One of the most challenging, and sometimes frustrating, aspects of English is predicting where the primary stress should be in a word. And since every word has a primary stress, it’s crucial to know where to place it in a word. Otherwise, it may compromise your intelligibility.
What is Primary Stress?
Primary stress is the one syllable in a word that sticks out the most: It’s longer, louder, and higher in pitch.
In the stress system of English, there are 3 levels of stress. There is always a primary stress, and there might be a secondary stress as well. The rest of the vowels are unstressed (and usually weak and reduced to a schwa – learn more about it here).
For example, in a word like “organization”, there is primary stress on the fourth syllable, and a secondary stress on the first syllable: or-guh-nuh-ZEI-sh’n. The other 3 syllables are weak.
How to Know Where You Place the Primary Stress?
Start by breaking down the word into syllables and say it slowly. Most likely you’ll feel which syllable is more dominant. You can also punch your palm once when you say the word slowly. It’ll probably be on the syllable you stress the most. You can also say the word out loud as if it was a child you’re calling to come home. You’ll notice that there’s one syllable that you stretch more than the others. That’s the syllable that you stressed.
But sometimes, you might misplace the primary stress. The stress rules differ from language to language, so it’s only natural, and on top of that, the stress in English specifically is somewhat inconsistent. But don’t feel discouraged. There are some patterns that can help you predict the right stress position in words.
Predicting the Right Stress Position
When you add a suffix to a word, you’re not only changing the meaning of the word. Sometimes, the position of the stress changes too. For example, in a word like ‘possible’, the stress is on the first syllable: PO-ssible. But when we add the suffix -ity, the position of stress changes and moves to the vowel before the suffix: possi-BI-lity. Knowing what suffixes change the stress position and what suffixes don’t is very helpful. Check out more about it here.
You can rely on another common pattern in English to predict the position of the primary stress. In two-syllable words, the stress usually falls on the first syllable if the word is a noun, and on the second syllable if the word is a verb. For example, RE-cord vs. re-CORD: She played my favorite RE-cord, and I wanted to re-CORD it.
Of course, there are some exceptions, but still, these are common patterns that you can already use.
But what can you do with words that you don’t know, which don’t fall under those categories? Watch the video to learn about my 3-step practice system and how you can incorporate it into your daily routine.
And if you’re in the mood for a fun challenge, check out my Primary Stress Quiz at the end of the video.
What words do you usually get wrong when it comes to primary stress? Try using my 3-step system and let me know if it helped in the comments below.
Also, here are the answers to the words in the quiz. Let me know in the comments below how many of them you got right:
- Employee (also common: employee)