Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam's online course, English Pronunciation in a Global World. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second Stress. Syllables and words may be assigned stress. This means that we pronounce them with more breath and effort and that they are perceived as louder. For example, the word consists of three syllables, con– si– der–, the second of which is stressed. Consider. English is a so-called stress-timed language. This means that within a word at regular intervals, some syllables are stressed, whereas other syllables receive no stress. In addition to this, the vowels in syllables that are not stressed become what is termed reduced to a weak vowel, most regularly, schwa.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds Thus in English, these words are pronounced as consider, participants, particularly.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds Other languages are what we call syllable-timed, meaning that all syllables receive more or less equal stress and do not reduce vowels so much. In such languages, syllables in words like consider, Chicago, and animal are pronounced with the same stress and a full-quality vowel. Consider, Chicago, and animal.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds In English, the stress position in words is not fully regular. It can only be predicted to some degree, and it is dependent on a number of factors like, for example, the origin of the word. Therefore, my advice would be that it is best to learn the stress in English words by heart, just like their meaning. Whether it is develop or develop and passage or passage.

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 second To be able to stress particular syllables or pronounce them with the reduced vowel is useful, because it can be applied to convey different meanings. One example of this is that there are many words that can be used as either a noun or a verb. For instance, contest, as in the Eurovision Song Contest is a noun. But contest, as in to contest a decision, is a verb.

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 seconds In English, within the sentence, the stress normally falls on the last word at the right periphery of the clause, as in, my neighbour is building a desk. However if you wish to focus a particular word in the sentence or to indicate a contrast, you can shift the stress anywhere towards the left, as in, is your brother building a desk? No, my neighbour is building a desk.


Stress patterns in English differ from those in other languages and they can be used to convey meaning. Watch this video and learn more.


The video explains that in English (1) in a word, a particular syllable will be stressed (word stress), and (2) in a sentence, a particular word will be stressed (sentence stress).

The video goes to explain that in the case of sentence stress, it is normally the last word in a sentence that will be stressed. This is because in English, new information normally occurs at the right-end side of the sentence. By stressing the last word, therefore, the new information will stand out.

For example, ‘a desk’ is new information in the sentence below:

What is your neighbor building? My neighbour is buiding A DESK.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

English Pronunciation in a Global World

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam