Stressed and unstressed syllables make up the rhythm of the English language. In speaking we naturally stress certain syllables, but we don't necessarily realise it. Determining which syllables in words are stressed can further your understanding of the English language and allow you to form more powerful and varied sentences in your writing.
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Things you need
Determine how many syllables a word has. Take the word "maple," for example. When saying the word, your jaw moves twice and breaks the word into two parts: "ma" and "ple." "Maple" has two syllables. "Following," when said out loud, causes your mouth to make three large movements, and the word is broken down into "fol" "low" "ing." This word has three syllables.
Say the word out loud and listen to how your voice changes as you say the word. Does one syllable sound louder or stronger than the other? This stronger-sounding syllable is the stressed syllable. In the case of the word "maple," the first syllable sounds stronger than the second. When you say "following," the first syllable also sounds louder than the other two.
Say the word out loud again, this time saying a different syllable stronger than the one you think is stressed. If the word sounds incorrect when you pronounce it this way, then the syllable you previously identified as being stressed is correct. Pronouncing "ma-ple" does not sound correct, neither does "fol-LOW-ing" nor "follow-ING." Therefore, the original syllables determined to be stressed were correct.
Walk to the rhythm of the word. Take one step while you say each syllable, and step down harder when you say what you have determined to be the accented syllable. If the word feels and sounds incorrect, then you are stressing the wrong syllable.
Look up the word in the dictionary to verify your analysis. Dictionaries generally indicate a stressed syllable by displaying it in bold, in upper case letters or by adding a stress mark directly after the stressed syllable.
Tips and warnings
- Shorter words usually just have one stressed syllable, though longer words may have at least two syllables that are stressed. Consonants are never stressed. Single-syllable words may be stressed or unstressed, depending on the sentence in which they are used.
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