Word Stress  

What is word stress?

Word stress, also called lexical stress, is the emphasis a speaker places on a specific syllable in a multi-syllable word.
Word stress is especially hard for non-native speakers to master. While there are a few conventions and general rules governing which syllable is stressed in a word based on its spelling alone, these conventions are often unreliable.
Before we look at these conventions and their exceptions, let’s discuss how we can indicate syllables and word stress in writing.

Indicating syllables in writing

In this section, we’ll be using different symbols to indicate syllable division in words. For the normal spelling of words, we’ll be using a symbol known as an interpunct ( · ) (also called a midpoint, middle dot, or centered dot). For example, the word application would appear as app·li·ca·tion.
When the pronunciation of a word is transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), there are three different symbols we use. For syllables that receive the primary stress, we use a short vertical line above and just before the syllable being emphasized ( ˈ ); for secondary stress, we use the same vertical line, but it appears below and before the syllable ( ˌ ); and, while this guide usually does not mark unstressed syllables in IPA transcriptions, we will indicate them in this section with periods. Using application as an example again, its pronunciation would be transcribed in IPA as /ˌæp.lɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/.

Written syllables vs. spoken syllables

The syllable breakdowns in the written “dictionary” form of words are often divided slightly differently compared to the phonetic “spoken” form used in IPA transcriptions.
Specifically, the written form divides syllables according to established syllable “types,” based on spelling patterns such as double consonants, short vowels contained within two consonants, and vowel digraphs. The spoken form, on the other hand, divides syllables according to the phonetic pronunciation of the word, and the difference between these two can sometime lead to syllable breakdowns that don’t look like they correspond to one another. For example, the word learning is divided in the dictionary as learn·ing, but it is divided as /ˈlɜr.nɪŋ/ in IPA transcription—the placement of the first N is not the same.
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. Looking at the learning example again, we would divide the syllables as lear·ning to match its IPA transcription. 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.

Primary vs. Secondary Stress

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.)
Let’s look at some examples, with the primary stress in bold and the secondary stress in italics:
  • ab·sen·tee (/ˌæb.sənˈti/)
  • cem·e·ter·y (/ˈsɛmˌtɛr.i/)
  • dis·be·lief (/ˌdɪs.bɪˈlif/)
  • in·for·ma·tion (/ˌɪn fərˈmeɪ ʃən/)
  • labo·ra·tor·y (/ˈlæb.rəˌtɔr.i/; the initial O is usually silent)
  • mil·i·tar·y (/ˈmɪlˌtɛr.i/)
  • or·din·ar·y (/ˈɔr.dənˌɛr.i/)
  • sec·re·tar·y (/ˈsɛk.rɪˌtɛr.i/)
  • tem·po·rar·y (/ˈtɛm.pəˌrɛr.i/)
  • un·a·pol·o·get·ic (/ˌʌnˌpɑlˈʤɛt.ɪk/)
Unfortunately, secondary stress is extremely unpredictable. Primary stress, on the other hand, can often be predicted according to a few different conventions.

Determining word stress

There are only two consistent, reliable rules about word stress in English:
  • 1. Only the vowel sound within a syllable is stressed; stress is not applied to consonant sounds.
  • 2. Any given word, even one with many syllables, will only have one syllable that receives the primary stress in speech. Some longer words also receive a secondary stress, which we’ll look at more closely further on. (By definition, single-syllable words only ever have a single stress, though certain function words can be unstressed altogether, which we’ll discuss later.)
However, determining which syllable is emphasized in a given word is not always straightforward, as a word’s spelling is usually not enough on its own to let us know the appropriate stress. There are a few general conventions that can help make this easier to determine, but there are many exceptions and anomalies for each.

Determining stress based on word type

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.
Let’s look at some examples that support or contradict this convention.

Nouns and adjectives will have stress on the first syllable

Nouns
Adjectives
app·le
(/ˈæp.əl/)
bott·le
(/ˈbɑt.əl/)
busi·ness
(/ˈbɪz.nɪs/; the I is silent)
cherr·y
(/ˈʧɛr.i/)
cli·mate
(/ˈklaɪ.mɪt/)
crit·ic
(/ˈkrɪt.ɪk/)
dia·mond
(/ˈdaɪ.mənd/)
el·e·phant
(/ˈɛl.ə.fənt/)
en·ve·lope
(/ˈɛnvəˌloʊp/)
fam·i·ly
(/ˈfæm.ə.li/)
In·ter·net
(/ˈɪn.tərˌnɛt/)
knowl·edge
(/ˈnɑl.ɪʤ/)
mu·sic
(/ˈmju.zɪk/)
pa·per
(/ˈpeɪ.pər/)
sam·ple
(/ˈsæm.pəl/)
satch·el
(/ˈsætʃ.əl/)
ta·ble
(/ˈteɪ.bəl/)
tel·e·phone
(/ˈtɛl.əˌfoʊn /)
ton·ic
(/ˈtɑn.ɪk/)
win·dow
(/ˈwɪn.doʊ/)
clev·er
(/ˈklɛv.ər/)
comm·on
(/ˈkɑm.ən/)
diff·i·cult
(/ˈdɪf.ɪˌkʌlt/)
fa·vor·ite
(/ˈfeɪ.vər.ɪt/)
fem·i·nine
(/ˈfɛm.ə.nɪn/)
funn·y
(/ˈfʌn.i/)
happ·y
(/ˈhæp.i/)
hon·est
(/ɑn.ɪst/)
litt·le
(/ˈlɪt.əl/)
mas·cu·line
(/ˈmæs.kju.lɪn/)
narr·ow
(/ˈnær.oʊ/)
or·ange
(/ˈɔr.ɪnʤ/)
pleas·ant
(/ˈplɛz.ənt/)
pre·tty
(/ˈprɪ.ti/)
pur·ple
(/ˈpɜr.pəl/)
qui·et
(/ˈkwaɪ.ət/)
sim·ple
(/ˈsɪm.pəl/)
sub·tle
(/ˈsʌt.əl/)
trick·y
(/ˈtrɪk.i/)
ug·ly
(/ˈʌg.li/)
As we said already, though, there are many exceptions to this convention for both nouns and adjectives. Let’s look at some examples:
Nouns
Adjectives
ba·na·na
(/bə.ˈnæ.na/)
ca·nal
(/kə.ˈnæl/)
com·put·er
(/kəm.ˈpju.tər/)
de·fence
(/dɪ.ˈfɛns/)
des·sert
(/dɪ.ˈzɜrt/)
di·sease
(/dɪ.ˈziz/)
ex·tent
(/ɪk.ˈstɛnt/)
ho·tel
(/hoʊ.ˈtɛl/)
ma·chine
(/mə.ˈʃin/)
pi·a·no
(/pi.ˈæ.noʊ/)
po·ta·to
(/pə.ˈteɪˌtoʊ/)
re·ceipt
(/rɪ.ˈsit/)
re·venge
(/rɪ.ˈvɛnʤ/)
suc·cess
(/sɪk.ˈsɛs/)
live
(/ə.ˈlaɪv/)
noth·er
(ˈnʌð.ər/)
com·plete
(/kəm.ˈplit/)
dis·tinct
(/dɪsˈtinkt/)
nough
(/ɪ.ˈnʌf/)
ex·pen·sive
(/ɪk.ˈspɛn.sɪv/)
ex·tinct
(/ɪk.ˈtiŋkt/)
ni·tial
(/ɪ.ˈnɪ.ʃəl/)
in·tense
(/ɪn.ˈtɛns/)
po·lite
(/pəˈlaɪt/)
re·pet·i·tive
(/rɪ.ˈpɛt.ɪ.tɪv/)
un·think·a·ble
(/ʌnˈθɪŋk.ə.bəl/)

