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

Copyright © Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com, (2012-2016).
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to master word stress

2/9 post of the series “The 9 basic pillars to speak English well

 
In English like in other languages you need to know how to stress words correctly.

Even if your English pronunciation is perfect, if you don’t master word stress, I can assure you that native English speakers are going to fight a lot in order to understand you.
In English there are no written accents in words (like you can find in other languages) and then you have to know or guess where to stress every word.

Let’s see how to stress words correctly…

How to master word stress

 

Why Is Word Stress So Important?

Before sharing with you some basic rules to help you master word stress, I want to make sure that you are really aware about how important is to stress words correctly in English.

Here is an example to show you that:

– Example 1:
Imagine that your pronunciation is not very good, but you stress words correctly like that…

“I woke up at seven because I wanted to arrive at the meeting on time. But sadly because of a traffic jam, I’m still driving.”

– Example 2:
Now imagine that your pronunciation is perfect, but you stress words incorrectly like that…

“I woke up at seven because I wanted to arrive at the meeting on time but sadly because of a traffic jam, I’m still driving.”

In the first example, as you stress words correctly, English speakers are going to understand you even if your pronunciation is not perfect.
But in the second example, I can guarantee you that it’s going to be very difficult to understand you because you stress words incorrectly, even if your pronunciation is good.
As you can see, it’s even difficult to read the second sentence because it doesn’t sound natural at all.

That being said, I think that if you didn’t, now you do agree with methat word stress is a must if you want to speak English well.

Let’s now take a look to some rules that are going to help you to stress words correctly.

 

How To Use These Rules?

In my humble opinion it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to stress uncommon English words like the next ones…

  • Phlyarologist
  • Apanthropinization
  • Pseudisodomous

But in the other hand it does matter a lot to know how to stress basic and very common words like for example…

  • Phrasal verbs: Make up, Find out…
  • Compound words:  Hardware, Basketball…
  • Proper nouns: New York, North Dakota…
  • Abbreviations: FBI, CIA…

I’m going to share with you some of the most important rules about word stressing.
I don’t want you to learn these rules by heart. You just have to use them as a guide to improve how you stress words.
Use the next rules whenever you don’t know how to stress a particular word.

 

Basic Rules To Master Word Stress

Let’s see some basic rules that are going to help you to stress most words correctly…

1. Two syllable nouns, adjectives and adverbs
Rule: You usually stress the first syllable Examples: Teacher, Student, Sunday, Market, Paper, Brother, Sister
2. Two syllable verbs
Rule: You usually stress the last syllable
Examples:  To receive, To admit, To record, To relax
3. Compound noums
Rule: You usually stress the first word
Examples:  Seafood, Iceland, Classroom, Software, Homework, Football
4. Compound adjectives
Rule: You usually stress the second word
Examples:  Bad-tempered, Old-fashioned, hard-headed
5. Compound verbs
Rule: You usually stress the second word
Examples:  To understand, To overflow, To overlook
6. Phrasal verbs
Rule: You usually stress the second word (preposition)
Examples: To run out, To call off, To break down,  To wake up
7. 2 words proper noums
Rule: You usually stress the second word
Examples: New York, North Dakota,  Mr. Smith,
8. Abbreviations
Rule: You usually stress the last letter
Examples: FBI, CIA
…How to stress 3 or more syllable words
Let’s talk about how to stress these kind of words in an upcoming post…

 
Very important note
As you can see, I always say “You USUALLY stress…”.
I say “usually” because these rules don’t work for all 100% of the words,  but they work most of the times.

 

As Always…Exceptions To The Rules

At some time some doubts are going to show up…

– Doubt 1:
“George, you told me that two syllable nouns are stressed in the first syllable and I heard “record” instead of “record” can you explain that?”

Answer: Be careful with heteronyms. There are words that can be either a noun or a verb. When they are used as a noun you stress the first syllable. When they are used as a verb you stress the last syllable. Ex: “a record” (noun) and “to record” (verb)

 
– Doubt 2:
“George, you also told me that compound nouns are stressed  in the first word but I hear “ black bird” instead of “ Blackbird” can you explain me that too?”

