Word Stress

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Word Stress

All English words with two or more syllables have patterns of strongly stressed and unstressed syllables.

Stressed Syllables

Strongly stressed syllables are pronounced for a longer time. Their vowel sounds are pronounced more clearly, and so are their consonant sounds.

Unstressed Syllables

Unstressed syllables, on the other hand, have the opposite features. They are pronounced for a shorter time, and their consonant and vowel sounds are less clearly pronounced.

Why is word stress important?

Word stress is important because it gives a recognizable shape to a word. Listeners understand which word is used because of its stress pattern.

Many words that are quite different may differ only in the stress pattern.

DEcent desCENT DEEpened dePEND

In this section, you will learn to hear and produce word stress and use words of various stress patterns in telling short stories.

Warmup Listen to the fable and fill in the missing words. Then write out the moral (meaning) of the fable.

A hare once (1) of how fast he was. "I always win when I go my (2) ," he declared. "I challenge any of you here to race with me". The tortoise replied quietly, "I (3) your challenge. All of the creatures in the forest laughed to (4) . The hare said, "That’s a good joke. I could dance circles (5) you the whole way." "I (6) that you keep your boasting to (7) till you’ve (8) the race," answered the tortoise. So, a course around a (9) was fixed and the race (10) . The hare took off right away and was soon out of sight. The tortoise was far (11) , and the hare lay down to take a nap. The tortoise plodded on. When the hare (12) from his nap, he was (13) to see the tortoise just about to cross the finish line. The (14) rabbit again ran as fast as he could, but the tortoise won the race instead.
  1. boasted
  2. fastest
  3. accept
  4. themselves
  5. around
  6. suggest
  7. yourself
  8. finished
  9. village
  10. started
  11. behind
  12. awoke
  13. startled
  14. foolish

What is a syllable?

A syllable has one vowel sound. It can also have consonants before and after the vowel. Often a vowel sound can be spelled with more than one letter.

* Click on the word whose pronunciation you want to hear.

1 Syllable 2 Syllables 3 Syllables
I crea-tures si-lent-ly
go a-way vil-lag-ers
at be-hind re-ply-ing
hare chal-lenge fin-ish-es
Exercise 1 Drag each word into the correct column according to the number of the syllables they have.

1 Syllable 2 Syllables 3 Syllables
















  • 1 Syllable: laughed, hare, joke, course
  • 2 Syllable: forest, declared, mountain, instead, replied, tortoise, entire, answered
  • 3 Syllable:animals, quietly, decided

Stressed Syllables

  • All English words of two syllables or more have one syllable that is strongly stressed.

  • A stressed syllable takes longer to say than the other syllables. It is lengthened.

  • Vowel sound of a stressed syllable is also pronounced more clearly so it is easier to hear.

  • These two clues, greater length and vowel clarity, are found in all stressed syllables.
Exercise 2 Listen and mark the stressed syllable for each word. Click on the vowel letter(s) of the stressed syllable.

sur-prise a-gain
be-hind oth-er
them-selves moun-tain
sud-den con-tain
re-ward ei-ther
Click HERE to download the teacher's material.