When the pronunciation of a word is transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet IPA , there are three different symbols we use. Because this part of the guide is more concerned with the phonetic placement of word stress rather than the technical breakdown of syllables as found in dictionary entries , the examples we use will try to match the written form as closely as possible to the spoken form. Just be aware that these will often be slightly different to what one may find in a dictionary.
For more technical information on how syllables are formed and divided within words, check out the chapter on Syllables. Every word has one syllable that receives a primary stress —that is, it is vocally emphasized more than any other syllable.
Some longer words also have a secondary stress , which is more emphatic than the unstressed syllables but not as strong as the primary stress. Some words can even have more than one secondary stress. Unfortunately, secondary stress is extremely unpredictable. Primary stress , on the other hand, can often be predicted according to a few different conventions.
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Any given word, even one with many syllables, will only have one syllable that receives the primary stress in speech. There are a few general conventions that can help make this easier to determine, but there are many exceptions and anomalies for each. One common pronunciation convention many guides provide is that nouns and adjectives with two or more syllables will have stress placed on the first syllable, while verbs and prepositions tend to have their stress on the second syllable.
While there are many examples that support this convention, it is also very problematic because there are many exceptions that contradict it. As we said already, though, there are many exceptions to this convention for both nouns and adjectives. As with nouns and adjectives, there are a huge number of exceptions that have primary stress placed on the first or third syllable. In fact, almost every verb beginning with G, H, J, K, L , and M has its primary stress placed on the first syllable, rather than the second.
As we saw previously, we commonly place stress on the first syllable of a noun. When a word can operate as either a noun or a verb, we often differentiate the meanings by shifting the stress from the second syllable to the first or initial syllable—in other words, these nouns are derived from verbs according to their initial stress. Although this pattern is very common in English, it is by no means a rule; there are just as many words that function as both nouns and verbs but that have no difference in pronunciation.
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For instance:. Compound words are single words formed from two separate words, often from different parts of speech. These typically include compound nouns , compound adjectives , and compound verbs. Compound nouns and compound verbs typically create pronunciation patterns that help us determine which of their syllables will have the primary stress. A compound noun is a noun consisting of two or more words working together as a single unit to name a person, place, or thing. Compound nouns are usually made up of two nouns or an adjective and a noun, but other combinations are also possible, as well.
In single-word compound nouns, whether they are conjoined by a hyphen or are simply one word, stress is almost always placed on the first syllable. For example:. For the first three types of compound verbs, each word is stressed individually, but single-word compounds have a unique pronunciation pattern that we can predict.
Pull over your stress
For most single-word compound verbs, stress will be on the first syllable. However, if the first element of the compound is a two-syllable preposition, stress will be placed on the second element. While the stress in many words is very difficult to predict, certain suffixes and other word endings will reliably dictate where stress should be applied within the word. This can be especially useful for determining the pronunciation of longer words.
The word employee usually follows this same pattern, but it is one of a few words that has its primary stress on different syllables depending on dialect and personal preference. This suffix is used to denote fields of scientific study or discourse; sets of ideas, beliefs, or principles; or bodies of texts or writings.