How to master sentence stress

3/9 post of the series “The 9 basic pillars to speak English well

For native English speakers to stress the correct words in a sentence is not a big deal.They don’t even have to think about it because they do it unconsciously.

I bet that if you ask an English speaker to tell you “The basic rules of sentence stress”, he or she’s going to answer you   “Well… hum…sorry…I don’t know. I just do it!

It’s the same for you in your native tongue. You don’t plan beforehand how you are going to stress a given sentence. You don’t ask for a minute to prepare your speaking.
You just speak and don’t even know the rules you use to stress words in a sentence because it’s quite natural for you.
 
How to master sentence stress

 

The Most Important Rule About Sentence Stress

We, English learners, didn’t have the change to be in contact with the English language since our childhood.
Then it’s not obvious for us to know how to stress the correct words in a sentence.

The first rule and the most important one is
Forget about applying the patterns you use in your native tongue into English.
It’s the most common mistakes between English learners.

When you speak in English you have to forget about any other language that you speak. You have to switch your brain, mouth and ears to English mode.

 

How To Stress Sentences In English

First of all, you need to clearly differentiate in every sentence between Important words (content words) and non important words (function words).

Content words are…

  • Nouns
  • Verbs
  • Adjectives
  • Adverts
  • Negative contractions (won’t, can’t, isn’t)

Function words are…

  • Articles
  • Pronouns
  • prepositions
  • Auxiliary verbs

You usually have to stress content words and not stress (or even distress) function words.

The bigger stress is on the last content word of a sentence. This word is also called the focus word.

This is what makes English to sound like it sounds.  And because you don’t do that your English maybe does’t sound good.

Some easy examples…

  • I LIKE your CAR.
  • My FRIEND is LIVING in LONDON.
  • I’d LIKE to BUY a COMPUTER.

As you can se as a basic rule you stress important words (nouns, verbs…) and you don’t stress or distress non important words (pronouns,prepositions…)
 

Breaking The Rules Of Sentence Stress

When you speak you always want to convey a certain meaning. Sometimes you are going to break the rules above in order to be able to convey a specific meaning.

I’m going to show this with an example.

As you are going to see, even thought I told you that the strees is usually in the last content word of a sentence, if you want or need to convey a diferent meaning you can stress other words in a sentence (even function words)

Imagine that you meet a  friend (who’s a little deaf) and you are talking about his new car…

Dialogue Explanation
You: “I like your CAR. This is the common stress pattern of the sentence. You stress the last focus words of the sentence “car”
Him: “What car do you like?”
You: “I like YOUR car.” you are stressing a content word but you do that because you want your friend to understand that it’s his car that you like and not another one’s car.
Him: “What do you think about my new car?”
You: “I LIKE your car.” Here you stress the verb that is a focus word but not the last one, because you want to make quite clear that you LIKE your friend’s car.
Him: “Who do you say that likes my car?”
You: “I like your car.” This because you want to make quite clear that’s you and not another one who likes your friend’s car.

 

3 basic steps to improve your sentence stress

If you follow the next 3 basic steps for a while, you are going to end stressing sentence naturally almost like native English speakers do.

1) Learn the basic sentence stress rules that are going to help you to stress words correctly in sentences.
2) Practice and apply consciously these rules into basic sentences.
3) After a lot of work, you’re going to forget them because you are going stress sentences correctly.

 

And Remember…

How to master sentence stress_
 

What To Do Next…

The 9 basic pillars to speak English well
– How to master English pronunciation … Coming soon!
How to master word stress
– How to master the Schwa sound … Coming soon!
How to master English intonation
How to master connected speech
How to master English contractions
– How to master thought groups … Coming soon!
– How to master Word Ending pronunciation

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