Do you sound like a robot when you speak English? If you want your speaking to sound more native-like, you could be missing one key ingredient: Rhythm.

What is rhythm?

In pronunciation, rhythm refers to the length of time it takes to speak a sound, syllable, or word. All languages have rhythm, but not all languages use rhythm in the same way. In many languages, including Spanish, Cantonese, Turkish, and French, each spoken syllable takes about the same length of time to say. We call these languages syllable-timed.

On the other hand, English is one of the languages that is stress-timed. The syllables are not equal in time. Some are stressed; these syllables are pronounced more clearly and longer than unstressed syllables. For example, in this sentence:

My cows will give me some milk.

The bold words are stressed and take more time to say than the unstressed words. In fact, these two sentences should take almost the same amount of time to say:

My cows will give me some milk.

Cows give milk.

So what’s the secret?

How do you know which words to stress? Fortunately, there is a simple rule: Stress the content words.

Content words carry the information in a sentence. They include:

  • nouns
  • main verbs (except be)
  • adjectives
  • adverbs
  • negatives (like no and not)
  • question words (whowhatwhen, etc.)
  • interjections (wow, oops, yuck, etc.)

Other words, called function words, connect information and give grammar to sentences. These words are not stressed:

  • pronouns
  • prepositions
  • conjunctions
  • auxiliary verbs
  • modals
  • determiners


Study these quotes from our Instagram feed with the content words in bold. Read them out loud, putting stress on the content words.

  • For success, attitude is equally as important as ability.
  • Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
  • Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.