To emphasise or make an accent on certain syllables in a word or certain words in a sentence.
We explain Word Stress (placed on a syllable inside a word) and Sentence Stress (placed on words within a sentence).
Word Stress is the accent given to a syllable in a word. The stressed syllable is emphasized, it sounds stronger than the others.
Each word has its Stress pattern. It depends on how many syllables the word has, some words are stressed on the first syllable, some on the second, the third, etc.
Take three words: politics, political and politician. They have different sounds because they have different stressed syllables (we will mark them in Capital Letters).
Capital letters (indicate stressed syllable).
Dots (indicate syllabification).
There are certain rules, each word has only one Main Stress (or Primary Stress). If there is another stressed syllable, it is called Secondary Stress.
In Dictionaries, you will find them like this: Politician/ˌpɒl.ɪˈtɪʃ.ən/ In this case, the stressed syllable starts in T, so it has the high accent mark indicating the Main Stress. The syllable PO has Secondary Stress, so it has a low accent mark.
Remember that the stressed syllable is pronounced more forcefully than the others, so the Secondary Stress is like a "half" stress between the strong and long Main Stress and no Stress at all.
The syllables that are not stressed are weaker, they are pronounced quickly since they are not as important as the stressed syllable.
Main Stress affects only the vowel sound and not the consonants, so the vowel in a stressed syllable gets its full vowel sound. The vowel in an unstressed syllable is shortened and sometimes, it is pronounced as a schwa /ə/.
If you focus on the stressed syllables when speaking and listening, you will improve your pronunciation and comprehension.
Sentence Stress is the accent given to some words in a sentence. It is like the "music" of the spoken language since it gives rhythm to the sentence.
Some words are stressed, they are pronounced more forcefully than the others, which are weaker.
Sentence Stress (or Prominence) is chosen by the speaker. It depends on the meaning of the message or the importance that the speaker wants to attribute to the chosen words.
Take the following examples: (We use Capital Letters to indicate which word is stressed).
Bart lived in CANADA (where he used to live is the most important info of the message).
BART lived in Canada (the person who lived in Canada is the most important info).
As you can see, Sentence Stress is used by the speaker to give Prominence to some words, implying that they are more important than the others and changing the meaning of the message.
Within sentences, there are Content and Structure words. Content words are the important words that carry the meaning of the sentence, if we leave them out, the sentence loses its sense. So, Content words (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs) are stressed.
Structure words are not stressed, they give structure to the sentence and make it grammatically correct but, if we leave them out of the sentence, it still makes sense.
If you remove the structure words from a sentence, you will probably still understand its meaning.
...SOLD...HOUSE ... MOVED ... ENGLAND
If you remove the content words from a sentence, you will not understand it.
I.... my, I've.....to.
Sentence stress (or Prominence) is key for speaking and understanding English. Remember that Sentence Stress depends on the context and is closely related to the meaning.
This is MY car. (Indicating that the car belongs to me).
THIS is my car. (Meaning that my car is this one and not any other).
I have bought TWO tickets. (Marking the amount).
I have bought two TICKETS. (I bought tickets, not other thing).
TOM is my best friend. (Meaning that Tom, not another person, is my best friend).
I didn't see YOU. (Meaning that I might have seen another person).