Verbs and prepositions will have stress on the second syllable

Verbs
Prepositions
pply
(ˈplaɪ/)
be·come
(/bɪˈkʌm/)
com·pare
(/kəmˈpɛr/)
di·scuss
(/dɪˈskʌs/)
ex·plain
(/ɪkˈspleɪn/)
ful·fil
(/fʊlˈfɪl/)
in·crease
(/ɪnˈkris/)
ha·rass
(/həˈræs/)
la·ment
(/ləˈmɛnt/)
ne·glect
(/nɪˈglɛkt/)
pre·vent
(/prɪˈvɛnt/)
qua·dru·ple
(/kwɑˈdru.pəl/)
re·ply
(/rɪˈplaɪ/)
suc·ceed
(/səkˈsid/)
tra·verse
(/trəˈvɜrs/)
un·furl
(/ʌnˈfɜrl/)
with·hold
(/wɪθˈhoʊld/)
bout
(ˈbaʊt/)
cross
(ˈkrɔs/)
long
(ˈlɔŋ/)
mong
(ˈmʌŋ/)
round
(ˈraʊnd/)
be·hind
(/bɪˈhaɪnd/)
be·low
(/bɪˈloʊ/)
be·side
(/bɪˈsaɪd/)
be·tween
(/bɪˈtwin/)
de·spite
(/dɪˈspaɪt/)
ex·cept
(/ɪkˈsɛpt/)
in·side
(/ˌɪnˈsaɪd/)
out·side
(/ˌaʊtˈsaɪd/)
un·til
(/ʌnˈtɪl/)
pon
(ˈpɑn/)
with·in
(/wɪðˈɪn/)
with·out
(/wɪðˈaʊt/)
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.
Let’s look at a few examples:
Verbs
Prepositions
ar·gue
(/ˈɑr.gju/)
beck·on
(/ˈbɛk.ən/)
can·cel
(/ˈkæn.səl/)
dom·i·nate
(/ˈdɑm.əˌneɪt/)
en·ter·tain
(/ˌɛn.tərˈteɪn/)
fas·ten
(/ˈfæs.ən/)
gam·ble
(/ˈgæm.bəl/)
hin·der
(/ˈhɪn.dər/)
i·so·late
(/ˈaɪ.səˌleɪt/)
jin·gle
(/ˈʤɪŋ.gəl/)
kin·dle
(/ˈkɪn.dəl/)
leng·then
(/ˈlɛŋk.θən/)
man·age
(/ˈmæn.ɪʤ/)
nour·ish
(/ˈnɜr.ɪʃ/)
or·ga·nize
(/ˈɔr.gəˌnaɪz/)
per·ish
(/ˈpɛr.ɪʃ/)
qua·ver
(/ˈkweɪ.vər/)
ram·ble
(/ˈræm.bəl/)
sa·vor
(/ˈseɪ.vər/)
threat·en
(/ˈθrɛt.ən/)
un·der·stand
(/ˌʌn.dərˈstænd/)
van·ish
(/ˈvæn.ɪʃ/)
wan·der
(/ˈwɑn.dər/)
yo·del
(/ˈjoʊd.əl/)
af·ter
(/ˈæf.tər/)
dur·ing
(/ˈdʊr.ɪŋ/)
in·to
(/ˈɪn.tu/)
on·to
(/ˈɑn.tu/)
un·der
(/ˈʌn.dər/)

Initial-stress-derived nouns

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.
Let’s look at a few examples of such words that change in pronunciation when functioning as nouns or verbs:
Word
Noun
Verb
contest
con·test
(/ˈkɑn.tɛst/)
Meaning: “a game, competition, or struggle for victory, superiority, a prize, etc.”
con·test
(/kənˈtɛst/)
Meaning: “to dispute, contend with, call into question, or fight against”
desert
des·ert
(/ˈdɛz.ərt/)
Meaning: “a place where few things can grow or live, especially due to an absence of water”
de·sert
(/dɪˈzɜrt/)
Meaning: “to abandon, forsake, or run away from”
increase
in·crease
(/ˈɪn.kris/)
Meaning: “the act or process of growing larger or becoming greater”
in·crease
(/ɪnˈkris/)
Meaning: “to grow larger or become greater (in size, amount, strength, etc.)”
object
ob·ject
(/ˈɑb.ʤɛkt/)
Meaning: “any material thing that is visible or tangible”
ob·ject
(/əbˈʤɛkt/)
Meaning: “to present an argument in opposition (to something)”
permit
per·mit
(/ˈpɜr.mɪt/)
Meaning: “an authoritative or official certificate of permission; license”
per·mit
(/pərˈmɪt/)
Meaning: "to allow to do something"
present
pres·ent
(/ˈprɛz.ənt/)
Meaning: “the time occurring at this instant” or “a gift”
pre·sent
(/prɪˈzɛnt/)
Meaning: “to give, introduce, offer, or furnish”
project
proj·ect
(/ˈprɑʤ.ɛkt/)
Meaning: “a particular plan, task, assignment, or undertaking”
pro·ject
(/prəˈʤɛkt/)
Meaning: “to estimate, plan, or calculate” or “to throw or thrust forward”
rebel
reb·el
(/ˈrɛb.əl/)
Meaning: “a person who revolts against a government or other authority”
re·bel
(/rɪˈbɛl/)
Meaning: “to revolt or act in defiance of authority”
record
rec·ord
(/ˈrɛk.ərd/)
Meaning: “information or knowledge preserved in writing or the like” or “something on which sound or images have been recorded for subsequent reproduction”
re·cord
(/rəˈkɔrd/)
Meaning: “to set down in writing or the like”
refuse
ref·use
(/ˈrɛf.juz/)
Meaning: “something discarded or thrown away as trash”
re·fuse
(/rɪˈfjuz/)
Meaning: “to decline or express unwillingness to do something”
subject
sub·ject
(/ˈsʌb.ʤɛkt/)
Meaning: “that which is the focus of a thought, discussion, lesson, investigation, etc.”
sub·ject
(/səbˈʤɛkt/)
Meaning: “to bring under control, domination, authority”
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. For instance:
Word
Noun
Verb
amount
mount
(ˈmaʊnt/)
mount
(ˈmaʊnt/)
answer
an·swer
(/ˈæn.sər/)
an·swer
(/ˈæn.sər/)
attack
ttack
(ˈtæk/)
ttack
(ˈtæk/)
challenge
chall·enge
(/ˈtʃæl.ɪnʤ/)
chall·enge
(/ˈtʃæl.ɪnʤ/)
contact
con·tact
(/ˈkɑn.tækt/)
con·tact
(/ˈkɑn.tækt/)
control
con·trol
(/kənˈtroʊl/)
con·trol
(/kənˈtroʊl/)
forecast
fore·cast
(/ˈfɔrˌkæst/)
fore·cast
(/ˈfɔrˌkæst/)
monitor
mon·i·tor
(/ˈmɑn.ɪ.tər/)
mon·i·tor
(/ˈmɑn.ɪ.tər/)
pepper
pep·per
(/ˈpɛp.ər/)
pep·per
(/ˈpɛp.ər/)
report
re·port
(/rɪˈpɔrt/)
re·port
(/rɪˈpɔrt/)
respect
re·spect
(/rɪˈspɛkt/)
re·spect
(/rɪˈspɛkt/)
support
su·pport
(/səˈpɔrt/)
su·pport
(/səˈpɔrt/)
witness
wit·ness
(/ˈwɪt.nɪs/)
wit·ness
(/ˈwɪt.nɪs/)
worry
worr·y
(/ˈwɜr.i/)
worr·y
(/ˈwɜr.i/)

