1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Word Syllable Stress Patterns in English

By

A syllable is a unit of sound which includes a vowel sound. You can check how many syllables a word has by putting your hand under your chin. Each time your chin moves to make a vowel sound count a syllable. For example, the word 'difficult' moves your chin three times. Therefore, 'difficult' is three syllables. This guide will help you recognize the most common syllable stress patterns in English for words with more than one syllable.

In multi-syllable words the stress falls on one of the syllables while the other syllables tend to be spoken over quickly. This leads to sounds that are not clear (muted) on unstressed syllables. In order to improve your pronunciation, focus on pronouncing the stressed syllable clearly. However, don't be afraid to "mute" (not say clearly) the other unstressed vowels. Listen to the examples by clicking on "listen". Return to this page using the "back" button on your browser.

For example:

Listen to these specific examples:

PersonNEL
TOtally
InDUstrial
ToMAto
FanTAstic

Unstressed syllables keep the correct sound, but sound muted. Sometimes, unstressed vowels become a schwa sound - like a soft "uh" sound.

For example:

Listen to these specific examples:

Little
Repeat
Tomato

At other times, the vowel is pronounced but not stressed.

For example:

Listen to these specific examples:

Industrial
Noisily

With this in mind, here are the eight common word stress patterns in English.

One Syllable - Stressed

All one syllable words have the stress on the one syllable. The intonation should go down. Listen to the general pattern.

EAT
DRINK
SIGN
WELL

Two Syllable - First Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

GIant
PICture
HEAting

Two Syllable - Second Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

toDAY
aHEAD
aLLOW

Three Syllable - First Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

ENergy
Operate
ORganize

Three Syllable - Second Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

meMORial
aSSUMPtion
caNAdian

Three Syllable - Third Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

employEE
japanESE
voluntEER

Four Syllable - Second Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

psyCHOLogy
eVAporate
cerTIficate

Four Syllable - Third Syllable Stressed

Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples:

poliTIcian
indiVIdual
repuTAtion

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. English as 2nd Language
  4. Pronunciation - Speaking
  5. Pronunciation Techniques
  6. Eight Common Word Syllable Stress Patterns in English

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.