How to guess where to put word stress

When a word has more than one syllable, native English speakers do not say everysinglewordwithequalforce. And within each word, one of the syllables is always said more loudly and a bit longer than the rest of the syllables. This is called word stress.

Let’s look at the verb record. This word is made up of two pieces of sound or two syllables (e.g. re-cord). To say the verb record correctly, you need to say the second syllable cord more loudly and a bit longer than the first syllable re.

If you put stress on re instead of cord (record), the meaning of the word will change completely.

How on earth would you be able to remember which syllable to stress every time you say a word?

Thankfully, there’re three general stress rules for you to keep in your back pocket.

Below rules will help you guess which syllable to stress when you see an unfamiliar word. (Note: There’re always some exceptions to the rules.)

#1 Stress rule for 2-syllable words

For 2-syllable nouns, stress is usually on the 1st syllable.
But for 2-syllable verbs, stress is usually on the 2nd syllable.

2-Syllable Nouns:

Coffee
Table
Present (noun)
Record (noun)

2-Syllable Verbs:

Record (verb)
Present (verb)
Believe
Decide

#2 Stress rule for word endings -ic, -ial, -ual, -sion, -tion, -cian

Stress is usually on the syllable immediately before the below word endings:
-ic
-ial, -ual
-sion, -tion, -cian

-ic
The syllable just before the word ending -ic is stressed.

Tip: Dot (·) is used between the syllables.

Tox·ic
pub·lic
Stra·te·gic
Pho·to·graph·ic

-ial, -ual
The syllable just before the word ending -ial or -ual is stressed.

U·su·al
Ma·te·ri·al
Fi·nan·cial
In·tel·lec·tu·al

-sion, -tion, -cian
The syllable just before the word ending -sion, -tion or -cian is stressed.

Vi·sion
Pas·sion
Mu·si·cian
Sat·is·fac·tion

#3. Stress rule for word endings -cy, -ty, -phy, -gy

Stress is usually on the two syllables before the word endings -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy.

En·er·gy
E·lec·tric·i·ty
mer·gen·cy
Pho·tog·ra·phy

Remember these three rules and you’ll be able to guess which syllable you
need to stress when a word has a specific word ending.

Side knowledge: What is a syllable?

A syllable is a piece of sound which contains a single vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u). This means you need to find a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u) to find a syllable.

For example, the word shampoo has two pieces of sound or two syllables because there are two vowel sounds (sham-poo).

An easy way to practice finding the number of syllables is to use your finger to tap out the syllables as you say them. It’ll help you get used to hear the different pieces of sound that make up a word.

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