Word stress in compound words

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. Compound adjectives, on the other hand, are most often pronounced as two separate words, with each receiving its own primary stress, so we won’t be looking at them here.
We’ll also briefly look at reflexive pronouns. Although these aren’t technically compounds, they have a similarly predictable stress pattern.

Compound nouns

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:
  • back·pack (/ˈbækˌpæk/)
  • bath·room (/ˈbæθˌrum/)
  • draw·back (/ˈdrɔˌbæk/)
  • check-in (/ˈtʃɛkˌɪn/)
  • foot·ball (/ˈfʊtˌbɔl/)
  • hand·bag (/ˈhændˌbæɡ/)
  • green·house (/ˈgrinˌhaʊs/)
  • hair·cut (/ˈhɛrˌkʌt/)
  • log·in (/ˈsʌn.ɪnˌlɔ/)
  • mo·tor·cy·cle (/ˈmoʊ.tərˌsaɪ kəl/)
  • on·look·er (/ˈɑnˌlʊkər/)
  • pas·ser·by (/ˈpæs.ərˌbaɪ/)
  • son-in-law (/ˈsʌn.ɪnˌlɔ/)
  • ta·ble·cloth (/ˈteɪ.bəlˌklɔθ/)
  • wall·pa·per (/ˈwɔlˌpeɪ.pər/)
  • web·site (/ˈwɛbˌsaɪt/)
One notable exception to this convention is the word af·ter·noon, which has its primary stress on the third syllable: /ˌæf.tərˈnun/.

Single-word compound verbs

The term “compound verb” can refer to a few different things: phrasal verbs, which consist of a verb paired with a specific preposition or particle to create a new, unique meaning; prepositional verbs, in which a preposition connects a noun to a verb; combinations with auxiliary verbs, which form tense and aspect; and single-word compounds, in which a verb is combined with a noun, preposition, or another verb to create a new word. 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.
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. For example:
  • air-con·dit·ion (/ˈeɪr.kənˌdɪʃ.ən/)
  • ba·by·sit (/ˈbeɪ.biˌsɪt/)
  • cop·y·ed·it (/ˈkɑ.piˌɛd.ɪt/)
  • day·dream (/ˈdeɪˌdrim/)
  • down·load (/ˈdaʊnˌloʊd/)
  • ice-skate (/ˈaɪsˌskeɪt/)
  • jay·walk (/ˈʤeɪˌwɔk/)
  • kick-start (/ˈkɪkˌstɑrt/)
  • o·ver·heat (/ˌoʊ.vərˈhit/)
  • proof·read (/ˈprufˌrid/)
  • stir-fry (/ˈstɜrˌfraɪ/)
  • test-drive (/ˈtɛstˌdraɪv/)
  • un·der·cook (/ˌʌndərˈkʊk/)
  • wa·ter·proof (/ˈwɔ.tərˌpruf/)

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are not technically compounds (“-self” and “-selves” are suffixes that attach to a base pronoun), but they look and behave similarly. In these words, -self/-selves receives the primary stress.
  • my·self (/maɪˈsɛlf/)
  • her·self (/hərˈsɛlf/)
  • him·self (/hɪmˈsɛlf/)
  • it·self (/ɪtˈsɛlf/)
  • one·self (/wʌnˈsɛlf/)
  • your·self (/jərˈsɛlf/)
  • your·selves (/jərˈsɛlvz/)
  • them·selves (/ðəmˈsɛlvz/)

Word stress dictated by suffixes

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. (There are still some exceptions, but much fewer than for the other conventions we’ve seen.)
For the suffixes we’ll look at, primary stress is either placed on the suffix itself, one syllable before the suffix, or two syllables before the suffix. Finally, we’ll look at some suffixes that don’t affect a word’s pronunciation at all.

Stress is placed on the suffix itself

“-ee,” “-eer,” and “-ese”

These three suffixes all sound similar, but they have different functions: “-ee” indicates someone who benefits from or is the recipient of the action of a verb; “-eer” indicates someone who is concerned with or engaged in a certain action; and “-ese” is attached to place names to describe languages, characteristics of certain nationalities, or (when attached to non-place names) traits or styles of particular fields or professions.
For example:
-ee
-eer
-ese
ab·sen·tee
(/ˌæbsənˈti/)
a·tten·dee
(/əˌtɛnˈdi/)
de·tai·nee
(/dɪˈteɪˈni/)
in·ter·view·ee
(/ɪnˌtər.vyuˈi/)
li·cen·see
(/ˌlaɪ.sənˈsi/)
mort·ga·gee
(/ˌmɔr.gəˈʤi/)
pa·ro·lee
(/pə.roʊˈli/)
ref·e·ree
(/ˌrɛf.əˈri/)
ref·u·gee
(/ˌrɛf.jʊˈʤi/)
trai·nee
(/treɪˈni/)
warr·an·tee
(/ˌwɔr.ənˈti/)
auc·tio·neer
(/ˌɔk.ʃəˈnɪər/)
com·man·deer
(/ˌkɑ.mənˈdɪər/)
dom·i·neer
(/ˌdɑm.ɪˈnɪər/)
en·gi·neer
(/ˌɛn.ʤɪˈnɪər/)
moun·tai·neer
(/ˌmaʊn.tɪˈnɪər/)
prof·i·teer
(/ˌprɑf.ɪˈtɪər/)
pupp·e·teer
(/ˌpʌp.ɪˈtɪər/)
rack·e·teer
(/ˌræk.ɪˈtɪər/)
vol·un·teer
(/ˌvɑl.ɪnˈtɪər/)
Chi·nese
(/tʃaɪˈniz/)
Jap·a·nese
(/ˌʤæp.əˈniz/)
jour·na·lese
(/ˌʤɜr.nəˈliz/)
Leb·a·nese
(/ˌlɛb.əˈniz/)
le·ga·lese
(/ˌli.gəˈliz/)
Mal·tese
(/ˌmɔlˈtiz/)
Por·tu·guese
(/ˌpɔr.tʃəˈgiz/)
Si·a·mese
(/ˌsaɪ.əˈmiz/)
Tai·wa·nese
(/ˌtaɪ.wɑˈniz/)
Vi·et·na·mese
(/viˌɛt.nɑˈmiz/)
(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.)
Some other words that feature the “-ee” ending also follow the same pattern, even though they are not formed from another base word. For instance:
  • chim·pan·zee (/ˌtʃɪm.pænˈzi/)
  • guar·an·tee (/ˌgær.ənˈti/)
  • jam·bo·ree (/ˌʤæm.bəˈri/)
  • ru·pee (/ru.ˈpi/)
Be careful, though, because other words don’t follow the pattern. For example:
  • ap·o·gee (/ˈæp.əˌʤi/)
  • co·ffee (/ˈkɔ.fi/)
  • co·mmit·tee (/kəˈmɪt.i/)
  • kedg·e·ree (/ˈkɛʤ.əˌri/)
  • te·pee (/ˈti.pi/)

