english sentences stressYou might have a large English vocabulary and speak with correct grammar. Still, your English may be hard to understand if you don’t understand some basic principles of English pronunciation.

One key principle is this: Not every word gets equal stress. By “stress”, we mean emphasis, or how strongly you say the word. When we stress words in our speech, they are longer, louder, and higher in pitch than other words.

When speaking English, stress the content words. These are the words that give information, including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, negatives, questions words (why, what, etc.), and possessive and demonstrative pronouns.

Other kinds of words that give a sentence grammatical structure are function words, and they are not stressed in speech. Function words include articles, auxiliary verbs, personal pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions.

Read this sentence out loud with every word stressed:

The friendly dog is sleeping under the tree.

Now read it again, stressing only the bold words:

The friendly dog is sleeping under the tree.

The second way should sound closer to native speaker pronunciation.

If you want more practice, choose a speech from American Rhetoric. You can read the transcript while you listen to a speech from a politician or other famous person or from a movie. Try printing the transcript and highlighting the content words. Then read it out loud and listen to the original speech to see if your stress was similar.

[photo by Fabio Trifoni]