  4. I’m from CHILE.
  5. Where do you LIVE?
  6. I live in BROOKLYN.
  7. When does the school term END?
  8. It ends in MAY.
  9. What do you DO?
  10. I’m a STUdent.

In general, new information is more likely to have the accent than material that has already been mentioned. You can often answer “wh” question in a short form. You don’t always have to answer with a stressed answer. Too questions You could say just say:

George, Chile, in Brooklyn

But some “wh” questions such as the question “what do you do?” need a longer answer You have to give an answer that is more than one word, such as “I’m a STUdent.”

You can get a further idea of the importance of contrastive stress and its effect on meaning by taking a simple sentence, and changing different words.

Take the sentence: I didn’t say he stole the money.

If you change the stress by stressing different words in turn, you change the meaning of the sentence. Read the following sentences stressing the underlined word or syllable.

1.I didn’t say he stole the money. Someone else said it.

2. I didn’t say he stole the money. I never said it.

3. I didn’t say he stole the money. Maybe I just suggested it.

4. I didn’t say he stole the money. Maybe someone else stole it.

5. I didn’t say he stole the money. Maybe he just borrowed it.

6. I didn’t say he stole the money. Maybe he took some other money.

7. I didn’t say he stole the money. Maybe he stole something else.


Source by Frank Gerace


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