“-ology”

This suffix is used to denote fields of scientific study or discourse; sets of ideas, beliefs, or principles; or bodies of texts or writings. Primary stress is placed on the syllable in which “-ol-” appears. For example:
  • strol·o·gy (ˈstrɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • bi·ol·o·gy (/baɪˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • car·di·ol·o·gy (/ˌkɑr.diˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • col·o·gy (ˈkɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • ge·ol·o·gy (/ʤiˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • i·de·ol·o·gy (/ˌaɪ.diˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • lex·i·col·o·gy (/ˌlɛk.sɪˈkɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • meth·o ·dol·o·gy (/ˌmɛθ.əˈdɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • neu·rol·o·gy (/nʊˈrɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • psy·chol·o·gy (/saɪˈkɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • ra·di·ol·o·gy (/reɪ.diˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • so·ci·ol·o·gy (/ˌsoʊ.siˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • tech·nol·o·gy (/tɛkˈnɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • rol·o·gy (/jʊˈrɑl.ə.ʤi/)
  • zo·ol·o·gy (/zuˈɑl.ə.ʤi/)

“-osis”

This suffix is used to form the names of diseases, conditions, and other medical processes. Stress is placed on the syllable in which “-o-” appears
  • ac·i·do·sis (/ˌæs.ɪˈdoʊ.sɪs/)
  • cir·rho·sis (/sɪˈroʊ.sɪs/)
  • di·ag·no·sis (/ˌdaɪ.əgˈnoʊ.sɪs/)
  • en·do·me·tri·o·sis (/ˌɛn.doʊˌmi.triˈoʊ.sɪs/)
  • fib·ro·sis (/faɪˈbroʊ.sɪs/)
  • hyp·no·sis (/hɪpˈnoʊ.sɪs/)
  • mi·to·sis (/maɪˈtoʊ.sɪs/)
  • ne·cro·sis (/nəˈkroʊ.sɪs/)
  • os·te·o·po·ro·sis (/ˌɑs.ti.oʊ.pəˈroʊ.sɪs/)
  • prog·no·sis (/prɑgˈnoʊ.sɪs/)
  • sym·bi·o·sis (/ˌsɪm.biˈoʊ.sɪs/)
  • tu·ber·cu·lo·sis (/tʊˌbɜr.kjəˈloʊ.sɪs/)

Stress is placed on syllable immediately before the suffix

“-eous” and -“ious”

These two suffixes are both used to form adjectives meaning “having, characterized by, or full of,” most often attaching to base nouns.
In many cases, the E and I are pronounced individually, but for many other words they are silent, instead serving to mark a change in pronunciation for the previous consonant. For example:
-eous
-ious
ad·van·ta·geous
(/ˌæd vənˈteɪ.ʤəs/)
boun·te·ous
(/ˈbaʊn.ti.əs/)
cou·ra·geous
(/kəˈreɪ.ʤəs/)
dis·cour·te·ous
(/dɪsˈkɜr.ti.əs/)
ex·tra·ne·ous
(/ɪkˈstreɪ.ni.əs/)
gas·e·ous
(/ˈgæs.i.əs/)
hid·e·ous
(/ˈhɪd.i.əs/)
ig·ne·ous
(/ˈɪg.ni.əs/)
misc·e·lla·ne·ous
(/ˌmɪs.əˈleɪ.ni.əs/)
nau·seous
(/ˈnɔ.ʃəs/)
out·ra·geous
(/aʊtˈreɪ.ʤəs/)
pit·e·ous
(/ˈpɪt.i.əs/)
righ·teous
(/ˈraɪ.tʃəs/)
si·mul·ta·ne·ous
(/ˌsaɪ.məlˈteɪ.ni.əs/)
vi·tre·ous
(/ˈvɪ.tri.əs/)
am·phib·i·ous
(/æmˈfɪb.i.əs/)
bo·da·cious
(/boʊˈdeɪ.ʃəs/)
con·ta·gious
(/kənˈteɪ.ʤəs/)
du·bi·ous
(/ˈdu.bi.əs/)
ex·pe·diti·ous
(/ˌɛk spɪˈdɪʃ.əs/)
fa·ce·tious
(/fəˈsi.ʃəs/)
gre·gar·i·ous
(/grɪˈgɛər.i.əs/)
hi·lar·i·ous
(/hɪˈlɛr.i.əs/)
im·per·vi·ous
(/ɪmˈpɜr.vi.əs/)
ju·dici·ous
(/ʤuˈdɪʃ.əs/)
la·bor·i·ous
(/ləˈbɔr.i.əs/)
my·ster·i·ous
(/mɪˈstɪr.i əs/)
ne·far·i·ous
(/nɪˈfɛr.i.əs/)
ob·vi·ous
(/ˈɑb.vi.əs/)
pro·digi·ous
(/prəˈdɪʤ.əs/)
re·bell·ious
(/rɪˈbɛl.jəs/)
su·per·sti·tious
(/ˌsu.pərˈstɪ.ʃəs/)
te·na·cious
(/teˈneɪ.ʃəs/)
up·roar·i·ous
(/ʌpˈrɔr.i.əs/)
vi·car·i·ous
(/vaɪˈkɛər.i.əs/)

“-ia”

This suffix is used to create nouns, either denoting a disease or a condition or quality.
In most words, the I is pronounced individually. In other words, it becomes silent and indicates a change in the pronunciation of the previous consonant. (In a handful of words, I blends with a previous vowel sound that is stressed before the final A.)
For example:
  • ac·a·de·mi·a (/ˌæk.əˈdi.mi.ə/)
  • bac·ter·i·a (/bæk.ˈtɪər.i.ə/)
  • cat·a·to·ni·a (/ˌkæt.əˈtoʊ.ni.ə/)
  • de·men·tia (/dɪˈmɛn.ʃə/)
  • en·cy·clo·pe·di·a (/ɛnˌsaɪ.kləˈpi.di.ə/)
  • fan·ta·sia (/fænˈteɪ.ʒə/)
  • hy·po·ther·mi·a (ˌhaɪ.pəˈθɜr.mi.ə/)
  • in·som·ni·a (/ɪnˈsɑm.ni.ə/)
  • leu·ke·mi·a (/luˈki.mi.ə/)
  • mem·or·a·bil·i·a (/ˌmɛm.ər.əˈbɪl.i.ə/)
  • no·stal·gia (/nɑˈstæl.ʤə/)
  • par·a·noi·a (/ˌpær.əˈnɔɪ.ə/)
  • re·ga·li·a (/rɪˈgeɪ.li.ə/)
  • su·bur·bi·a (/səˈbɜr.bi.ə/)
  • tri·vi·a (/ˈtrɪ.vi.ə/)
  • to·pi·a (/juˈtoʊ.pi.ə/)
  • xen·o·pho·bi·a (/ˌzɛn.əˈfoʊ.bi.ə/)

