English Communication Confidence Blog

American English Syllable Stress with Nouns and Verbs

May 09, 2022

When words have different forms, they often have different pronunciations. This is true of two-syllable words that are both nouns and verbs. Start building your list of words that fit into these rules by reading today's post. 


Video Transcript:

Hello everybody. It is Jill Diamond. And this week I had a session where I was talking to one of my clients about the difference between words that are nouns and verbs and have different pronunciation. And I thought this would be very useful for you. And so, for example, if you look over here, nouns and verbs, how the stress changes, depending on if it's a noun or if it's a verb. So let's take a look at this. Some words are both nouns and verbs. However, they're pronounced differently. For nouns, we stress the first syllable and for verbs, we stress the second. So this is what I like to do. I like to start by going down the column so that you can hear the rhythm. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to read the nouns with the stress on the first syllable. Listen to this. Project, present, permit, finance, makeup, breakdown, showoff. BAda. BAda. BAda. You hear the first syllable is long. That vowel is clear, right? And then if we come over to this side, right, this side here, all of these words, we have the opposite, baDA. baDA. So listen to this. We have project, present, permit, finance, make up, break down, show off.


And then the next thing you need to do is you need to go from left to right so that you can get that. BAda, baDA. You can get the difference. So it's easy, right? So we say, for example, project, project. Present, present. Permit, permit. Finance, finance. Makeup, make up. Breakdown, break down. Showoff, show off. Right? And then the other thing I did with my client this week was we said we started to make sentences with both of these words, right? So for example: It's hard to project the date of the project.


So you, you can hear the sentence with both words in it. It's hard to project when we can start the project. Or for example: Who's going to present the present. Who's going to present the present. Again, you hear both syllables being stressed differently, permit and permit. Let's see a permit is over here, the noun and permit. Okay. Let's see. I always like to start with the verbs, right? So we say, for example, permit, um, I can only permit one permit. I can only permit one permit. Got it. Okay, good. And then we have here for our nouns and our verb. We have finance, finance, the financing, right? If we're going to finance the house, we need to have finance. Finance, finance. Let's see makeup and make-up. Make up and make up. Um, I'm going to make up the class next week wearing makeup. I'm going to make up the class next week wearing makeup. Break down, breakdown and break down.


Let's see how we're going to do this. We are going to, I am going to have a nervous breakdown. That's the, noun. I'm going to have a nervous breakdown if you don't break down the chairs. I'm going to have a nervous breakdown if you don't break down the chairs. We can take down the chairs in the room. Remove them, take them out. The presentation is over. We're going to break. We're going to break down the chairs. We fold them. We put them away. I'm going to have a breakdown if you don't break down the chairs. And then show off and show off. Show-offs like to show off. Show-offs like to show off. So syllable stress, Dada, daDa. I hope you get some good practice in and I'll see you around soon.


Check out these FAQs related to today's post:

Q. Is it important to know English Grammar to improve my accent?

A. Certainly! However, even if you are newer to the language, I highly suggest adding syllable stress and rhythm to your ESL studies while you are learning the basics. Otherwise, you are going to learn all the grammatical rules and parts of speech and you'll have the extra challenge of going back to make sure you learned the rhythm of the words according to the syllable stress rules. It makes much more sense to learn it as you learn the actual language. Assuming you are already fluent in English, you will need to revisit everything you know about English grammar and vocabulary and then apply the American accent training tools you learn.

Q. What about words that have more than two syllables? Are their syllable stress rules for those?  

A. We do have syllable stress rules for longer words. I'll tell you the ones that come to mind that I think will be very important for business English purposes. Technical terms. Think about the words you use every day at work and start to make a list of the most technical ones. Then, keep this rule in mind:

Words that end in suffixes that start with an -i- or a -u- get the syllable stress on the syllable right before the suffix. here are thre examples:

1. Words that end in -ion in words like presenTAtion, indiCAtion, and diRECtion

2. Words that end in -ity in words like simPLIcity, comPLEXity, and diVERsity

3. Words that end in -ual in words like Usual, CAsual, and ANnual

 There are many pronunciation rules out there related to syllable stress. This is just the tip of the iceberg, my friend.

Q. How can I be sure that the syllable I want to stress is obvious to my audience?

A.  Start by remembering the three components of vocal stress. First, we make the syllable longer as I demonstrated in this post -- DAAAda vs daDAAA. Second, we add a bit of volume to our voice to help the word pop. And finally, we use a pitch change on the stressed syllable. I think the modulation or intonation change is the hardest out of the three elements of syllable stress because people quite often feel awkward as if they are exaggerating their speech. Most of the time, what may feel funny to you, sounds perfect to the native speaker. 

In general, as you practice syllable stress, please remember that in your study sessions, you want to go the extra mile to sound dramatic. Once you get in a real-world situation, you'll only use a small percentage of that drama. However, if you don't go the extra distance in your practice, you won't have anywhere to pull back to in your real-world speech. So, exaaaagerate those syllables with length, volume, and melody!


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