Answer: Be careful with “compound nouns” versus “Adjective + Noun”. Compound nouns are stressed on the first word. But sometimes instead of a compound noun you have an adjective + noun. In this case you have to stress the noun.

Compound noun Adjective + Noun
The Whitehouse
(the house of the president of the US)
A white house
(a house that’s painted in white)
A Blackbird
(a specific genre of bird)
A black bird
(a bird with black feathers)
Slimboy
(someone’s nickname)
A slim boy
(a boy that is slim)

 

And Remember…

How to master word stress_

 

What To Do Next…

The 9 basic pillars to speak English well
– How to master English pronunciation … Coming soon!
– How to master sentence stress … Coming soon!
– 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

Copyright © Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com, (2012-2016).
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The 9 basic pillars to speak English well

Introductory post of the series “The 9 basic pillars to speak English well”.

 
I want to tell you something personal…

I have a friend from the US and we send each other emails on a regular basis.
Some time ago, we decided to exchange a voice recording. I first sent him my voice file and when he answered me back, I was stunned!!!

He first apologized because he wasn’t able to understand my English!!!

How was it possible that a native English couldn’t understand my very basic English,  spoken really slowly?

That’s when I decided that I needed to answer the next question:
What make the difference between good and bad English speaking?

After some research I want to share with you what I think are the 9 basic pillars that make the difference if you to speak English well.

 
The 9 pillars to speak English well
 

Important Notes:

  1. This post is the first one of a series. The blueprint you have to keep in mind if you want to speak English well.
  2. Next I’m going to write 9 posts about how to master every one of these pillars.

Let’s check the 9 ingredients that make English to “sound English”…

1. Pronunciation

The most common mistake between English learners is trying to pronounce English words the way you pronounce them in your own language. As you already know it doesn’t work like that.
Moreover, English pronunciation is not easy at all because with the 26 letters of the English alphabet you can produce more than 44 different sounds.

That means that:

  •  You can forget about “one letter = one sound”. 🙁
  • You can’t guess the pronunciation of a word by its spelling.   🙁

 

2. Syllable Stress

To speak English well you have to stress words correctly. Every word has one and only one syllable stressed. It’s just about stressing in the right place in every word.

If you stress words correctly you are more likely to be understood and to avoid misunderstandings.

 

3. Word Stress

In every sentence you have to know what words to stress and what words not to stress.

As a rule of thumb…

  1. You stress important words, the ones that convey the meaning of the sentence or the ones you want to emphasize.
  2. You don’t stress or even de-stress words that are not important.

Doing these, the rhythm of your English is going to improve.

 

4. The “Schwa” Sound

The Schwa sound is one of the most common sounds of English and also one of the most unknown between English learners.

English speakers use the Schwa sound instead of the regular sound of certain syllables and words when they’re de-stressed.

 

5. Intonation

When you speak you always want to convey a very specific meaning…

  • Are you asking?
  • Are you giving an order?
  • Do you have a doubt?
  • Do you disagree?

You always need to use the right intonation if you want people to understand what you want to express.

 

6. Connected Speech

One important characteristic of English is that there is a lot of linking between words.
Connecting words correctly when speaking is going to improve your English rhythm and it’s also going to reduce your accent.

 

7. Reduced Speech

When speaking in English you have to reduce or contract words whenever needed.
If you don’t do that your English is not going to sound natural.

 

8. Thought Groups

In order to speak clearly, you always have to mentally cut long sentences into shorter chunks that are called Thought groups.

This helps to stress the right words in long sentences and to pause naturally to breath.
Your English rhythm is going to sound more natural.

 

9. Word Endings

You have to be careful to never drop and pronounce word endings correctly.

Words endings are very important because they tell if a word is singular or plural or show what tense you are using.
It’s very common to be misunderstood when you are not careful pronouncing word endings.

 

 These are the 9 ingredients that when well mixed are going to make you sound like a native English speaker!!!

 

And Remember…

The 9 pillars to speak English well_
– What do you think about these 9 pillars?
– Did I miss one?
… All your comments are very welcome!!!

 

What to do next…

How to master English pronunciation … Coming soon!
How to master word stress
How to master sentence stress … Coming soon!
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

Copyright © Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com, (2012-2016).
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Learn English Like Me and learnenglishlikeme.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.