“-ial”

The suffix “-ial” is used to form adjectives from nouns, meaning “of, characterized by, connected with, or relating to.” Like “-ia,” I is either pronounced individually or else becomes silent and changes the pronunciation of the previous consonant. For example:
  • ad·ver·bi·al (/ædˈvɜr.bi.əl/)
  • bac·ter·i·al (/bækˈtɪr.i.əl/)
  • con·fi·den·tial (/ˌkɑn.fɪˈdɛn.ʃəl/)
  • def·e·ren·tial (/ˌdɛf.əˈrɛn.ʃəl/)
  • ed·i·tor·i·al (/ˌɛd.ɪˈtɔr.i.əl/)
  • fa·mil·i·al (/fəˈmɪl.jəl/)
  • gla·cial (/ˈgleɪ.ʃəl/)
  • in·flu·en·tial (/ˌɪn.fluˈɛn.ʃəl/)
  • ju·di·cial (/ʤuˈdɪʃ.əl/)
  • me·mor· i·al (/məˈmɔr.i.əl/)
  • ffici·al (ˈfɪʃ.əl/)
  • pro·ver·bi·al (/prəˈvɜr.bi.əl/)
  • ref·e·ren·tial (/ˌrɛf.əˈrɛn.ʃəl/)
  • su·per·fi·cial (/ˌsu.pərˈfɪʃ.əl/)
  • terr·i·tor·i·al (/ˌtɛr.ɪˈtɔr.i.əl/)
  • ve·stig·i·al (/vɛˈstɪʤ.i.əl/)

“-ic” and “-ical”

These two suffixes form adjectives from the nouns to which they attach. For both, the primary stress is placed on the syllable immediately before “-ic-.” For example:
-ic
-ical
tom·ic
(ˈtɑm.ɪk)
bur·eau·crat·ic
(/ˌbjʊər.əˈkræt.ɪk)
cha·ot·ic
(/keɪˈɑt.ɪk/)
dem·o·crat·ic
(/ˌdɛm.əˈkræt.ɪk/)
en·er·get·ic
(/ˌɛn.ərˈʤɛt.ɪk/)
for·mu·la·ic
(/ˌfɔr.mjəˈleɪ.ɪk/)
ge·net·ic
(/ʤəˈnɛt.ɪk/)
hyp·not·ic
(/hɪpˈnɑt.ɪk/)
con·ic
(/aɪˈkɑn.ɪk/)
ki·net·ic
(/kəˈnɛt.ɪk/)
la·con·ic
(/leɪˈkɑn.ɪk/)
mag·net·ic
(/mægˈnɛt.ɪk/)
no·stal·gic
(/nəˈstæl.ʤɪk)
opp·or·tu·nis·tic
(/ˌɑp.ər.tuˈnɪs.tɪk/)
pe·ri·od·ic
(/ˌpɪər.iˈɑd.ɪk/)
re·a·lis·tic
(/ˌri.əˈlɪs.tɪk/)
sym·pa·thet·ic
(/ˌsɪm.pəˈθɛt.ɪk/)
ti·tan·ic
(taɪˈtæn.ɪk/)
ul·tra·son·ic
(/ˌʌl.trəsɑn.ɪk/)
vol·can·ic
(/vɑlˈkæn.ɪk/)
an·a·tom·i·cal
(/ˌæn.əˈtɑm.ɪ.kəl)
bi·o·log·i·cal
(/ˌbaɪ.əˈlɑʤ.ɪ.kəl/)
chron·o·log·i·cal
(/ˌkrɑn.əˈlɑʤ.ɪ.kəl/)
di·a·bol·i·cal
(/ˌdaɪ.əˈbɑl.ɪ.kəl/)
lec·tri·cal
(ˈlɛk.trɪ.kəl/)
far·ci·cal
(/ˈfɑr.sɪ.kəl/)
ge·o·graph·i·cal
(/ʤi.əˈgræf.ɪ.kəl/)
his·tor·i·cal
(/hɪˈstɔr.ɪ.kəl/)
in·e·ffec·tu·al
(/ˌɪn.ɪˈfɛk.tʃu.əl/)
lack·a·dai·si·cal
(/ˌlæk.əˈdeɪ.zɪ.kəl/)
mu·si·cal
(/ˈmju.zɪ.kəl/)
nau·ti·cal
(/ˈnɔ.tɪ.kəl/)
op·ti·cal
(/ˈɑp.tɪ.kəl/)
par·a·dox·i·cal
(/pær.əˈdɑks.ɪ.kəl/)
psy·cho·an·a·lyt·i·cal
(/ˌsaɪ.koʊ.æn.əˈlɪt.ɪ.kəl/)
rhe·tor·i·cal
(/rɪˈtɔr.ɪ.kəl/)
sy·mmet·ri·cal
(/sɪˈmɛt.rɪ.kəl/)
ty·ran·ni·cal
(/tɪˈræn.ɪ.kəl/)
um·bil·i·cal
(/ʌmˈbɪl.ɪ.kəl/)
ver·ti·cal
(/ˈvɜr.tɪ.kəl/)
whim·si·cal
(/ˈwɪm.zɪ.kəl/)
zo·o·log·i·cal
(ˌzoʊ.əˈlɑʤ.ɪ.kəl/)
While this pattern of pronunciation is very reliable, there are a few words (mostly nouns) ending in “-ic” that go against it:
  • rith·me·tic* (ˈrɪθ.mə.tɪk/)
  • her·e·tic (/ˈhɛr.ɪ.tɪk/)
  • lu·na·tic (/ˈlu.nə.tɪk/)
  • pol·i·tics (/ˈpɑl.ɪ.tɪks/)
  • rhet·o·ric (/ˈrɛt.ə.rɪk/)
(*This pronunciation is used when arithmetic is a noun. As an adjective, it is pronounced a·rith·me·tic [/ˌæ.rɪθˈmɛ.tɪk/].)

“-ify”

This suffix is used to form verbs, most often from existing nouns or adjectives. While the primary stress is placed immediately before “-i-,” the second syllable of the suffix, “-fy,” also receives a secondary stress. For instance:
  • cid·i·fy (ˈsɪd.əˌfaɪ/)
  • be·at·i·fy (/biˈæt.əˌfaɪ/)
  • class·i·fy (/ˈklæs.əˌfaɪ/)
  • dig·ni·fy (/ˈdɪg.nəˌfaɪ/)
  • lec·tri·fy (ˈlɛk.trəˌfaɪ/)
  • fal·si·fy (/ˈfɔlsə.faɪ/)
  • horr·i·fy (/ˈhɔr.əˌfaɪ/)
  • den·ti·fy (/aɪˈdɛn.təˌfaɪ/)
  • mag·ni·fy (/ˈmægnəˌfaɪ/)
  • no·ti·fy (/ˈnoʊ.təˌfaɪ/)
  • ob·jec·ti·fy (/əbˈʤɛk.təˌfaɪ/)
  • per·son·i·fy (/pərˈsɑn.əˌfaɪ/)
  • rat·i·fy (/ˈræt.əˌfaɪ/)
  • so·lid·i·fy (/səˈlɪd.əˌfaɪ/)
  • tes·ti·fy (/ˈtɛs.təˌfaɪ/)
  • ver·i·fy (/ˈvɛr.əˌfaɪ/)

“-ity”

This suffix is the opposite of “-ic(al)”—that is, it is used to create nouns from adjectives. The I is pronounced in an individual syllable, with the word’s primary stress occurring immediately before it. For instance:
  • bil·i·ty (ˈbɪl.ɪ.ti/)
  • ba·nal·i·ty (/bəˈnæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • ce·leb·ri·ty (/səˈlɛb.rɪ.ti/)
  • dis·par·i·ty (/dɪˈspær.ɪ.ti/)
  • qual·i·ty (ˈkwɑl.ɪ.ti/)
  • func·tion·al·i·ty (/ˌfʌŋk.ʃənˈæl.ɪ.tɪ/)
  • gen·e·ros·i·ty (/ˌʤɛn.əˈrɑs.ɪ.ti/)
  • hu·mid·i·ty (/hjuˈmɪd.ɪ.ti/)
  • niq·ui·ty (ˈnɪk.wɪ.ti/)
  • jo·vi·al·i·ty (/ʤoʊ.vi.ˈæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • le·gal·i·ty (/liˈgæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • ma·jor·i·ty (/məˈʤoʊr.ɪ.ti/)
  • nor·mal·i·ty (/noʊrˈmæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • ob·scur·i·ty (/əbˈskʊər.ɪ.ti/)
  • prac·ti·cal·i·ty (/præk.tɪˈkæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • qual·i·ty (/ˈkwɑl.ɪ.ti/)
  • rec·i·proc·i·ty (/ˌrɛs.əˈprɑs.ɪ.ti/)
  • scar·ci·ty (/ˈskɛr.sɪ.ti/)
  • tech·ni·cal·i·ty (/ˌtɛk.nɪˈkæl.ɪ.ti/)
  • u·na·nim·i·ty (/ˌju.nəˈnɪm.ɪ.ti/)
  • ve·loc·i·ty (/vəˈlɑs.ɪ.ti/)

“-tion” and “-sion”

These two syllables are used to create nouns, especially from verbs to describe an instance of that action. Depending on the word, the /ʃ/ or /tʃ/ sounds made by “-tion” and the /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ sounds made by “-sion” will be part of the stressed syllable or the final unstressed syllable. For example:
-tion
-sion
au·diti·on
(ˈdɪʃ.ən/)
bi·sec·tion
(/baɪˈsɛk.ʃən/)
can·ce·lla·tion
(/ˌkæn.sɪˈleɪ.ʃən/)
di·screti· on
(/dɪˈskrɛʃ.ən/)
ex·haus·tion
(/ɪgˈzɔs.tʃən/)
flo·ta·tion
(/floʊˈteɪ.ʃən/)
grad·u·a·tion
(/ˌgræʤ.uˈeɪ.ʃən/)
hos·pi·tal·i·za·tion
(/ˌhɑs.pɪ.təl.ɪˈzeɪʃ.ən/)
ig·ni·tion
(/ɪgˈnɪʃ.ən/)
jur·is·dic·tion
(/ˌʤʊər.ɪsˈdɪk.ʃən/)
lo·co·mo·tion
(/ˌloʊ.kəˈmoʊ,ʃən/)
mod·i·fi·ca·tion
(/ˌmɑd.ə.fɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/)
nom·i·na·tion
(/ˌnɑm.əˈneɪ.ʃən/)
ob·struc·tion
(/əbˈstrʌk.ʃən/)
pros·e·cu·tion
(/ˌprɑs.ɪˈkyu.ʃən/)
re·a·li·za·tion
(/ˌri.ə.ləˈzeɪ.ʃən/)
se·cre·tion
(/sɪˈkri.ʃən/)
tra·diti·on
(/trəˈdɪʃ.ən/)
u·ni·fi·ca·tion
(/ˌju.nə.fɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/)
vi·bra·tion
(/vaɪˈbreɪ.ʃən/)
bra·sion
(ˈbreɪ.ʒən)
ver·sion
(ˈvɜr.ʒən/)
co·llisi·on
(/kəˈlɪʒ.ən/)
com·pul·sion
(/kəmˈpʌl.ʃən/)
di·ffu·sion
(/dɪˈfju.ʒən/)
di·men·sion
(/dɪˈmɛn.ʃən/)
ro·sion
(ˈroʊ.ʒən/)
fu·sion
(/ˈfju.ʒən/)
llu·sion
(ˈlu.ʒən/)
in·va·sion
(/ɪnˈveɪ.ʒən/)
man·sion
(/ˈmæn.ʃən/)
ob·sessi·on
(/əbˈsɛʃ.ən/)
cca·sion
(ˈkeɪ.ʒən/)
per·cussi·on
(/pərˈkʌʃ.ən/)
pro·pul·sion
(/prəˈpʌl.ʃən)
re·missi·on
(/rɪˈmɪʃ.ən/)
sub·ver·sion
(/səbˈvɜr.ʒən/)
su·spen·sion
(/səˈspɛn.ʃən/)
trans·fu·sion
(/trænsˈfju.ʒən/)
ver·sion
(/ˈvɜr.ʒən/)
The word television is an exception to this rule, and in most dialects it has the primary stress placed on the first syllable: /ˈtɛl.əˌvɪʒ.ən/.

Stress applied two syllables before the suffix

“-ate”

This suffix is most often used to create verbs, but it can also form adjectives and nouns. In words with three or more syllables, the primary stress is placed two syllables before the suffix. For example:
  • ac·cen·tu·ate (/ækˈsɛn.tʃuˌeɪt/))
  • bar·bit·ur·ate (/bɑrˈbɪtʃ.ər.ɪt/)
  • co·llab·o·rate (/kəˈlæb.əˌreɪt/)
  • diff·e·ren·ti·ate (/ˌdɪf.əˈrɛn.ʃiˌeɪt/)
  • nu.me·rate (ˈnu.məˌreɪt/)
  • fa·cil·i·tate (/fəˈsɪl.ɪˌteɪt/)
  • ge·stic·u·late (/ʤɛˈstɪk.jəˌleɪt/)
  • hu·mil·i·ate (/hjuˈmɪl.iˌeɪt/)
  • in·ad·e·quate (/ɪnˈæd.ɪ.kwɪt/)
  • le·git·i·mate (/lɪˈʤɪt.əˌmɪt/)
  • ma·tric·u·late (/məˈtrɪk.jəˌleɪt/)
  • ne·cess·i·tate (/nəˈsɛs.ɪˌteɪt/)
  • blit·e·rate (ˈblɪt.əˌreɪt/)
  • par·tic·i·pate (/pɑrˈtɪs.ɪ.ɪt/)
  • re·frig·er·ate (/rɪˈfrɪʤ.əˌreɪt/)
  • stip·u·late (/ˈstɪp.jəˌleɪt/)
  • tri·an·gu·late (/traɪˈæŋ.gjə.leɪt/)
  • un·for·tu·nate (/ʌnˈfɔr.tʃə.nɪt/)
  • ver·te·brate (/ˈvɜr.tə.brɪt/)

“-cy”

This suffix attaches to adjectives or nouns to form nouns referring to “state, condition, or quality,” or “rank or office.” For example:
  • dja·cen·cy (ˈʤeɪ.sən.si/)
  • a·gen·cy (/ˈeɪ.ʤən.si/)
  • bank·rupt·cy (/ˈbæŋk.rʌpt.si/)
  • com·pla·cen·cy (/kəmˈpleɪ.sən.si/)
  • de·moc·ra·cy (/dɪˈmɑk.rə.si/)
  • ex·pec·tan·cy (/ɪkˈspɛk.tən.si/)
  • flam·boy·an·cy (/flæmˈbɔɪ.ən.si/)
  • fre·quen·cy (/ˈfri.kwən.si/)
  • in·sur·gen·cy (/ɪnˈsɜr.ʤən.si/)
  • in·fan·cy (/ ˈɪnfən.si/)
  • lieu·ten·an·cy (/luˈtɛn.ən.si/)
  • ma·lig·nan·cy (/məˈlɪg.nən.si/)
  • pro·fici·en·cy (/prəˈfɪʃ.ən.si/)
  • re·dun·dan·cy (/rɪˈdʌn.dən.si/)
  • su·prem·a·cy (/səˈprɛm.ə.si/)
  • trans·par·en·cy (/trænsˈpɛər.ən.si/)
  • va·can·cy (/ˈveɪ.kən.si/)
Unlike some of the other suffixes we’ve looked at so far, this one has a number of exceptions. For these, the primary stress is placed three syllables before the suffix:
  • ac·cur·a·cy (/ˈæk.jər.ə.si/)
  • can·di·da·cy (/ˈkæn.dɪ.də.si/)
  • com·pe·ten·cy (/ˈkɑm.pɪ.tən.si/)
  • del·i·ca·cy (/ˈdɛl.ɪ.kə.si/)
  • ex·trav·a·gan·cy (/ɪkˈstræv.ə.gən.si/)
  • im·me·di·a·cy (ˈmi.di.ə.si/)
  • in·ti·ma·cy (/ˈɪn.tɪ.mə.sɪ/)
  • lit·er·a·cy (/ˈlɪt.ər.ə.sɪ/)
  • le·git·i·ma·cy (/lɪˈʤɪt.ə.mə.si/)
  • occ·u·pan·cy (/ˈɑk.jə.pən.si/)
  • pres·i·den·cy (/ˈprɛz.ɪ.dən.si/)
  • rel·e·van·cy (/ˈrɛl.ɪ.vən.si/)
  • surr·o·ga·cy (/ˈsɜr.ə.gə.si/)
Unfortunately, there are no patterns in these words to let us know that their primary stress will be in a different place; we just have to memorize them.

“-phy”

This ending is actually a part of other suffixes, most often “-graphy,” but also “-trophy” and “-sophy.” The primary stress in the word will appear immediately before the “-gra-,” “-tro-,” and “-so-” parts of the words. For example:
  • a·tro·phy (/ˈæ.trə.fi/)
  • bib·li·og·ra·phy (/ˌbɪb.liˈɑg.rə.fi/)
  • cal·lig·ra·phy (/kəˈlɪg.rə.fi/)
  • dis·cog·ra·phy (/dɪsˈkɑɡ.rə.fi/)
  • eth·nog·ra·phy (/ɛθˈnɑg.rə.fi/)
  • fil·mog·ra·phy (/fɪlˈmɑɡ.rə.fi/)
  • ge·og·ra·phy (/ʤiˈɑɡ.rə.fi/)
  • i·co·nog·ra·phy (/ˌaɪ.kəˈnɑg.rə.fi/)
  • or·thog·ra·phy (/ɔrˈθɑg.rə.fi/)
  • phi·los·o·phy (/fɪˈlɑs.ə.fi/)
  • pho·tog·ra·phy (/fəˈtɑg.rə.fi/)
  • ra·di·og·ra·phy (/ˌreɪ.dɪˈɑɡ.rə.fɪ/)
  • so·nog·ra·phy (/səˈnɑg.rə.fi/)
  • the·os·o·phy (/θɪˈɑs.ə.fi/)
  • ty·pog·ra·phy (/taɪˈpɑg.rə.fi/)

Suffixes that don’t affect word stress

While many suffixes dictate which syllable is stressed in a word, there are others that usually do not affect the stress of the base word at all. Let’s look at some examples of these (just note that this isn’t an exhaustive list):
“-age”
“-ish”*
“-hood”
“-less”
“-ness”
“-ous”
an·chor·age
brok·er·age
cov·er·age
e·quip·age
her·mit·age
lev·er·age
or·phan·age
me·ter·age
pa·tron·age
sew·er·age
vic·ar·age
am·a·teur·ish
ba·by·ish
car·toon·ish
dev·il·ish
fe·ver·ish
hea·then·ish
og·re·ish
pur·pl·ish
tick·l·ish
va·ga·bond·ish
yell·ow·ish
dult·hood
broth·er·hood
fath·er·hood
like·li·hood
moth·er·hood
neigh·bor·hood
par·ent·hood
sis·ter·hood
vic·tim·hood
wo·man·hood
ar·mor·less
bo·di·less
col·or·less
di·rec·tion·less
mo·tion·less
feath·er·less
hu·mor·less
lim·it·less
mean·ing·less
o·dor·less
pen·ni·less
re·gard·less
struc·ture·less
tick·et·less
vi·bra·tion·less
win·dow·less
ad·ven·tur·ous·ness
bash·ful·ness
com·pet·i·tive·ness
de·ceit·ful·ness
ffec·tive·ness
fa·ce·tious·ness
glo·ri·ous·ness
hid·e·ous·ness
il·lust·ri·ous·ness
jag·ged·ness
king·li·ness
li·ti·gious·ness
mean·ing·ful·ness
nerv·ous·ness
blique·ness
per·sua·sive·ness
quea·si·ness
re·morse·less·ness
sub·ver·sive·ness
to·geth·er·ness
biq·ui·tous·ness
venge·ful·ness
war·i·ness
youth·ful·ness
zeal·ous·ness
an·al·o·gous
blas·phe·mous
can·cer·ous
dan·ger·ous
fi·brous
glam·or·ous
li·bel·ous
mu·ti·nous
o·dor·ous
per·il·ous
ran·cor·ous
scan·dal·ous
treach·er·ous
val·or·ous
Inflectional suffixes (suffixes that form plurals, change verb tense, create comparative ajectives and adverbs, etc.) do not affect word stress either. Let’s look at a few examples:
  • maze→a·maz·ing (creates the present participle / gerund)
  • blank·et→blank·et·ed (creates the past tense)
  • com·pro·mise→com·pro·mis·es (creates the third-person singular form)
  • drows·y→drows·i·er (creates the comparative form)
  • hap·py→hap·pi·est (creates the superlative form)
  • re·sponse→re·spons·es (creates the plural form)

*“-ish” at the end of verbs

The examples of the suffix “-ish” that we looked at previously were all adjectives formed from various parts of speech (usually nouns). However, “-ish” can also appear naturally at the end of verbs—that is, it doesn’t attach to existing base words, but is rather the result of the word’s evolution in English. For these verbs, primary stress always occurs on the syllable immediately before “-ish.” For example:
  • ston·ish (ˈstɑn.ɪʃ/)
  • bran·dish (/ˈbræn.dɪʃ/)
  • cher·ish (/ˈtʃɛr.ɪʃ/)
  • de·mol·ish (/dɪˈmɑl.ɪʃ/)
  • ex·tin·guish (/ɪkˈstɪŋ.gwɪʃ/)
  • fur·nish (/ˈfɜr.nɪʃ/)
  • gar·nish (/ˈgɑr.nɪʃ/)
  • im·pove·rish (/ɪmˈpɑv.rɪʃ/; the E is silent)
  • lan·guish (/ˈlæŋ.gwɪʃ/)
  • nour·ish (/ˈnɜr.ɪʃ/)
  • pub·lish (/ˈpʌb.lɪʃ/)
  • re·plen·ish (/rɪˈplɛn.ɪʃ/)
  • tar·nish (/ˈtɑr.nɪʃ/)

Unstressed Words (Function Words)

We discussed earlier how words have at least one primary stress centered around a vowel sound; however, this is not always the case. This is because English consists of two types of words: content words and function words.
Content words (also known as lexical words) communicate a distinct lexical meaning within a particular context—that is, they express the specific content of what we’re talking about at a given time. These include nouns, adjective, adverbs, and most verbs. Content words will always have at least one syllable that is emphasized in a sentence, so if a content word only has a single syllable, it will always be stressed.
Function words (also known as structure words) primarily serve to complete the syntax and grammatical nuance of a sentence. These include pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, determiners, and auxiliary verbs. In contrast to content words, single-syllable function words are commonly (but not always) unstressed in a sentence—since they are not providing lexical meaning integral to the sentence, we often “skip over” them vocally. Take the following sentence:
  • “Bobby wants to walk to the playground.”
The particle to, the preposition to, and the definitive article the are all said without (or without much) stress. The content words (Bobby, wants, walk, and playground), on the other hand, each have at least one syllable that is emphasized.
Let’s look at some single-syllable function words that can either be stressed or unstressed in a given sentence:
Function Word
Stressed
Unstressed
a
/eɪ/
/ə/
an
/æn/
/ən/
am
/æm/
/əm/
are
/ɑr/
/ər/
be
/bi/
/bɪ/
can
/kæn/
/kən/
could
/kʊd/
/kəd/
do
/du/
/dʊ/ or /də/
have
/hæv/
/həv/
of
/ʌv/ or /ɑv/
/əv/ or /ə/
or
/ɔr/
/ər/
should
/ʃʊd/
/ʃəd/
the
/ði/
/ðə/ or /ðɪ/
to
/tu/
/tə/
was
/wɑz/
/wəz/
were
/wɜr/
/wər/
would
/wʊd/
/wəd/

Words with multiple pronunciations

It is not uncommon for English words to have more than one pronunciation even when there is no change in meaning, especially between different regional dialects. This difference usually occurs in the pronunciation of certain vowel or consonant sounds, but it can also affect which syllable in the word receives the primary stress.
For example:
Word
Pronunciation 1
Pronunciation 2
address (noun)
ddress
ˈdrɛs/
add·ress
/ˈæd.rɛs/
adult
dult
ˈdʌlt/
ad·ult
/ˈæd.ʌlt/
advertisement
ad·ver·tise·ment
/ˌæd.vərˈtaɪz.mənt/
(AmE)
ad·ver·tise·ment
/ædˈvɜr.tɪz.mənt/
(BrE)
applicable
app·li·ca·ble
/ˈæp.lɪ.kə.bəl/
ppli·ca·ble
ˈplɪ.kə.bəl/
café
ca·
/kæˈfeɪ/
(AmE)
ca·fé
/ˈkæˈfeɪ/
(BrE)
Caribbean
Car·i·bbe·an
/ˌkær.əˈbi.ən/
Ca·ribb·e·an
/kəˈrɪb.i.ən/
chauffeur
chau·ffeur
/ˈʃoʊ.fər/
chau·ffeur
/ʃoʊˈfɜr/
composite
com·pos·ite
/kəmˈpɑz.ɪt/
(AmE)
com·pos·ite
/ˈkɑm.pəz.ɪt/
(BrE)
controversy
con·tro·ver·sy
/ˈkɑn.trəˌvɜr.si/
con·trov·er·sy
/kənˈtrɑv.er.si/
(BrE)
employee
em·ploy·ee
/ɛmˈplɔɪ.i/
em·ploy·ee
/ɛm.plɔɪˈi/
fiancé(e)
fi·an·cé(e)
/ˌfi.ɑnˈseɪ/
fi·an·cé(e)
/fiˈɑn.seɪ/
garage
ga·rage
/gəˈrɑʒ/
(AmE)
gar·age
/ˈgær.ɑʒ/
(BrE)
kilometer
ki·lom·e·ter
/kɪˈlɑm.ɪ.tər/
kil·o·me·ter
/ˈkɪl.əˌmi.tər/
lingerie
lin·ge·rie
/ˌlɑn.ʒəˈreɪ/
(AmE)
lin·ge·rie
/ˈlæn.ʒə.ri/
(BrE)
preferable
pref·er·a·ble
/ˈprɛf.ər.ə.bəl/
pre·fer·a·ble
/prɪˈfɜr.ər.ə.bəl/
transference
trans·fer·ence
/trænsˈfɜr.əns/
trans·fer·ence
/ˈtræns.fər.əns/
Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict when a word will have different stress patterns, as they are often the result of variations in regional dialects, rather than the origin of the words themselves. If you hear someone pronounce a word with an intonation you haven’t heard before, check a reliable dictionary to see what is the most common pronunciation.
Quiz

1. What type of speech sound receives stress in a word?




2. How many syllables in a word can have primary stress?





3. Which of the following words can be completely unstressed?





4. Where does primary stress usually occur in words ending with the suffix “-ic”?





5. Where does primary stress usually occur in words ending with the suffix “-ate”?





6. When a word functions as both a noun and a verb, in what way are they often distinguished in speech?



7. Which of the following suffixes does not determine word stress?





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